While some developers prefer to work natively to develop apps for specific mobile platforms, this can prove time-consuming, require an extensive knowledge of diverse programming languages, and not always fit the business case in question.
Hybrid Mobile App Frameworks Promise Development Efficiency
With the hybrid approach, an app is designed as a regular responsive web app that fits different screen sizes, using the components that come with the mobile HTML5 UI frameworks.
The question is – which hybrid mobile app framework to use for your mobile app development projects? Below is our top 5 list.
The leader in the independent development field is arguably Ionic. Ionic’s development team keeps the framework regularly updated, so it generally manages to remain ahead of the competition. Moreover, Ionic is free, while its closest rivals are costly. In addition, Ionic is open-source and boasts a massive environment of resources from the development community.
Other features include out-of-the-box support for material design, the wrapping Angular framework, and Cordova utilization that is native to iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, and other platforms.
2. Onsen UI
Onsen UI is a relatively new mobile UI solution, which was formerly dependent on Angular, but has since been liberated as a fully independent framework by its maker, Monaca. Though it currently lacks the exposure enjoyed by Ionic, this is likely to change as more developers discover Onsen UI’s versatility. Indeed, this is a framework that’s been designed to play nicely with a number of other cross-platform tools including Angular, React, and Vue.js.
In addition to its flexibility, Onsen UI is also really easy to use, and allows development of mobile apps with a truly native look (as can be seen in the image below). It’s also open source and like Ionic, completely free to use, making it a good choice for businesses that have only occasional app development needs.
Further simplicity is provided by a wide variety of ready-to-use components, which can also be customized as required. The learning curve for Onsen UI is shallow, and if versatility is important to your business, you’ll be pleased to know the platform can be used to create web apps, as well as native-style mobile applications.
The only commonly reported drawback with Onsen UI is the introductory documentation, which some users report as being a little unclear. That’s hardly a showstopper though, and as more developers become aware of Onsen UI, adoption is sure to increase, perhaps to the point where this framework becomes a serious competitor to Ionic.
3. Framework 7
Framework 7 is the go-to hybrid mobile app framework if you want your development process to be fast and agile. That’s because unlike most hybrid frameworks, Framework 7 (F7) has no dependency on external tools such as React or Angular. Although, because it has no app packaging or emulation tool, you must use F7 with Cordova or PhoneGap.
This stripped-down approach certainly doesn’t detract from app quality. Dozens of UI elements and widgets, including action sheets, pop-ups, modals, list views, media lists, side panels, tabs, and form elements enable feature-rich hybrid apps to look and feel native. You’ll also find F7 to be an especially useful framework if you expect to create apps which use a lot of animation.
Best of all, if you think the idea of any framework being this straightforward and user-friendly is too good to be true, there’s little to lose by giving Framework 7 a try. Like other tools covered so far in this article, F7 is open-source and totally free of licensing or other fees.
4. jQuery Mobile
While many hybrid frameworks seek to deliver apps that look and behave “native,” jQuery Mobile takes a different approach. The focus of this tool is to create generic applications that perform consistently across all platforms, including Windows, Symbian, and Blackberry, with unique, if not native UIs for each.
jQuery Mobile is an ideal framework for larger companies that support BYOD, given the likely need to cater for a wide range of device types and operating systems. After all, the larger the organization, the less likely it is that all employees will be iOS or Android fans—and users of less popular formats tend to be all the more passionate about sticking with what they know.
Having been around longer than most other frameworks, jQuery has had plenty of time to mature and undergo refinement, so despite concentrating on platform diversity, this is the very tool to rely on when you want apps that are responsive and inexpensive to develop, but have little need for the appearance of native authenticity – mobile enterprise software perhaps being a good example.
5. Kendo UI
Other benefits of Kendo include an impressive set of design themes and even a custom theme builder—a feature which really sets this framework apart from its competitors.
Supported and maintained by Telerik, Kendo is the subject of an extensive open-source development community. For enterprises, a range of commercial licensing options exists. Finally, if you’re in any doubt as to the enterprise-grade credentials of Kendo, you can rest assured that it has plenty of commercial endorsement. Major companies using Kendo for app development include NASA, Volvo, Sony, Microsoft, and Toshiba.
Making the Decision
Choosing a hybrid mobile app framework for developing cross-platform mobile apps depends on three things – who you are, what you want from a development platform, and what you want your app to be in the end.
If you’re an independent developer or a small company, you might want to go with Ionic, Framework 7, or Onsen UI. Choosing between these depends on whether you want to develop inside a larger, more established environment and feel comfortable with complexity (in which case you might prefer Ionic), or are more interested in agility and/or ease of use (which would make F7 or Onsen ideal frameworks to try).
If you’re a relatively large enterprise, then you might want to try Kendo UI or jQuery Mobile. Kendo is a more costly option than other frameworks listed here, but comes with a huge set of templates, themes, and tools. Meanwhile, jQuery lends itself well to development of apps for employees, or to other situations where development cost and app performance come before the need to be “native.”
Hybrid in the Ascendency
It’s probably fair to say that there are no bad choices to be made from the frameworks featured in this article. The one thing they all have in common is the ability to reduce cost and complexity when developing apps for more than one platform. That’s often imperative in an environment where platform consolidation seems unlikely to happen any time soon.
Indeed, as indicated by research results shown below, native coding is on the wane—and that may be largely due to the advantages offered by hybrid app development frameworks like jQuery Mobile, Kendo UI, Framework 7, Onsen UI, and Ionic.
Data Source: Ionic
Are you an IT decision-maker in a large or small enterprise and if so, do you see value in hybrid app development? Which of the tools in this article would you choose, if any? If you believe there’s a hybrid framework we should have included in this article, we’d love to hear about it too, so please add a comment or two to let us know.