Hybrid apps are a blend of native and web coding, which, theoretically, can be adapted to multiple devices, making them cheaper and faster to deploy. Conversely, native apps are purpose built for particular operating systems.
Carsales released its first app — a hybrid one — on iOS in 2009. The decision was made based on time to market and cost, plus the company was new to the app scene and only had one iOS developer at the time, Carsales CIO Ajay Bhatia told ZDNet.
"We're an organisation that wants to be on the cutting edge, but there is a fine line between cutting edge and bleeding edge," he said. "The cost between the two can sometimes be really high, and you walk a fine line.
"At the time, we took the decision based on the return-on-investment concept."
The cost of developing an application for every mobile platform would be too high, and with customers embracing the hybrid Carsales app, the company was happy to stick with it.
But after the honeymoon period was over, customers and developers were feeling the pain of the hybrid app model. A year later, complaints were pouring in about the performance of the app, with many claiming that it was running too slowly or merely looked like a website contained within an app, Bhatia recalled.
"Part of it was switching from iOS to HTML5 [within the app] and even from a developer's perspective it was becoming too complex," he said. "The whole interaction between the iOS component and HTML components was not maintainable."
According to Bhatia, the Carsales app has been downloaded more than 1 million times, and that's just off the Apple App Store — the company also has an Android app. Users are getting smarter and becoming less tolerant of the irregularities of hybrid apps, he said.
After Carsales developers read the customer feedback, it became increasingly evident that, particularly with iOS, going native was the solution.
"There comes a point when you have to consider the finer efficiencies," Bhatia said. "When you have 1 million people using your app, those small things matter."
While building native apps can cost more, the scale of its users can justify the investment. Today, Carsales' app is 99 percent native, but will become 100 percent in the near future.
That's not to say that Bhatia thinks hybrid apps are a complete waste of time. Companies that are just starting on their mobile journey may still find value in deploying hybrid apps, which can be done quickly and at a lower cost.
"Hybrid absolutely has a place — I don't want to employ BlackBerry developers to make a native app for that operating system," he said. "That's where hybrid will come in.
"But when it comes to iOS and Android, the critical mass is there for me."
Bhatia can't put a finger on just how much money Carsales has made through having a solid mobile strategy, but said it has made the company a trailblazer.
"The biggest threat to our business is somebody else out-innovating us, and this is preventing them from doing so," he said. "I love it because it raises the bar on the barrier to entry into our market.
"No longer can you only put up an HTML website — you have to do so much more."