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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.

It's impossible to praise this feature too loudly. I don't know how many times I've lost a day or two of development because apps will only run on iOS devices that have permission from Apple's secret bunker. One guy wrote me saying the software wouldn't work on his phone — it turned out he'd upgraded a week before. The old UUID in the certificate chain was worthless now, and everything had to be redone. It's not exactly right to say that nothing happens in the iOS world without a developer asking "mother may I" of Apple, but it's a close approximation. AppGyver's solution is a godsend for developers.

The AppGyver system avoids the endless clicking that gets in the way of real debugging and real quality assurance with real users. Apple's tools insist you can't have more than 100 beta testers no matter what. The AppGyver app has already been approved by the App Store, and it can download the latest version of your app when anyone points the camera at the bar code. Others can debug your code, and it's much simpler. This is real innovation.

There are other claims that I found harder to verify or appreciate. The AppGyver team calls its product Steroids in part because it offers some page transitions written in native code. You can optimize your code a bit, and Steroids is supposedly going to replace the poky HTML/JavaScript transition with its own.

I used to see the value in this several years ago. Some of my HTML apps were slow at times, especially when I filled up the RAM with baseball statistics. But this effect has been much less noticeable on the newer smartphones. The bigger memories and faster chips do a better job of swapping out the HTML pages. For that reason, I didn't see or feel much difference when using Steroids. This might be quite different with your app; I've noticed that the smartphones handle code in widely varying ways.

There are other parts to the AppGyver world. Steroids works with AppGyver's Cloud Services that handle the building and distribution of your app. When you're just debugging, the code flows through the cloud to your iPhone or Android. When you're ready to submit it to the stores, it will build the code for you — if you upload your private key for creating the digital signature.

Prototyper, a neat tool still listed as beta, tries to make app creation as easy as uploading images, then dragging and dropping links between them. It works, but only for the simplest ideas. After a few minutes, I wanted to seize control again and write text with an editor. It may be, however, a good tool to give to the boss for sketching out a prototype. If anything, it will help the boss understand how much work the programmers really do.


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