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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.

AppGyver doesn't charge directly for Steroids or its Cloud Services at this time. The company funds itself through support fees and white-label development. The AppGyver folks are experts at building, and I'm sure that sharing the tools with the world will help add polish. Prototyper has a free plan and a small monthly fee that starts at $9 and goes up to the coy listing that says "ask for price."

Telerik Icenium
In the midst of all this talk about building smartphone apps with HTML, one company started eating the dog food and building the actual development tool out of HTML. Telerik, the creator of Icenium, is nurturing an entire ecosystem for turning ideas into apps for sale in the App Store or Google Play. At the center is an IDE, it's worth noting, that runs in the browser. You write HTML and JavaScript with a tool built in HTML and JavaScript.

Telerik is offering a complete collection of tools to turn your ideas into an app. You can write your code in your browser, host it in Telerik's cloud, then let the cloud build it into a completed app. All of this is centered around Apache Cordova at the core.

The most significant parts of the offering are the IDEs called Mist (browser) and Graphite (Windows), along with a new extension for Visual Studio I didn't try. Mist and Graphite seem functionally equivalent to me, and I wasn't surprised to find that the projects I created in Mist started appearing in Graphite. Both offer a screen split between a file navigator and an editor. The editor can toggle between a text-based HTML editor and a visual tool for dragging and dropping widgets.

There were some glitches. The editor wouldn't work with several views, claiming they weren't proper HTML5. The complaints kept coming even when I deleted all the various DIVs inside. Sometimes it was simpler to work with the HTML instead of the designer.

I also found myself defaulting to the built-in debugger in the browser. Firebug and Safari's debugger are incredible, and it will be some time before anything will be as good as them.

The main difference between the Icenium tools is access to the hardware. The Windows IDE (Graphite) can access the hardware through the USB port, whereas the browser-based IDE (Mist) can't. The tools seem to be evolving. They make it easy to drag widgets into place, but you still need to read the HTML and think about the structure. I found I had to remember what was going on in the HTML layer to understand how to put together all the widgets correctly.

This limitation isn't as important as it might be, because there's a third part of the equation: Ion, a tool that works to deploy and update your app just like AppGyver does. You download Ion for free from the App Store, and it sucks up the HTML/JavaScript/CSS that comprises your app. Debugging and deploying is as simple as it is with AppGyver.


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