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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No one knows what Apple is afraid will happen if a user downloads new software for the emulator without Apple's permission, but it's clear that the SDK requirements forbid developers from adding new features or grabbing new code from the Internet. The company routinely rejects some but not all of the applications that use emulators. (Again, see my personal tale of rejection.)

The companies behind the products in this review are taking different tacks. Rhomobile embraced Apple's goal of thorough testing and stripped out the eval function from the Rhodes implementation of Ruby's interpreter. The company has also worked closely with Apple to make sure that the applications built with its tools can't change their functionality. Rhomobile says it's had no trouble with rejections as a result.

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Some of the developers using PhoneGap have started campaigning publicly in hopes of getting Apple to understand the advantages in the PhoneGap approach. For instance, read about developer Mike Nachbaur's initial and subsequent dealings with Apple's App Store.

There are counterarguments that frameworks like these speed the approval process by reducing the chances of your inadvertently implementing a user interface that violates Apple's guidelines. Objective C developers often run aground when they try to do something themselves and find that their own solution isn't correct. (See Jared Brown's story, App Rejected, and the Macworld forums for examples.)

Programmers using toolkits like these don't make the same beginner's mistakes. While Objective C is quite a nice language, it's also not clear that it's the right tool for anything but high-performance games. Pointers are dangerous items even in the hands of excellent developers. Memory management and threading can be quite confusing. These toolkits remove many of the land mines from the paths of the developers and save them some grief. The software industry builds layers like these because they make everyone's life easier. Emulators and methods like eval are excellent tools. Apple would do well to open themselves up to a wide range of modern languages.

The Rhomobile, Nitobi, Appcelerator, and Ansca tools make it dramatically faster to create applications. The results are often more standards-compliant than using Objective C, but like any other tools, how you use them varies. If the App Store reviewer enjoys the final app, the odds for success are much better. By making it easier for JavaScript, Ruby, and Lua programmers to concentrate on designing the app, not learning a new language, these tools offer a head start.

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