iPhone Development Alternatives: Code Without Objective-C

Apple (s aapl) has gone to great lengths to allow anybody who wants to, the ability to develop and sell their very own app. I appreciate this but I’ve never programmed in Objective-C before and I’m not sure if I want to learn. So I started looking around for alternative ways to create an iPhone app. I had already created web apps using iWebKit so the idea of using HTML and JavaScript is very appealing.

I know, you’re saying “Why not just learn Objective-C? You’re so lazy.” I wanted to test the waters first before I spent a lot of time learning a new programming language. I’m sure there are many other options out there but these are the ones I have looked at.


PhoneGap is a free open source development tool that allows you to build apps using JavaScript. There is support for iPhone, Android & Blackberry environments. This was the first tool I learned about and it really intrigued me. PhoneGap is designed for someone with HTML and JavaScript knowledge. It will provide a bridge into the iPhone development world.

The first thing you do in install PhoneGap’s library installer and template into Xcode. Now you can choose to create a “PhoneGap-based Application.” This will give you a starting point and it will create all the files that are needed to begin. The idea is that you can build your app like a website. You use HTML and JavaScript as you would if you were creating a web app. There are some native features you can use such as Accelerometer & GPS. It still may be a little tough since the documentation is a little sparse. It’s still young though and they are heading in the right direction.


RhoMobile is similar to PhoneGap but much more polished. Commercial apps require a licensing fee and that’s why you get so much more. RhoMobile also has support for all current mobile OS’s, synchronized data plans, Ruby support and a web-based development service called RhoHub.

It’s a very nice package and definitely a step up from PhoneGap. They also use special HTML tags to access native features like GPS, contacts, camera, maps and push. Visual style is also very important and that’s why they integrated styling based off of iUI to keep everything feeling native.

The RhoHub editor looks very nice and their sync features are also inviting. The problem I have is the price. I’m already going to be $99 down just to become a developer and I don’t want to risk more money while I’m testing the waters. RhoMobile charges $500 per app and if you use their RhoSync server it starts at $5,000 for 100 users.

I love what they’re doing but I don’t want to commit that much yet. They understand this and even talk about it on their FAQ page.

“Some of our best customers have graduated from a simpler framework.”

Someday I may try them out but not this early in the game.


Titanium is similar to RhoMobile, but it’s free. It makes money by offering professional plans that give you premium support, beta access and more in-depth analytics data. I don’t need those features yet so the free version works perfect for me.

The big push with Titanium is keeping things native. It uses JavaScript to talk to the iPhone OS and complete tasks using native elements whenever possible. This allows you to create an app that looks and feels like a truly native app.

Titanium is a developer application in itself so you don’t have to work in Xcode. Everything is run off of JavaScript and HTML files that you can edit in your editor of choice. It’s just like creating a website except for the special JavaScript calls that it has developed.

It is actually easier to use the native elements it provides than to try to create the iPhone look using HTML. It has a great example app called Kitchen Sink which shows you everything that can be done. If you like what you see, find the source file and see how their developers did it. I like learning this way and it allowed me to advance and get comfortable pretty quickly.

A lot of other steps have to be taken on the Apple Dev Center site to allow you to test apps on your devices and submit them to the store such as provisioning & distribution profiles. Once you take care of all your profile downloads and testing, Titanium can create a zip file that’s ready to be uploaded to Apple. I was very impressed by how easy this was. I used Titanium to test my apps in the iPhone simulator, on my iPhone and then created the file that was ready to submit.


To get into iPhone developing, I was willing to spend the $99 Apple wanted, but that was it. Until I could make that money back, I wasn’t interested in paying for anything else. Now that I see the backend and have actually made some money, the idea of paying for development is more appealing.

If you are ready to take the plunge, I would look at Titanium. You’ll get the native elements without having to learn Objective-C. If you have a some money to spend, and perhaps a more complicated app, RhoMobile may be the answer. If you have a lot of money to spend then why not hire a developer who could bang it out for you in a week? It all depends on what you want to get out of the experience.

Now that I have done a few apps using Titanium, I am interested in learning and using Apple’s SDK tools. I hope I can find the time and the willpower to learn a new programming language. It would be the logical final step in my iPhone journey. I started by making web apps and to finish by making native apps just makes sense. If you have a good idea for an app then go for it, the most you’ll be out is $99 and some time.