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Cross-Platform Hybrid Mobile Application Development

There are five different approaches to cross platform mobile application development

Hybrid tools try to resolve the debate of …

“Should you write a mobile web application which will render on multiple platforms without significant change but won’t be able to take advantage on native features?”

Or

“Should you create platform specific native application to fully utilize the power of the device but increase your effort?”

The basic premise of hybrid approach is that you can have your cake and eat it to. In this approach you use the browser control and create a shell application which is then used to render HTML pages. Since most of the popular phone browsers are Webkit based (Microsoft is an exception), they are expected to have similar behavior making you task simpler.

To access the native features of the handset, you need to create APIs in the shell application which can be invoked through JavaScript coding. The tools and frameworks are expected to provide the shell applications and the APIs for different platforms.

At least that is what the theory says.

In practice there are several issues that need to be looked into.

  • There are differences between the browser and the browser control. Their behavior is not identical. Normally, browser controls lag behind and are buggier.
  • Especially for iPhone, there is a chance that hybrid applications may get rejected by App Store.
  • For the current versions, performance issues have been reported.
  • It takes lot of effort to make the hybrid application look and feel like a native application and that is additional effort for each platform – this negated the original value proposition.
  • HTML5 have already started providing access to several native features and we can expect it to become more comprehensive.

Finally, hybrid application kills the differentiation between different platforms. So, why would either Apple or Google be interested in promoting it?

As I have mentioned earlier (here it is), there are five approaches to cross platform mobile application development and many tools are available under each category. They are:

(1)    Mobile Web (JavaScript-CSS library),

(2)    Visual Tool (No access to Code),

(3)    App Generator (Native application for multiple platforms),

(4)    Hybrid App (Leverages embedded browser control) and

(5)     Game Builder

Here are 5 hybrid tools – the ordering is alphabetic.

1. App Mobi

2. NS Basic

3. Phone Gap

4. Quick Connect

  • Home page:  Link
  • Genesis: Started as a tool for iPhone
  • Version: 2.1.2
  • Licensing: MIT
  • Download: Link
  • Documentation: Hybrid API
  • Sample application: ?
  • Implementation: ?
  • Wikipedia: No
  • Additional: Blog
  • Article on how to use: PB Works

5. Worklight

  • Home page:  Link
  • Genesis: IBM has acquired Worklight
  • Version: 5.0
  • Licensing: Paid
  • Download: Link
  • Documentation: List
  • Sample application: Getting Started
  • Implementation: -
  • Wikipedia: No
  • Additional: Video Demo
  • Article on how to use: -

Do let me know if there are any errors and omissions in the details I have provided.

JavaScript Libraries to go with your Hybrid application
If you are looking for lightweight JavaScript libraries to help you develop your hybrid applications, then do check this site out.

This site lists out host of useful lightweight JS frameworks. I did not have the patience to count but the number more than 160. The site also allows you to filter the list using one of the 30 listed categories.

Do check it out – http://microjs.com by Thomas Fuchs

[Update: Here is one more platform - from Telerik]

Next >> Mobile Game Builder Tools

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More Stories By Udayan Banerjee

Udayan Banerjee is CTO at NIIT Technologies Ltd, an IT industry veteran with more than 30 years' experience. He blogs at http://setandbma.wordpress.com.
The blog focuses on emerging technologies like cloud computing, mobile computing, social media aka web 2.0 etc. It also contains stuff about agile methodology and trends in architecture. It is a world view seen through the lens of a software service provider based out of Bangalore and serving clients across the world. The focus is mostly on...

  • Keep the hype out and project a realistic picture
  • Uncover trends not very apparent
  • Draw conclusion from real life experience
  • Point out fallacy & discrepancy when I see them
  • Talk about trends which I find interesting
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