Blog Post

PhoneGap Seeks to Bridge the Gap Between Mobile App Platforms


Building apps across different mobile platforms is hard and time-consuming for programmers because each platform has a complex, proprietary language. Objective-C, for example, a language used mainly to write for the iPhone, is known for being significantly different than other, more standard ones. This, especially in a tough economy, often forces small teams to make a choice about which platform they’ll build for, eventually leading to fewer choices for phone consumers and fewer places developers can offer their apps.

But the larger pool of developers out there, who know how to write for standard languages like JavaScript, CSS, and HTML (Ajax), now stand ready to blow this system wide open. They’d do it with the help of PhoneGap, an open-source app platform for which software company Nitobi took home top prize this week at the Web 2.0 conference’s LaunchPad competition. PhoneGap uses the standard web languages to allow programmers to write one code that can work on many different phones. By expanding the reach of apps to more phones, PhoneGap could give developers both a bigger audience and faster outlet on which to test the commercial viability of those apps.

The huge need for a multiple-platform service is only heightened by the recent growth in app store solutions. Just this week, BlackBerry launched its own app store, and Nokia (s nok), Palm (s palm), and Microsoft (s msft) are prepping theirs for this year. PhoneGap currently allows developers to work on the iPhone (s aapl), BlackBerry (s rimm) and Android OS (s goog), and will soon work with the others’ systems as well.

Nitobi CEO Andre Charland admitted on stage that using an easier language will not help developers build super-complex apps, like those required for some games, but noted that developers don’t need that level of complexity to build good web apps. PhoneGap actually faces a bigger problem with the growing functionality of mobile browsers, which will allow developers to just write for the web. That’s still a ways off, though.

While PhoneGap is open source, the company won’t give away the invention entirely. Charland said Nitobi plans to sell the tool to large developers through an enterprise license that would promise API stability for up to five years.

Apple, in the meantime, continues to lead the App Store buzz  because developers like its renewed emphasis on outside apps and its more robust store. But if programmers could write for three other phones while working on their iPhone app on a single platform, while other companies begin to enhance their own online stores, the specialness of the Apple App store will dissipate. Only then could developers and their apps be liberated from Apple’s grasp.

According to Nitobi developer Brian Leroux, PhoneGap has history on its side. Developers gravitate towards open source, and previous versions of ‘platform fragmentation’ have been solved by open web tech. This means that hardware makers will need to keep innovating tech specific to their product to offer a different experience. That’s a good thing.

Phone makers are tired of letting Apple take all the credit for bringing apps to the mainstream and customers want access to the apps iPhone customers currently enjoy. If PhoneGap doesn’t work, another company will go for this space to open up the app process. Google has been expected to do this with multiple phones carrying its Android OS, but 18 months since its announcement, only one G-phone has been released. That’s not nearly enough for developers chomping at the bit.

14 Responses to “PhoneGap Seeks to Bridge the Gap Between Mobile App Platforms”

  1. tetontech

    PhoneGap is good as far as it goes but QuickConnectiPhone has many more capabilities.

    The porting roadmap is found at

    The web site is at

    And it can be downloaded (version 1.1.3 or 1.5 Beta 6) at

    It is also under development for Android, Linux, Symbian, Mac, and soon Palm’s WebOS.

    If you are looking at PhoneGap you should take a look at this framework as well.

  2. sethurz

    Would it always be the lowest common denominator instead of a verbatim translation of code to code?

    Also, is it backwards compatible making it easy to convert pre-existing apps to other platforms?

    From a consumer perspective, if this is done right, it could be a huge win.

  3. The web is not a pipe dream.

    The web solved the problem of cross platform app development for 90% of applications. As technologies like the canvas mature and the javascript vm’s speed up the 10% will follow. I love the commitment to Bondi out there but the fact remains that it only exists as a spec and nothing more. You can build cross platform apps on top of webkit with surprisingly good performance today with PhoneGap.

  4. Android, Pre, WinMo, and S60 have such different programming models that lowest common denominator meta-platforms will show their compromises to the user and carry a big performance penalty.

    Platforms will converge when all phones have HTML5 and JavaScript and BONDI or an Android-like security framework for accessing local resources.

  5. We at Mobisy, have implemented one such solution for 1.5 years now. Our cross platform run-time works on iPhone, Symbian , J2ME and Blackberry devices. I must say that the challenge is to get great responsive UI in addition to allowing a dynamic application via web technologies.

  6. Nicholas

    My only question is, what are you writing for three devices? Does Ocarina translate to BlackBerry? Does Tap Tap…? Do these devices incorporate any swiping actions? So, what this platform accomplishes is creating applications that have proven to be poorly received.

    Tools like this are necessary, but it seems that people are missing the point of Apple’s success. It is the combination of OS, hardware, tools, a store, and most importantly customers.

  7. HereAndNow

    Hopefully HTML5 & BONDI (or PhoneGap) become high priorities for the smartphone OS vendors, so that powerful, cross-platform web apps can be delivered sooner rather than later. PhoneGap already appears to be gaining momentum, in delivering web apps that can access native smartphone functionality (e.g. geo location, accelerometer, etc.) via JavaScript.