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8 minutes

React Native and Ionic are the most popular hybrid development frameworks for creating mobile apps. Both are open source and support Android and iOS operating systems. And both can deliver great mobile apps.  

As a leading software development consulting company, Softjourn receives many client requests for cross-platform mobile apps. Our expert team of over 250 designers and developers leverages various frameworks to build high-quality solutions focused on user experience and performance. Two of the most popular options we adopt are Ionic and React Native. We have deep expertise with Ionic and React Native, so we're often asked which we recommend. The good news is, either is a great choice. But if you're requesting our recommendation, you really want to know which is better for your specific situation. And that's where things get sticky because the answer depends on what you need and what you're willing to compromise.

In this comprehensive article, I will provide an in-depth comparison of Ionic and React Native to help guide the framework decision process for mobile app projects:

  • Ionic - An open-source SDK and toolset that uses web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to build hybrid mobile apps with native-like interactions.
  • React Native - A framework created by Facebook leveraging JavaScript and React that compiles native app components and views.

To contrast these leading hybrid mobile development frameworks, we will analyze the critical technical aspects, including architecture, speed, capabilities, ease of use, and maintenance. Through relevant examples and case study app demonstrations, I will showcase realistic implementation so you can discern which approach suits your objectives and use case requirements better.

By the end, you will have a firm grasp of Ionic and React Native approaches to building mobile apps, including:

  • Main features, similarities and differences
  • Performance considerations
  • When to use each framework based on project needs

Follow along for an in-depth engineering perspective on matching the best hybrid mobile framework to your next mobile application project!

But let's start at the beginning.

The Native vs Cross-Platform Debate

When considering frameworks for cross-platform mobile development, a hybrid approach leveraging web technologies offers clear advantages compared to native development in Java or Kotlin for Android and Swift for iOS. Hybrid frameworks allow you to reuse front-end skills like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript instead of learning multiple native languages. They also let you build iOS and Android apps faster with a shared codebase.

However, there are some tradeoffs to weigh with hybrid apps around performance and some platform-specific limitations. More advanced frameworks like Ionic and especially React Native have closed this gap significantly in recent years by finding innovative ways to tap into native capabilities while retaining web development conveniences.

Ionic relies on Apache Cordova to power integration with native device features via plugins and JavaScript API access. React Native runs your JavaScript code natively without a WebView, communicating with native components via an asynchronous bridge. The approach impacts speed, smoothness, app size, and platform access.

To pick the best option for your next mobile project between Ionic and React Native, you need to consider the following:

  • Are the required platforms iOS only, Android only, or both?
  • Importance of high-performance interactions
  • The development team's existing skill
  • Timelines for launching an MVP

We'll do a deep dive into all aspects influencing the choice, including the development and build process, capabilities, limitations, and total cost of ownership.

Native Apps

A native app is built to work on a specific platform or device, which, in brevity, we'll call "platform" from here on. Because of this specificity, a native app can access a platform's native features without restriction, delivering the best possible user experience.

Most agree that a native app is quicker and more responsive for end users due to functionality—such as scrolling acceleration, keyboard behavior, navigation, rendering, and animation—finely tailored to optimize platform performance. In addition, some contend that a native app is more stable and secure than its hybrid app counterpart. While these statements are generally factual, the magnitude of their effect is related to the specifics of the app you're building.

The strength of a native app is, however, also its weakness. Its design specificity means if it's to be used across multiple platforms, it must be redeveloped or modified to work on each platform, introducing incremental time and cost to the development process.  

Hybrid Apps

Those championing hybrid apps say they can accelerate a go-to-market strategy and deliver apps on a tighter budget. A single codebase used across multiple platforms avoids the added time and cost of native apps for platform-specific customization. And, of course, there's the benefit of having only one codebase to manage. Can these savings be quantified? One developer claims, "If you're deploying to multiple mobile platforms, your development costs are reduced by as much as 50 percent or even more."

But that saving comes with another kind of price. It's generally conceded that apps built using a hybrid framework give up something in performance and UX because they don't have the direct access to platform functionality that native apps do. Another developer characterizes hybrid apps as "essentially websites embedded on a mobile platform through a Web View and styled to look like native."

The relative merits of native and hybrid apps set up our evaluation of whether Ionic or React Native is better for you.   


Ionic: One Code, Many Platforms

Ionic is the classic hybrid mobile app development framework. It exists to make mobile app development easier across multiple platforms by using a single codebase. Its fans attest to its ease of use and fitness for purpose. In short, Ionic can help you build great mobile apps—quickly and economically—that work well across platforms.

One of Ionic's key strengths is its familiarity. It's Angular-based and leverages HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to write and render apps. PhoneGap/Cordova enables calls to native APIs to provide bridges to access or approximate native features, such as a smartphone's GPS or camera. Since most of an Ionic app is built with HTML and JavaScript inside a Web View, developers with strong JavaScript or front-end web development knowledge can hit the ground running. In addition, Ionic offers robust documentation, an extensive community of developers, and a robust marketplace for plugins.

Ionic applications are ideally suited for developing data collection applications, as well as tons of other applications that do not rely heavily on the underlying hardware and do not depend on the hardware graphics.1

As a classic hybrid development framework, Ionic doesn't offer direct access to native features, which may diminish the UX, making it necessary to evaluate the importance to your app of "approximating" native features vs. "directly accessing" native features.  

Pragmatically, if your app doesn't rely heavily on the underlying hardware and hardware graphics, approximating native features may be barely noticeable in a UX sense. The same is true if you convert a website to a mobile app or develop an MVP as fast as possible. But, if your app is mobile-first or relies heavily on the underlying hardware or hardware graphics, you might need to think harder about how approximating native features will affect the UX. In those situations, are Ionic's benefits of speed to market and lower cost worth the tradeoff in the UX?  

Ionic Pros and Cons


  • Familiar web dev skills sufficient
  • Easy styling and theming
  • Massive library of CSS/JS components
  • Works well for essential, content-driven apps


  • Performance hampered running a web app on a mobile
  • Animations/interactions can lag
  • Limited control compared to native UI

React Native: Combining the Benefits of Hybrid and Native

React Native is also a hybrid development framework that supports building mobile apps across multiple platforms using a single codebase, but it also renders defined components as native platform widgets. One way to think about React Native is as a hybrid hybrid. It makes native app development easier by sharing most of the codebase while embracing native platforms.

React Native is focused solely on building a mobile UI, making it more like a JavaScript library than a framework. The resulting UI is highly responsive and feels more fluid, thanks to asynchronous JavaScript interactions with the native environment. This means the app will have quicker load times and a smoother feel than a typical hybrid app.2

React Native is primarily a JavaScript-based framework, but rather than using HTML and CSS, like Ionic, it requires separately written bridge components for each platform. The goal is to create apps and UXs close to what can be achieved in a native environment. It also leverages JSX, a JavaScript language extension similar to HTML, but may present a learning curve for developers who haven't encountered JSX previously.

Developers fans of React Native say apps built on this framework remain understandable even as they get significantly more prominent. They also point to React Native's strengths in tracking down bugs and its readability (even to the unfamiliar). But, most of all, they praise the speed of its apps. One developer says React Native can keep your UI animating and scrolling smoothly at 60 frames per second, even when your app runs complex logic.

But, again, those benefits come with the downside of additional time to market and cost. Reversing the logic of the above Ionic discussion, the question becomes, "Does the app you're building require the speed and UX to justify the cost/time of creating separate bridge components for each platform?" And, of course, is the talent available to build the platform-specific components available?  

React Native Pros and Cons


  • Truly native performance
  • Smooth animations and interactions
  • Can build native experiences per platform
  • Leverages React skills


  • Steep learning curve beyond web skills
  • More effort to integrate native functionality
  • Rapid evolution-breaking changes

User Experience and Capabilities

The technical architecture behind Ionic and React Native significantly impacts what you can build and the resulting user experience. Some key considerations:

Rendering Approach

  • Ionic uses WebView, which can hamper the smoothness of animations and scrolling.
  • React Native maps components directly to Native UI elements for fluidity

Performance Benchmarks

  • React Native consistently benchmarks faster for task processing and frame rendering.
  • High-velocity interactions like graphics-rich gaming apps favor React Native.
  • For more superficial apps, Ionic on WebView can be reasonably quick

Platform Access

  • React Native has more consistent access to the latest device features and native APIs
  • Ionic relies on community Cordova plugins, which may lag new functionality

Design Flexibility

  • Ionic uses CSS for layout - makes styling and theming simpler
  • React Native follows web patterns, but native components limit customization

A streaming video app with a minimal design would perform well in Ionic if we evaluate a few real-world examples. However, React Native would be vastly superior for a 3D game with device API integration.

Of course, capabilities keep expanding. Ionic now integrates native features like gesture handling directly, avoiding WebView lag. React Native has grown its component ecosystem to simplify more use cases without needing native code skills.

Ultimately, evaluate your target features set and where native performance or platform access are dealbreakers. Also, consider where pre-built UI components get you furthest the fastest.

Development and Maintenance

When building, updating, and maintaining an app over time, Ionic and React Native have similarities and differences that impact costs.

Ionic enables you to create cross-platform mobile apps using standard web development skills like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Since Ionic frameworks appear as progressive web apps wrapped in a native container, development moves quickly. However, accessing native functionality requires custom Cordova plugins or reacting to updates in native APIs and breaking changes.

React Native provides an abstraction layer through React to build native iOS and Android UI and access native APIs. But React Native also requires knowledge of platform-specific coding to handle deeper native integration. This is important because React libraries must explicitly support native iOS and Android.

So when using Ionic and React Native, consider the following:

Iteration Speed

  • Ionic fast to build with web skills
  • React Native requires a learning curve for React

Integration Effort

  • Ionic takes custom plugins to access native
  • React Native also needs native code for full access


  • Ionic uses Cordova tooling to package apps
  • React Native apps built with platform dev tools

While React Native results in better performance, Ionic frameworks enable cheaper and faster app creation by leveraging the web. For most apps without advanced functionality, Ionic may suffice if native UI fluency is not essential.

In the end, consider timelines, budget, and internal skills—factor in where native compilation and code provide the experience your app concept demands.

Case Studies and Examples

To better understand the real-world capabilities of these platforms, let's analyze some sample apps built with Ionic and React Native.

Ionic App Examples

  • Pacifica is a self-care and anxiety therapy app with daily mental health tracking tools. Mostly content and text-based.
  • JustWatch - Streaming service and movie app featuring search and discovery. More straightforward UI with minimal fluid animations.
  • Viessmann - Control panel for connecting and monitoring intelligent heating systems. Basic controls and data displays.

These Ionic apps emphasize content, data, and simple controls where hybrid performance is adequate. Smooth scrolling and tap interactions are not central to the app's purpose. The web development skills and component libraries accelerate work.

React Native App Examples

  • Instagram - Fast rendering photo feeds, filters, and augmented reality features require native performance.
  • Discord - Chat and community platform with advanced real-time collaboration demands native capabilities.
  • Singlecue - DJ mixer system tapping audio APIs and leveraging high-performance gesture tracking.

For these React Native cases, accessing native APIs or optimized processing is pivotal. Compiling UI code and logic to native metaphors instead of rendering web views matters enormously.

Key Takeaways

  • Content-primary apps work well in Ionic, like streaming services
  • Graphics, gaming, and hardware-access apps shine with React Native
  • Know your complexity and performance requirements

Ionic rapid development can suffice for more straightforward use cases and is far cheaper than React Native projects. However, performance-sensitive, animated, and native-integrated concepts achieve the required responsiveness best in React Native.

Recommendations and Conclusions

Deciding whether to use Ionic or React Native depends significantly on your app objectives, timelines, budget, and capabilities required. Keep these critical recommendations in mind when choosing:

  • Ionic best suits essential content-driven apps that emphasize UI over complex interactivity. Quick to develop.
  • React Native is recommended for apps needing smooth animations, high-intensity graphics, and hardware device access. Superior performance.
  • Evaluate required native APIs/features access upfront. Can drive framework selection.
  • For prototype and MVP development, start with Ionic for faster time-to-market. Iterate later.
  • For premium market quality expectations, start with React Native for polish, finish, and fluidity.
  • Audit team skills before introducing new frameworks, especially around React and native languages.

While trending toward parity in capabilities, significant architectural differences remain between Ionic and React Native today.

Ionic delivers a path leveraging common web development skills and starter-level performance. React Native prioritizes rendering and accessing native experiences closer to the metal.

Matching app vision to realistic framework capabilities and team skills is vital for success. Now, understanding the strengths and limits of Ionic vs React Native in detail, app builders can confidently align technology decisions to their mobile objectives.

We're Here

Again, both Ionic and React Native are both great tools for mobile app development.

But by examining your mobile app's requirements, the business environment in which you're working, and the tradeoffs in your choice of Ionic or React Native (See Table 1), you'll make the right decision for your situation.

If you're still not sure which framework is better for you, contact us. We have deep experience working with both, and we're happy to share our recommendations one-on-one to help you make or validate your decision. 

Table 1 Ionic and React Native: Key Points of Comparison3,4

Point of Сomparison   Ionic React Native
Application type Write once and run across platforms with minimal changes. Only a portion of the code is shareable across platforms. Bridge components are platform-specific.
Testing Real-time testing, with instant previews on smartphones and browsers. It shows modifications as you make them. Native rendering is produced but requires an emulator or actual device for testing.
Language stack Based on Angular, a JavaScript framework, using HTML for views. Logic and arguments are separated. Based on React (backed by Facebook).
Coded in Typescript is a typed superset of JavaScript that compiles to plain JavaScript. JavaScript framework using JSX, which adds XML syntax to JavaScript. JSX resembles HTML but is different.
Rendering The app instantly refreshes after making a change. It takes place in real-time or conditionally if you choose.
Community It emerged from the established ecosystem. Healthy, supportive online ecosystems. Plugins available.