Review: 3 PhoneGap toolkits tame mobile app development

Adobe PhoneGap, AppGyver Steroids, and Telerik Icenium simplify app development, but shine brightest at debugging and app distribution

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.

Then some clever developers came to a realization: All the smartphones offered a nice option for displaying HTML in a rectangle on the screen. You have to write a bit of native code that pops up this rectangle in the native language, but everything inside the rectangle is controlled by the same languages that control the browser.

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Many developers immediately recognized the beauty of this. They wrote a generic native app with one big rectangle that took over the screen, then they handed off control to the JavaScript team. The result could run on all smartphones with only a few minor changes. Not only that, but the developers could use their JavaScript and HTML chops without learning too many details of the various platforms.

The early years weren't kind to this vision. Apple reacted harshly and banned some HTML apps from the App Store. Developers quickly found they couldn't get too creative with the JavaScript or the HTML before the phone started hiccuping and coughing. The HTML-based apps were often rougher and less polished than their native cousins.

That started changing several years ago. Apple relented and recognized that HTML was not dangerous. Then the hardware got faster, smoothing over many glitches. Today, some of the HTML-based apps I've been writing perform just as well as native apps -- and they're much easier to port.

Now these toolkits are being combined with cloud-based services that add cross-platform builds and app distribution to the mix. The leader of the movement, a once open source project named PhoneGap, is running strong and attracting competition from AppGyver, a startup that wants to make it all even easier. In the meantime, Telerik Icenium is evolving along a parallel path and offering a strong collection of development tools and UI widgets sewn together with JavaScript and HTML. All these tools open up the world of apps to developers who already are skilled in building Web applications.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (25.0%)
Capability (30.0%)
Documentation (25.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Setup (10.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Adobe PhoneGap 3.0 9.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.1
AppGyver Steroids 2.7 8.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 7.8
Telerik Icenium 1.7 8.0 8.0 7.0 9.0 9.0 8.1
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