This is where a relatively new breed of application enablers called ‘mobile web app frameworks’ come into play. However, it is a dynamic landscape, and the options available change every couple of weeks or so, making it a tricky area to pin down.
There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages, and the native app developers are always ready to argue the downside of mobile app frameworks, but they make a lot of sense for developers who need to quickly build apps using web technologies that are supported across a wide variety of mobile platforms. This is important seeing as mobile traffic will be rising quite a bit this year.
While there are plenty of players in this field, the dust may be settling a bit, and we may just be able to begin seeing who is going to be left standing as the game unfolds, so he’s a quick overview of the most popular mobile frameworks for performance.
jQuery Mobile supports iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, and more. Most of what you need to wrap your basic code for deployment is already written, so you just have to tweak the branding and the layout. There is a strong community for support and excellent documentation. Developers report that its functionality has more of the feel of a native app as opposed to a mobile website.
If platform native theme look and feel are really important, you may want to take a close look at Sencha Touch.
With themes for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Tizen, and a variety of other platforms, it delivers the look and feel of a native app. Powered by HTML5 and CSS3, it provides a robust set of APIs, components, and other elements that are compatible with the current crop of mobile platforms and their browsers.
Sencha Touch has been around for awhile and has a strong community of developers in the hybrid mobile app space, it’s also reported to have a bit of a longer learning curve after the initial exposure.
For developers more concerned with performance, Ionic could be the framework of choice. Based on HTML5, it leverages hardware acceleration and uses AngularJS to power its apps. Using two-way data binding, its interaction with back-end services and APIs is stable and reliable. Look for more creative ways to build apps from the folks at Ionic in the near future!
Another framework that uses AngularJS is the Mobile Angular UI. Interactive components like switches, sidebars, and overlays are delivered by way of Bootstrap 3. Since it doesn’t require any external jQuery dependencies, delivering a robust mobile experience for users is simply a matter of directing AngularJS.
If you’re looking for a one-stop mobile application framework with everything you need in one package, you might also want to take a look at Appcelerator’s Titanium studio. Titanium studio features platform independent APIs that make accessing mobile device hardware extremely clean and reliable.
Famo.us is promising to eliminate the HTML5 performance issues often associated with mobile devices. Famo.us is a newcomer to the mobile application framework space, but is featuring a number of innovative approaches to its business model that may boost its acceptance. Still in beta, one of its attention-grabbing features is its lightweight JS library which comes in at only 64k.
An incredibly lightweight mobile application framework based on HTML5, Jo is optimised for all the major mobile operating systems. Its wrapper is significantly smaller than some of the other frameworks and includes a flexible event model, a light data layer, sound encapsulation, and a nice set of UI widgets.
This overview is neither in-depth enough nor comprehensive enough to be the final word in a space that is changing as quickly as the mobile application framework space. That said, each of the entries in this list have some unique strengths that will appeal to developers with differing needs.
The dynamic space that it is, there are many voices in the discussions around the strengths and weaknesses of these and other mobile frameworks. Please add your voice to the discussion below and let the developer community know what your experiences have been.
Ivan Serrano is an avid tech writer and photographer based in the heart of San Francisco.