What’s the Difference Between Web Apps, Native Apps, and Hybrid Apps?

What's the Difference Between Web Apps, Native Apps, and Hybrid Apps?

An application is a software that lets you exchange information with customers and help them complete specific tasks. Different types of applications, or apps, are based on their development method and internal functionality. Web apps are delivered over an internet browser. Users don't need to install them on their devices. Native apps, on the other hand, are built for a specific platform or device type. The user must install the appropriate software version on their device of choice. Hybrid apps are native applications with a web browser embedded inside them.

Why are there so many different types of applications?

Application development started with the invention of computers. When desktops and personal computers were the only devices, companies installed applications on premises or in a company's data center then delivered functionality via corporate networks.

Most early applications used a client-server architecture. An on-premises server centrally stored and processed data. Users had to install separate client apps on their devices. The client apps communicated with the server. Different client app versions had to be developed and installed for multiple platforms. For instance, a Windows machine required a different version than a Linux machine.

Evolution of web and mobile apps

With the internet's growth, servers and clients could be located anywhere on the globe. Web applications emerged to reach more users and give more flexibility than applications had to that point. Instead of installing client apps, users could access server functionality straight from the browser. At the same time, the development of mobile devices created newer platforms for application delivery. Users had more choices in how they wanted to access software functionality. They could use the browser or install an app on their device of choice.

Challenges in app development

Businesses today have to develop different types of web and mobile applications to reach multiple user groups. Here are some examples:

  • Web apps for users who want to work on the browser
  • Windows and macOS applications for desktop users
  • Android apps for Android mobile device types
  • iOS apps for iOS devices

Today, app developers have to write the same software in different languages. They also test, package, and deploy the same software for various platforms. As a result, new feature releases, bug fixing, and software maintenance become time-consuming and expensive. Various design solutions, such as containers and service-oriented architecture, address the issue. Different design approaches led to the creation of different types of web and mobile applications.

Read about containerization »

Read about service-oriented architectures »

Key differences: web apps vs. native apps

The term web app indicates an app you can access from the browser of a desktop or mobile device. The term native app suggests an app you can download and install on your device. A native mobile app is developed specifically for a mobile device. The terms native app, native mobile app, and mobile app are often used interchangeably to refer to the same type of software.

Some key differences between native apps and web apps are given below.


Web apps only give users access to interactions supported by web browsers. Even though a web application has rich design elements, it cannot access device features. Native mobile apps, on the other hand, let users interact with their devices' internal hardware and operating systems. You can grant users access to native features like:

  • Device location tracking
  • Device microphone and cameras
  • User contact lists
  • Touch gestures, device tilt, and other user interactions
  • Device security features like a fingerprint scan or face recognition

User experience

Web apps lack consistency in user experience due to their heavy dependency on browsers. Certain features or images may look different on different browsers. Buttons and menu bar features may be challenging to access from mobile browsers. Browser window resizing may impact the look, feel, and functionality of the web application.

Users tend to have a better experience on native mobile apps. For instance, the native app fills the screen and takes control of the entire device. Users get more out of the native app because they are comfortable with the interactions. The native app can also send push notifications to users and get them to re-engage.


Native applications give better performance when compared to web apps. They are faster, more responsive, and more interactive. However, the onus is on the user to maintain the native app performance. The user must download and install regular software updates to keep the app running optimally. Web applications are slower and less responsive, but they give you more control over performance. Software updates benefit all users immediately.

App development

Web apps are comparatively simpler, cheaper, and faster to develop. Time to market is shorter because of a straightforward app development process. They are also easier to maintain because you only have to test and update a single codebase. Native apps require a heavier financial investment. They also need development teams with cross-platform development experience. For instance, a developer specializing in native iOS apps may not be the best choice for building native Android apps.

Customer reach

Web apps have limited customer reach, as users require an internet connection to access the app. In the case of mobile web apps, there is a multi-step access process because users first have to open the mobile browser then find the app. Conversely, you can design native apps to work offline on the user's device. Native apps also give more discoverability because they are on app stores. You can run marketing campaigns within the app store to reach a wider or newer customer base.

Key differences: native apps vs. hybrid apps

A hybrid app is a particular type of native app. Like native apps, users can download and install a hybrid app from app stores. However, the internal structure of native and hybrid apps is very different. Internally, hybrid apps are more like web apps. Hybrid apps lie somewhere between native and web apps.

App development

In a native app, your developers have to rewrite and redesign all the app functionality in the native development language. A hybrid app lets you write the app functionality in a single codebase. You can then wrap your code in a lightweight native app shell or container. The container enables you to take advantage of native features in your mobile devices, like hardware, calendars, and notifications.

Cost efficiency

Hybrid apps achieve the same performance and user experience as native apps at a lower cost. Your developers can build them using commonly used app development languages and technologies like JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5. They can then integrate them with hybrid app development frameworks like Ionic, Cordova, or React Native. Both time and cost of development are lower, but you can still upload them to an app store to enjoy the same reach and discoverability.

Key differences: hybrid apps vs. progressive web apps

Progressive web apps are the result of advancements in browser technologies. Modern browsers let you give your users a native-app-like experience from the web app itself. You can achieve this by integrating a JavaScript framework around your existing web app. Your progressive web app can send notifications via the mobile browser, track user location, and so on. Like hybrid apps, progressive web apps also lie between native and web apps. However, there are some key differences.

Organic reach

You can deliver both progressive web apps and hybrid apps from app stores. However, progressive apps rank higher in search engine results with no additional effort. In addition, you get better search results than hybrid apps with the same keyword targeting.


In most cases, progressive web apps tend to be lighter in size than hybrid apps. They utilize less mobile storage and memory. However, the underlying technologies are non-native. Browser dependency could result in increased mobile battery consumption for users.


Progressive web app technology is relatively new compared to hybrid or web apps. Consequently, developer and community support for progressive apps are still evolving. Hybrid app technology is more mature, and development remains less expensive.

When to use web apps vs. hybrid apps vs. native apps?

Large companies have to use a combination of native, hybrid, and web apps to reach the widest possible customer base. Before choosing the best app type for your use case, you can consider the following factors.

Time to market

Early stage start-ups prefer using web apps to release a minimum viable product for customers as soon as possible. Native and hybrid apps require comparatively more time, planning, and effort to launch successfully.

Customer requirements

Some products and services have large customer bases that use mobile apps regularly to complete tasks. In this case, native applications are preferred over hybrid and web apps.

Marketing strategy

For some companies, their app development project is often tied closely to their marketing goals. They use a progressive web app to reach the largest possible audience and get initial sign-ups. The web app may have limited functionality or offer full-feature free trials for a limited period. The company then uses native or hybrid mobile apps to enhance the experience of paying customers.


In some instances, the mobile app functionality may be so complex that there is no option but to develop hybrid apps or native apps that support the requirements. For example, mobile banking apps require native features to keep fingerprint authorization features.

Summary of differences: web apps vs. hybrid apps vs. native apps



Web app

Hybrid app

Native app


Users can access directly from a browser

Users have to install the app on their device of choice

Users have to install the app on their device of choice

Internal working

Client code in the browser communicates with remote server-side code and databases

Client code and browser code wrapped in a native shell or container

Client code written in technology and language specific to the device or platform it will be installed on

Native device features

Not accessible



User experience

Inconsistent and dependent on the browser being used

Consistent and engaging

Consistent and engaging


Limited by browser and network connectivity

One-step access with offline features

One-step access with offline features


Slower and less responsive

Faster, but may consume more battery power

Performance can be optimized to device


Cost-efficient, faster time to market

Cost-efficient, faster time to market

Expensive, slower time to market


Learn more about Web Apps

Learn more about Hybrid Apps Learn more about Native Apps


How can AWS support your app development requirements?

From coding environments to deployment and hosting technologies, AWS can support you in every step of your application development process. Here are examples of how you can use AWS:

  • Use AWS Amplify to build full-stack web and mobile apps in hours
  • Use AWS Amplify Hosting to continuously deploy a static web or server-side rendered app, a mobile app landing page, or a progressive app on every code commit
  • Use AWS Lambda to build serverless applications without worrying about infrastructure management

You can also visit Solutions for Application Development & DevOps Library to find specific solutions for your development challenges. Start web and mobile app development on AWS by creating a free account today.

Next Steps with AWS

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Start building Web Apps

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Start building Native Apps

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Start building Hybrid Apps

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