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PhoneGap fills the smartphone development gap

PhoneGap fills the smartphone development gap

Mobile apps are all the rage these days, but to get one built for your organization can be a daunting financial prospect. Should you decide to go to a bespoke shop to have your dream iOS or Android app coded you would be looking at a seriously large price tag.

But if you're looking for Android and maybe iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Palm WebOS, Bada (Samsung's smartphone OS), Tizen and Symbian as well, you could be looking at a biblical price tag.

What if you could use your in-house Web guys with their HTML and CSS and JavaScript skills and, with a lot less hassle (and expense), build your own apps? Sounds like a dream, doesn't it?

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Well, a dream it is not ... such an ambitious plan could be realized and, indeed, has been realized by the likes of the BBC, Nestle Mexico and NASA Science using an amazing free, open source development platform called PhoneGap.

It is claimed that PhoneGap (a.k.a. "Apache Cordova" ... just to make things confusing), which was contributed to the Apache Software Foundation, has been downloaded over 1 million times and is being used by over 400,000 developers.

According to the PhoneGap Website, "Nitobi was the original creator and is one of the primary contributors to the PhoneGap framework. In October 2011, Adobe acquired Nitobi, enabling the team to focus solely on the PhoneGap project and continue its work on efficient development across mobile platforms. ... There is also vast global community that contributes to the project, including many from IBM, RIM, Microsoft and more."

The scope of involvement by so many big players is fascinating and raises hope that a true cross-operating system development platform for smartphones that relies on well-understood programming paradigms could become a reality. Just imagine if the gap between identifying a smartphone-based business need and rolling out a robust, fully featured, multi-platform app was a matter of weeks or perhaps even days rather than months!

So, what does PhoneGap do? It provides access to smartphone APIs for everything from accelerometer to camera, compass, contacts, file, geolocation, media (audio and video), network, notifications (alert, sound, vibration) and storage, all via JavaScript interacting with HTML and CSS. It's beautiful! (See PhoneGap's chart for which APIs are supported on which OSes.)

Of course, even though PhoneGap is out of beta, it's not all wine and roses. If you want to check out PhoneGap be prepared for poor documentation, some conflicting instructions and moderately serious debugging.

For a general overview that is rather clearer than the PhoneGap documentation see "Explanation of PhoneGap/Cordova for the Layman," and for installation of the latest version check out "PhoneGap 2.1.0 in Mac OS X Mountain Lion 10.8: from Download to iOS App Store," both by Steve Husting. Following Steve's instructions I had a "Hello World" app up and running on the iPad simulator within about 15 minutes!

PhoneGap, while not a complete walk in the park, is the one of the most fully featured, most flexible and most well-developed cross-smartphone development solutions I've come across and, when it comes to capitalizing the basic Web skills of HTML, JavaScript and CSS, it stands on its own! PhoneGap gets a Gearhead rating of 4.5 out of 5!

Gibbs is cross about platforms in Ventura, Calif. Develop your thoughts at gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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