Cross Platform Mobile Apps

The usage of Mobile Apps has been tremendously increasing over the past 2-3 years. There is a lot of scope for expansion in this field. Almost all leading software companies are focusing on mobile app development., However, time and investment are proving to be a challenge.

An app built for an Android device will not be compatible with other devices, and the efforts are to be repeated so as to make that app compatible with other devices.  This led to the need for cross platform mobile apps. These apps limit the efforts of the developer for creating or testing mobile apps on various platforms.The theme of these tools is very simple, the developer can create apps using any custom language (java or or HTML or any other scripting language). Once the design and execution of the app is completed, the developers can use a simple function to generate the same functional app for any mobile platform version of Android,Blackberry, or iOS or any other mobile platform.

Re usability of Code,Reduced Development Costs, and Easy Deployment are some of the advantages of using cross-platform networks .There are various Cross-platform frameworks available. Some of the best ones are,PhoneGap,Appcelerator Titanium and Rhodes.Let’s discuss the salient features of each of these 3 frame works

1) PhoneGap:PhoneGap is an open source framework for building cross-platform mobile applications with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Using this app the developer can create an application that can run on multiple devices/platforms with the same code base.Apps developed with PhoneGap can interact directly with mobile device hardware like GPS,which are unavailable to normal web apps.These apps can be built and deployed like native applications.PhoneGap supports almost all platforms like Android,iOS,Blackberry and Windows Mobile etc. making it the most powerful framework for cross-platform development.

2) Appcelerator Titanium:Appcelerator is known for their revolutionary product, Titanium, which allows web developers to create mobile applications without learning Cocoa-Touch or Java. Titanium is basically an API and run-time which allows you to build a web application and deploy it to a mobile device, or run it on the desktop. A Titanium Mobile Web app is designed to be run from a web server. You can successfully run it from a browser as a local file also.The main drawback with Appcelerator is that it doesn’t have Android Emulator, a virtual mobile device that runs on your computer, which lets the developers to develop and test Android applications without using a physical device.

3) Rhodes: Rhodes is an Mobile App Development framework from “Rhomobile” that enables developers to develop sophisticated mobile apps that could be deployed on all the major mobile platforms like iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android.

Rhodes uses HTML for user interface development. Thus, instead of having to develop the UI in Objective C, C++, Java, or .NET for each device, one can do it once in HTML and deploy on all the devices. Rhomobile claims that, “You don’t even have to know much about Ruby. HTML was chosen because of people’s familiarity with it”. This approach speeds up the development process, even if you only want to launch on one device. Their developers claim that using Rhodes to develop a mobile app takes about 1/5 the time of building it natively using the device’s standard tools.

Rhodes is dual-licensed under the GPL and a commercial license. Open-source Developers make their apps by using the GPL version of the framework and need not pay a dollar to Rhomobile.  On the other hand, the commercial developers may license the commercial version of Rhodes and negotiate either a revenue share or per-seat fee with Rhomobile.

Having said that, the cross platform mobile development tools are still not considered be panaceas. Even though most of these tools are still evolving rapidly the mobile platforms are evolving even more rapid pace. Major platform vendors are competing against each other to bring loads of functionalities and capabilities to life. You may expect some surprises when testing the same functionality on different platforms/devices. Another important thing to consider when creating a new functionality that does not exist in the cross platform may take even more time to its cross platform counter part. When the application is getting complicated and time to bring in new enhancements, you cannot assume it would be breeze anymore.

Even though it is better to construct proof of concepts and prototypes using these cross mobile frameworks, we should better evaluate the nature of the app, users of the app, performance requirements and ease of maintenance and adapting enhancements.

Did you use any of the services above? We would love to hear your experience with these services. Please feel free to drop in a comment or two.

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