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Review: Mobile Web development frameworks face off

Peter Wayner | Oct. 31, 2013
jQuery Mobile, Sencha Touch, Kendo UI, and Intel App Framework bring a native look and feel to Web apps for mobile devices

One of the more notable differences is a smaller library for manipulating the DOM that offers the most important features of jQuery without the slower functions. Intel claims its library is the fastest and most robust answer to the mobile Web, though I didn't notice much practical difference in my tests. The functionality and structure is pretty much the same as jQuery, and if you need perfect jQuery compatibility you can install a plug-in that runs jQuery alongside.

The best part may be the larger collection of tools that include a website and a Java-based client for building and testing your applications. There's also a newer Windows executable for those who want everything running locally.

You can drag and drop the DIVs into the right place and try the results in your browser. The tool works well, at least for the basic construction. While I wished it could handle a few more features like uploading any image -- I had to suffer through the tedium of copying the images myself -- it popped out a basic app pretty quickly. Intel also offers a Web-based style builder for editing the standard elements of a mobile Web app that will spit out a CSS file when you're happy with the results.

All of the structure is marked up in HTML, and the JavaScript does the work. Any styling is done by CSS, and the transitions and widgets are fairly standard. Some of the less commonly used widgets like the carousel are kept separate as plug-ins you can add as needed. This keeps the resulting code smaller and thus easier to deploy through the Web instead of as an app.

The source code for the App Framework is released under the very accommodating MIT X11 license. The terms of use for some of the Web-based tools say they're for "personal, non-commercial use," but I'm not sure if they really mean it. At this point App Framework feels more like a project "sponsored by Intel" than a commercial venture.

Intel App Framework
App Starter -- a UI prototyper for Intel's App Framework -- lets you drag and drop your widgets into place.

Websites like native apps
The results from these four solutions have much the same feel. All four are trying to emulate the collection of native widgets offered by the various platforms, so it's no surprise they end up producing similar results, at least for basic, static apps filled with pages, buttons, and text.

The differences lie underneath and appear when you start writing your app. If you prefer to write HTML and you think in HTML, then jQuery Mobile, App Framework, and Kendo UI are the better choices. All three of these will accept your app as a stack of DIVs, then parse and and lay them out appropriately. If your app is relatively static with a well-defined map of links between pages, this is a pretty simple way to program. You write HTML and it looks like Objective-C or Java, running natively.


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