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Building a mobile app? We look at 11 of the best frameworks for you

When developing your mobile app there are several methods you can use. These methods include native, web apps, and cross-platform development. In this article, we’ll be looking at cross-platform development.

The best, yet more difficult way to develop a mobile app is to go native. The native development process involves writing the application in the desired program’s native language, such as Object-C (SWIFT) on iOS, which is them compiled into machine code. The main advantage of developing a native application over hybrid is the performance gained by utilising hardware and software features directly. The biggest disadvantage comes at the price of rewriting the app for each platform you want it on, which dramatically raises the development cost.

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Enter hybrid/cross-platform development; a much simpler way to creating apps. These frameworks remove a lot of hassle and expense from creating an application. There are two different variants of cross-platform: web view and hybrid.

Web view is more accessible of the two as it wraps a native app shell around HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for utilisation on the platform you want. This method is the easiest to develop for as you’ll need general web development skills and knowledge.

The second version of cross-platform development is compiled hybrid, which is more traditional in nature. Compiled hybrid uses programming languages, such as Java or C#, and compiles them into a native app. This version is geared towards general programmers.

Cross-platform development frameworks are perfect for startups and those with limited resources. It is quickly gaining ground as a viable method of development with the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Toshiba jumping onboard.

PhoneGap – web view

Based on Cordova and owned by Adobe, this framework is a commercial version of Cordova and considered the go-to solution for multiplatform web view development.

It’s an open source option with stability and flexibility. This is due to the wide selection of plugins available for tapping into a device’s accelerometer, camera, microphone, compass, and other hardware and file system features.

PhoneGap can also be used in conjunction with other frameworks, such as JQuery Mobile, to create more complex and robust apps.

Some of the applications created with PhoneGap include the RPG, Browser Quest, and Rormix, a platform for discovering music videos from independent emerging artists.

There is a free option available, but those wanting to develop on an enterprise level will need to contact PhoneGap for pricing.

PhoneGap is best suited to website developers with a knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Appcelerator Titanium – compiled hybrid

Another highly popular framework, and one often contrasted against PhoneGap in terms of development, Appcelerator Titanium focuses on creating compiled hybrid apps. The framework uses JavaScript to compile into compatible platforms, such as iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Tizen.

It also integrates a Model View Controller (MVC) framework, which many website developers will be familiar with. Titanium includes mobile test automation and 60-90% code reuse across device platforms.

Appcelerator Titanium is best suited for JavaScript programmers.

Some of the applications created with Appcelerator Titanium includes Avis, ReMax, and Pwc.

Ionic – web view

One of the advantages Ionic has over its competitors is the speed at which its developers integrate new trends and features. This means Ionic will always be up to date with new technology. Like PhoneGap it is also based on Cordova.

Its framework is maintainable, scalable, and uses clean easy to read markup. Ionic contains a library of mobile-optimised CSS, HTML, and JavaScript components. It also includes tools for gestures on different devices.

It is also a free to use and open source application with a very large ecosystem. You’ll be able to find almost any API you already need with Ionic.

Ionic is best suited to entry-level programmers wanting to play with the latest tech.

Xamarin – compiled hybrid

Another hybrid compiler, but this time using C#. A little more legwork is needed when using Xamarin. This framework requires users to familiarise themselves with APIs for separate devices as well as knowledge of the platform’s architecture to successfully deploy multiplatform apps.

Xamarin targets itself as an Android and iOS development platform.

Some of the companies using Xamarin include Kellogg’s, Trello, and Slack.

There is a free version of Xamarin available, but it comes with limited features. In order to get the most out of the framework, you’ll need to pay for the full version, which starts from US$25 per month.

Those who are familiar with C# will be able to get the most out of Xamarin.

Intel XDK – web view

One of the newer frameworks, Intel’s entry into the market includes a full set of tools right out of the gate. The included features included are for development, emulation, testing, and debugging for hybrid apps. It also supports jQuery mobile, Bootstrap 3, and the Topcoat UI framework natively.

Intel has developed a system that can be installed on any platform and developed for any platform. The supported installation systems consist of Windows, OSX, and Linux, and apps can be developed for iOS, Windows Phone, Android, Tizen, Firefox OS, Amazon, Facebook, and Chrome OS. It also touts game development for HTML5 apps.

Some of the apps using the Intel XDK framework are Star Nomad Elite and Hostel HookApp.

With a robust range of supported platforms and the free asking price, Intel XDK is the framework to look out for in the future.

Sencha Touch – web view

Unlike most entries on this list, Sencha Touch is geared towards enterprise-level development and many of its products are expensive. The benefits of the Sencha Touch framework include custom components that can be built and used across other apps as well the inclusion of widgets with native look and feel for all leading platforms.

Those wanting to delve into this framework will need to invest a considerable amount of time to get the best out of it, but it does come with everything you need in one place.

Some of the apps created with Sencha Touch include Intel, KPMG, and Cisco.

Sencha Touch is best suited to enterprise developers with large budgets.

Kendo UI – web view

Kendo UI is a jQuery-heavy web view framework. It’s able to create any kind of mobile app using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

It includes the theme builder and comes with a range of themes already available for its apps. It also includes over 70 jQuery-based UI widgets, which will make it attractive to those who want UI-heavy mobile apps.

While there are free trails available on the Kendo website, it can cost US$1200 per developer, and has paid-for modules. The free options may be more attractive to users, but doesn’t include as much support or features as the paid-for version.

Kendo UI is best suited towards jQuery-heavy and UI developers.

Framework 7 – web view

While Framework 7 supports both Android and iOS, many iOS developers are still using it as their preferred framework production platform. It doesn’t offer cross-platform support. Its powerful set of included iOS tools is what keeps developers coming back. These tools include swipe back, pull to refresh, and messages among others.

It also includes a range of plugins, such as Keypad, Toast, Feeds, and 3D panels.

Some of the apps using Framework 7 include Sprint Social and Series Seven.

Framework 7 is also completely free under the MIT licence.

Codename One – compiled hybrid

Like Titanium, Codename focuses on a single language than web development. It takes Java and compiles it into mobile-ready code. The included Maker tool allows for non-developers to develop applications without any knowledge of how to code.

Can be used to change Android-focused apps into iOS-ready ones.

This one is best for Java developers and novices.

Trigger.io – web view

Trigger.io’s claim to fame is the robust selection of out of the box APIs for development.

Its Reloads system means updates can be made to apps without having users install updates. It doesn’t use Cordova for native access.

Apps created in it apparently have much better performance and are closer to native than Cordova versions, but this is debatable. Uses JaveScript APIS for access the hardware.

Best for development teams with larger budgets needing fast builds.

Apportable – compiled hybrid

A more game-orientated framework, it allows developers to simultaneously develop apps for Android and iOS using Objective-C. It works with Xcode, Object-C, and SWIFT.

Apportable is popular when creating apps on the Google Play and Amazon AppStore.

Best for iOS developers and game developers.

 

VERDICT: While Intel XDK and Titanium may look like the best options in their respective categories, there really is no overall winner. Coding and development are subjective in their relevant platforms and what works for the app you make today might not work for the app you make tomorrow. You will also need to take into account what your team is comfortable with.

Do you agree or disagree with our selection? Please leave a comment below.

Image by Kārlis Dambrāns via Flickr.

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