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PhoneGap toolkits tame mobile app development

Peter Wayner | Jan. 16, 2014
The very first road to the various app stores from Apple and Google was paved with native code. If you wanted to write for iOS, you learned Objective-C. If you wanted to tackle Android, Java was the only way. Similar issues popped up with all the other smaller players in the smartphone market.

Adobe's Build tool also offers one other nice feature: The binary wrapper for your app can also look for new versions of the software on startup, something that Adobe calls "Hydration." This allows you to push new builds to your users without going through the standard update mechanism.

Adobe sells the Build service as part of the Creative Cloud, its latest plan to bundle all of its applications for one monthly fee that tops out at $75. There's also a free plan for testing out the service that offers one "private app" and an unlimited number of open, public apps. Separate paid programs begin at $10 a month and offer many more private apps with controlled access.

AppGyver Steroids
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the folks at AppGyver are clearly infatuated with PhoneGap. They've taken much of the core from the open source project but have added their own build infrastructure and one very useful feature that may prove irresistible to developers.

The interface is a bit different. Whereas the standard way to use PhoneGap is with the customary developer tools like Xcode, AppGyver runs from the command line and piggybacks on many of the tools developed for Node.js. Installing the software requires running the Node package manager and Python. While AppGyver apparently works with Windows and Cygwin, I ran for my Mac within seconds of starting. AppGyver is geared for Linux and Unix, and everything is ready to go on your Mac because it's a Unix box underneath.

When all the command-line typing is done, you're still playing with the code in your browser. Safari does a credible job of emulating and debugging the kind of HTML that runs in PhoneGap/Cordova. I've found a few inconsistencies over the years, but not many. You write your code in your favorite editor, then you deploy it. I started out debugging in Safari, then switched to the built-in simulator. Safari offers the kind of step-by-step debugging that's often necessary, while the Xcode simulator works more for double-checking.

There were some glitches — or perhaps I should call them overly earnest suggestions. My builds would often fail because some SCSS file was missing. The code ran fine in Cordova with Xcode and in Safari — neither batted an eye. But AppGyver wouldn't move forward without cleaning up that issue.

My favorite part of the entire AppGyver process is the way you can deploy to your smartphone. When you first deploy, AppGyver creates a QR code with the URL. AppGyver also gives away a set of free apps that can interpret these bar codes and use them to download the latest version of the HTML. All of a sudden, your iPhone will reach out and suck up the latest version of your program and run it in AppGyver's shell.

 

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