PhoneGap makes mobile app development more accessible
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from our friend Dan Moore. He recently wrote a book about PhoneGap’s new command line tools. I asked him to share what it was about these new tools got him so excited that he would do the most insane thing I can think of and become an author. Hope you enjoy. —Jason
Use of applications that run on your phone or tablet (aka apps) is growing rapidly. Building apps typically requires a specialized skill set–developers have to know languages like Objective C and Android Java. In addition, they need to have a design sense as well, because they are building user interfaces. Few developers have this combination of skills, and so those who do can charge for it.
PhoneGap, and its open source foundation project Cordova, democratize the development of mobile applications. (PhoneGap is built on top of Cordova the same way Safari is built on WebKit, so there are many similarities between the projects.)
For most of the past four years, developers using PhoneGap faced a few problems when developing or maintaining PhoneGap applications. Among them:
- Plugins were not separate from look and feel or business logic.
- Every plugin had its own set of instructions for installation and/or upgrading.
- Specific IDEs had to be set up for each supported platform.
All of these problems are tough enough for small applications, but for apps maintained for more than one release, the issues add up quickly.
CLI to the Rescue
Version 2.9 of PhoneGap, released in June of 2013, included a command line interface to manage applications. Instead of plugins being manually installed according to a README, standardized installation procedures are available. There’s a nascent plugin directory so that discovering a needed plugin no longer requires hunting through Google search results.
Developers still have to install and maintain device specific platform SDKs, but once they’ve done that once, they can add or remove a platform for a given project with a single command. And if a developer is just doing a quick prototype or can live with the (considerable) constraints, there is PhoneGap Build, a cloud service, which can build PhoneGap applications without requiring platform SDK installation.
With the PhoneGap/Cordova CLI, a developer can code and test a mobile application without running the device specific tools (like an IDE or ant script) even once. Of course, if an IDE makes a developer happier or more productive, they can use one for developing application code as well.
The CLI makes coping with change easier
The breakneck pace of PhoneGap development hasn’t changed, but the cost of upgrading has dramatically decreased. Instead of having to recreate platform environments entirely manually, or (more likely) simply not upgrading, most configuration has been pushed into standardized files. In some cases, upgrading can be as simple as running a few commands.
The command line interface opens up new worlds of automation, and continues PhoneGap’s march to democratize the mobile application development world.
Dan Moore is Director of Technology for 8z Real Estate, a Colorado and California real estate brokerage, and the author of “Developing Cross Platform Mobile Applications with Cordova CLI”