iPhone development tools that work the way you do

You don't need to master Cocoa and Objective C to create killer iPhone apps. Rhomobile, PhoneGap, Appcelerator, and Ansca tools leverage standard Web technologies and still tap native features

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The event code is also focused on single touches. Every object floating across the screen can have its own event listener that makes it simple to detect a hit, but there's no mechanism to handle multitouch events like pinching and spreading the fingers. Ansca is also still experimenting with distinguishing between dragging and tapping events.

I think that the developers of casual games will love this tool because these games are usually coded in Flash and limited to two dimensions. While some developers might want to wait for full three-dimensional access to OpenGL, I've found that my favorite games on the iPhone are limited to 2-D. While the screen resolution is wonderful, it's not good enough for realistic 3-D; depth can only be fudged by having objects move. It's funny, but my favorite games on the iPhone tend to look like the arcade games from the '80s. If that's what you want to create, you can do it quickly with Corona.

Four good tools

The amount of success you'll find with any of these frameworks depends entirely on what you're trying to do. None of these SDKs is ready to produce something as sophisticated as Super Monkey Ball because all of them are limited to two-dimensional applications. If you want 3-D, you'll have to do much of the work yourself.

They also require a certain amount of overhead, and this slows down the applications, although not as much as you might think. The developers of Corona, for instance, are paying close attention to the size of their interpreter. They are proud of the fact that it is only 200KB, dramatically smaller than Flash in part because it doesn't have the same need for backward compatibility.

Corona is probably the best bet for two-dimensional games. I wouldn't want to tackle many games with PhoneGap, Titanium, or Rhodes, although a sophisticated AJAX hacker would be able to do anything that could be achieved with a browser.

PhoneGap, Titanium, and Rhodes are best for letting the user page through menus to browse databases filled with information. They handle many of the basic animations and transitions, and you provide the data and the basic layout. These frameworks are also good if you want to produce an Android application at the same time. Rhodes currently promises the most cross-platform support, although I wouldn't be surprised if PhoneGap and Titanium start catching up.

It's still too early to make a decision based upon price. Neither Corona nor Titanium are quoting costs yet. PhoneGap is an open source project with sponsor Nitobi standing ready to offer professional support. Rhomobile Rhodes is free if you distribute all of the source code to your application with version 3.0 of the GPL. If you want to retain the source code you write, you can buy licenses based on a percentage of revenue. Enterprise users can also buy licenses by the seat.

The technology itself is solid and very functional, but the politics are complicated and shrouded in secrecy. Emulating one language in another is an old trick that programmers have been using since the days when punch cards were bigger than the iPhone. But even the keepers of the mainframes in their air-conditioned temples didn't enforce regulations like Apple does, and these rules are the trouble.

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