Review: Mobile Web development frameworks face off

jQuery Mobile, Sencha Touch, Kendo UI, and Intel App Framework bring a native look and feel to Web apps for mobile devices

The programming world is made up of virtual city-states that tend to keep to themselves. The device driver authors rarely share much code or ideas with the server app creators. The Windows hackers don't talk with the Mac programmers. It's as if some emperor decreed that Java City will always be at war with C-ville.

That reality is changing rapidly as one language, JavaScript, breaks out of its once simple life of popping up alert boxes to tell people that they needed to fill out every form field marked with a red asterisk. This is most apparent in the mobile world where more and more developers are building mobile apps with JavaScript, CSS, and HTML, then bundling them with a thin, native wrapper. Sure, the JavaScript code isn't always as responsive as the pure native code, but it runs on all of the major mobile platforms -- and in your desktop browser. It's the fastest way to create cross-platform apps.

[ The InfoWorld Test Center review: 3 PhoneGap toolkits tame mobile app development | How are your HTML and JavaScript skills? Find out in InfoWorld's JavaScript IQ test and HTML5 IQ test. | Keep up with the latest developer news with InfoWorld's Developer World newsletter. ]

JavaScript is making these inroads because tablets and phones are growing incredibly powerful, at least compared to their anemic predecessors. The fifth generation of the iPad may actually be 70 times faster than the first generation at some tasks. The new tablets and phones have so much horsepower that they don't always need the speed and simplicity of native code. If the workload isn't too heavy, they can do a good job with HTML5. Why not get all of the cross-platform simplicity if it works well enough? (For more information on what happens afterward, see our review of PhoneGap and related tools.)

But smartphone programmers aren't the only ones interested. For many people, the smartphone is their main way for accessing the Internet. A larger and larger percentage of the mail I get comes with a little disclaimer at the bottom asking me to disregard any typos because it was written on an iPhone or an Android phone. (The BlackBerry keyboards never seemed to need this, for some reason.) If regular websites want to follow the crowd, they need to generate pages that look good on the tiny screen. They can't assume that everyone is reading the information on a desktop box. That means the Web designers are interested in many of the same techniques as the mobile app designers.

All of this makes it a good time to look at a few of the most prominent frameworks for building complicated applications out of just HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. These tools -- jQuery Mobile, Sencha Touch, Telerik's Kendo UI, and Intel App Framework -- are designed to present information in a beautiful way on the small and not-so-small screen. They marry the convenience of HTML with a smartphone- and tablet-centric design. They're the quickest way to get working apps on the new devices.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (25.0%)
Value (15.0%)
Capability (35.0%)
Documentation (25.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
jQuery Mobile 1.3.2 7.0 9.0 7.0 7.0 7.3
Sencha Touch 2.3 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0
Telerik Kendo UI 2013.2.918 7.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 7.8
Intel App Framework 2.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 7.9
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