Monthly Archives: January 2011

The rise and fall of apps. Part 1 – cross platform development

Apps are everywhere. They do everything – apparently – better than anyone could have imagined before.

This is fantastic for now – apps are continuing on their meteoric rise , and the app industry is growing rapidly to meet the new demand. Every client assumes that they need an app for their project “just because”.

This simple demand reminds me a bit of that xtranormal video that was doing the rounds a few months back, which sees the hapless Evo salesperson trying to persuade a customer to buy something other than an iPhone … “I don’t care, just give me an iPhone” (language warning)

App developers are struggling with the simple demand to just build apps for everything and anything, particularly because each phone platform is so different, requiring different skill sets and a learning curve each time a new one appears.

As the number of platforms proliferate (iPhone, iPad, 2 Android, 2 Blackberry, 3 Nokia, Bada, 100 Java …), the effort needed to build and maintain the single app that the client requested grows exponentially, and the costs follow.

[Enter cross-platform development]

Several tools are entering the market which promise that a given app can be quickly and easily moved across to another platform with minimum changes – cutting costs and time to market for both the client and developer. Some fall foul of Apple’s restrictive policies and are disallowed for iPhone/iPad, but PhoneGap for one, has somehow gained Apple’s seal of approval and works for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and others.

Just to be clear, Phonegap still requires that there is an app for each of the targeted mobile platforms, but in many situations, the app is really just a container for the web browser on the phone – the User Interface is all developed using HTML and JavaScript  which run inside the handset browser – and these parts of the app can be moved quickly and painlessly from iPhone to Android to Blackberry etc. with little if any change, though they do need a person who is familiar with deploying apps to each of the separate platforms.

In summary, Phonegap exposes many of the handset capabilities to the HTML & Javascript User Interface, meaning that many handset features normally associated with apps (for example the orientation of the phone, or the users GPS location) can also be used.

The output from PhoneGap is an app, which a user can download to their phone from the iPhone app. store or Android Marketplace, but much of the internals are actually web pages.

If you have experience or an understanding of Titanium or other cross-platform tools, please let us know by reply.

Parts 2 & 3 of this post will explore whether the web browser will rise to threaten the dominance of apps, and how to decide when you need an app, and when you don’t …

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