Ever since I started my first consultancy business back in 1998, I’ve been thinking “next year will be the Year Of Mobile”.
I’ve been wrong every year.
Of course the sales of mobile phones have been great but in terms of mobile applications and the mobile web, things were more or less stuck in black & white text mode. But, the last couple or years, things have finally started to change – and change fast!
So, it is a very good time to get in to mobile development. This is like the early days of the web all over again. Opportunities are plenty! Before you know it, every company will want a mobile application to accompany their social web site. If you don’t know mobile yet, now is the time to start learning.
The obvious first question is: where do I start?
There are many mobile development tools out there. This blog post is a little deeper look in to three different approaches that will give you an app running in less than an hour.
By far the simplest approach is taken by tools such as AppWhirl. This is an online tool that generates a complete application for you. Not only that, it sends the app to the Apple App Store for approval. That’s right, AppWhirl is only for iPhone.
It is also extremely limited in that you can only generate apps from existing RSS feeds, making it less of an application toolkit and more of a mobile RSS reader-generator. Nothing wrong with that, you just need to be aware of the limitations.
- Extremely simple to use – anyone can generate an application with this tool.
- Extremely limited – this is not an application SDK but a very simple way to publish your RSS feed as an application.
- Only supports iPhone.
PhoneGap is far more advanced. This is how they describe themselves:
Now, while PhoneGap is a cross platform tool, the development process and setup is slightly different for the different platforms. You need to install all the different SDKs to fully use this tool. This can be quite a hassle.
This means if you’re used to web development you will be up and running quickly on PhoneGap. It also means you can use nice frameworks such as JQuery for that AJAX mojo.
Unfortunately the documentation wasn’t exactly up to date so I had some problems getting things up and running on my Android Developer Phone. If this is the same on the other platforms, you’re in for a couple of hours of tweaking settings and installing SDKs and googling around for fixes if you want your app running on more than one platform.
To summarize, PhoneGap is:
- Cross platform, works on many devices – but will require setup for each.
- Capable but still limited by browser. With the upcoming HTML5 PhoneGap will become really interesting, though!
Next in line is MoSync. (First a disclaimer: I have worked for the company behind MoSync.) The platform recently became open source and received an investment from none other than the MySQL founders, Michael “Monty” Widenius and David Axmark. Like MySQL, MoSync is based in Stockholm.
You don’t need to install any other SDK than the MoSync IDE to get started. Programming is done in C++ which means you will feel at most at home if you’re coming from the embedded or gaming world. In fact, MoSync can run legacy games like Castle Wolfenstein just fine:
(That’s me speaking in the background, by the way.)
So far, MoSync is Windows only (although the IDE is based on Eclipse) so Mac- and Linux-users are out of luck. Supported platforms include Symbian S60, Java ME, Moblin and Windows Mobile. Android, iPhone and Maemo are “coming soon”.
MoSync is cross platform but obviously you won’t get more features than the underlying platform supports. Best support you’ll get for basic graphics, sound, simple Bluetooth access and networking. Without a doubt the best feature of all is the promise of one codebase, multiple platforms, but your mileage may vary.
- Cross platform, works on many devices – Android and iPhone “coming soon”.
- C++ based, suitable for porting old embedded apps to native but a little higher barrier to cross for the beginner (but C++ isn’t that difficult).
- Still a bit untested, MoSync needs a few more success stories that proves their claims.
- One codebase, one tool!
All in all, three completely different approaches to mobile development. Which one suits you? Well, that’s for you to decide. They all have their strengths and drawbacks and I think it will be quite obvious for you which one fits your bill.
Now, get out there and create great stuff for mobile!
Updated: MoSync just announced Android support.
Updated 2: David Wood wrote an overview of some other cross platform tools.