Building Native vs. React Native Apps

So, you’ve decided you or your company needs a mobile app. You see it in your mind’s eye: you will bring an innovative product to the market, or you’ll solve a problem that no one else has cracked by putting the power in your user’s hands. But now that you’ve done your research, you find some crucial decisions must be made: Who’s going to develop this app with you? And how are you going to make it happen? These choices are interlinked, and they throw up a dilemma – should your app be a native or hybrid/cross-platform app?

The choice between native and cross-platform is arguably the most fundamental technical decision you’ll have to make about your app, certainly in the early development stage. But don’t feel stuck by that pressure; we’re here to help 🙂. To start, within the realm of cross-platform you’ll need to pick a flavor, so to speak. The mainstream options are likely either React Native, Flutter or Xamarin. At 3Advance, we’ve already picked a flavor and made the decision on this one – we’ve opted for React Native. We like it because it’s the most mature offering, we have plenty of experience using big brother React for web development, and finally, the fact that React uses the JavaScript programming language is key – it’s a language we are easily able to hire for and upskill additional team members in. We’re big proponents of full-stack JavaScript for this reason, as it ultimately has a direct impact on your product and go-to-market timelines.

Okay, so now we’ve narrowed the playing field down to native vs. React Native. Before we dive any deeper, we want to stress one very important factor: Objectively speaking, there is no winner between native and React Native. Each has its proponents, of course. But ultimately, it’s about what fits your app idea, your business, and your goals – not the other way around. There is no such thing as one size fits all in mobile app development! 📱

“The choice between native and cross-platform is arguably the most fundamental technical decision you’ll have to make about your app.”

The Pros and Cons List

Let’s simplify things with an overview of the pros and cons of native and React Native.

Native App Pros

  • 🤩 Performance – Truth be told, a native app will always outperform a hybrid alternative. This is particularly relevant for resource-intensive apps, i.e., those that require access to multiple features of a device (software, APIs, hardware).
  • 📲 Full Device Integration – A native app gets full and seamless access to all the device’s capabilities, including interaction with other native apps, helping developers create a better product since they will code the product with those capabilities in mind.
  • 👍 Parental Support – With native, your app will get full support from Apple (iOS) and Google (Android), aka “parents”. These parents build and maintain the operating systems to provide the perfect environment for native apps to thrive as they are coded to be.
  • 🚀 Future-Proofing – Native apps can avail of future Android or iOS capabilities, with developers often getting early access before new capabilities become public. If, for example, Apple released a new OS feature like FaceID, there would be a delay before React Native could include it in its framework.
  • 🐛 Security and Bugs – Lower-level code means it’s easier for developers to manage that code and the environment around it, making it easier to analyze, troubleshoot and debug any issues.

Native App Cons

  • 🧑‍💻 Logistics – Having distinct programming languages (per parent or OS) means two separate apps must be developed in order to work on a device properly. This can be time-consuming, affecting the ability to get the product out to market quickly. Ultimately, your app will be more time-intensive.
  • 💸 Cost – This really is related to logistics. In theory, it will cost more to build a native app because, essentially, you have to do everything twice. Additionally, you’ll need to have two teams to maintain the app, troubleshoot and solve any issues that arise.

React Native App Pros

  • ↔️ Cross-Platform – React Native is built on the premise of one code for two platforms. This lends itself to greater efficiency in the development process since everything won’t need to be done twice.
  • 💸 Cost-Effectiveness – Logically speaking, it’s going to be cheaper to build with React Native, given that only one developer team is needed to build and maintain the app.
  • 🧑‍💻 Logistics – One code for two platforms means that, in theory, it will be quicker to get a React Native app to market. When the product is built, it’s oven-ready for iOS and Android (and Web). Ultimately, your app will not be as time-intensive.
  • 👋 Open Source – React Native is open source, meaning it’s open to improvement and is continuously evolving thanks to its ever-expanding community of developers. It’s also backed by Meta (Facebook), which itself is very, very passionate about the project and bullish about its future.
  • 🔥 Hot/Live Reloading – This is another logistical advantage. React Native developers can see and enact code changes in real-time, without needing to reload the app. Think of it a bit like a Lego house, where the developer can change the colors of the bricks without tearing the entire house down and starting over. It’s worth noting that this isn’t entirely straight out of the box, and there would need to be another tech (called Expo) enabled to make the hot reloading work.

React Native App Cons

  • 🤩 Performance – While proponents of React Native will tell you most performance issues have been solved, it still remains the case that native is a better choice for apps that place demands on your device’s exact infrastructure. Code that’s used to support the Bridge is, for lack of a better term, ‘heavy’, and can slow down performance.
  • 🗣️ Lack of Full Integration – For all of the ingenuity behind React Native, remember this – it is not a native app. It is a UI (User Interface) software framework. It runs as a background process, meaning it is not fully integrated like a native app. It can access a device’s resources like a native app, but it can’t do it in the same seamless manner. It takes time for React Native to communicate back and forth with those resources, and the end result can be an inferior UX.
  • 👋 Open Source – Yes, one of React Native’s strengths is also a weakness. Here’s the deal: While React Native’s developer community is growing, you are still beholden to a third party and must wait until they developed solutions, troubleshoot and fix bugs. You’ll also lack the direct patronage provided by Apple and Google for their operating systems.

Choosing What’s Best for Your App

So, from the above, you can hopefully understand at a glance some of the factors that will affect your choice between native and React Native. The former might deliver a better-performing app, but React Native typically has the upper hand when it comes to cost and logistics. But all of this isn’t just about understanding the pros and cons; it’s about making a vital decision for your product.

In order to consider the trade-offs, you’ll want to answer some other questions: What’s my budget? What are the time constraints? Do I need both Android and iOS apps out of the gate? What are the key features of my app? What’s going to affect my app’s performance? How resource-intensive is my app going to be? Is native going to be better in the long term? Can I depend on the evolution of React Native to meet future market demands? These are the kinds of questions that we at 3Advance, aim to answer with you before we start designing or coding anything. 🤝

But, for now, we recommend using these expert tips for guidance:

When to Choose Native

  • Your app will be successful relying on OS-specific features.
  • Budget is not a (main) concern for your build.
  • Time constraints are not a (primary) concern for launch.
  • You are (perhaps initially) targeting a launch on just one OS (iOS or Android).

When to Choose React Native

  • Your app’s main selling point doesn’t rely on OS-specific features.
  • Budget for the build is a greater concern.
  • Time constraints for launch are a primary concern.
  • You want to launch your app on iOS and Android simultaneously.

As we mentioned earlier, it’s not about trying to work back-to-front by forcing your app to fit with native or React Native. Rather, it’s a case of parsing out exactly what you need for your app and then working towards the optimum solution – be it native, React Native, or possibly even a different flavor of cross-platform. If you hadn’t guessed already, we offer both native and React Native solutions at 3Advance, as well as everything in between. As one of our clients said in a Clutch review, “Their flexibility is one of their most impressive qualities”. 🤸‍♂️

Our goal is not to push you towards choosing one or another, but to forensically examine your app’s needs and your goals, and then to arrive at the best solution with you. Some developer companies will specialize in native, whereas others will focus on cross-platform solutions like React Native. In our eyes, this is really important: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” (Abraham Maslow). In reality, every problem is not a nail and our 3Advance team has the full toolbelt. We look at each project with its unique requirements before deciding how we are going to use our tools to build your perfect app. 🛠️