When the iPhone first launched, Steve Jobs announced that the web was the iPhone’s development platform. Despite the many initial groans that there wouldn’t be a true app platform for the device, a healthy ecosystem of web apps created specifically for the iPhone began to appear. Eventually, Jobs and company relented and added a full on platform to the phone allowing anyone to create applications that took advantage of the phones unique, native features. But that left the web application developers out in the cold.
They faced two options: either learn Objective-C and Cocoa so they could make an iPhone app version of their iPhone web application, or stick to their web app and operate at a disadvantage since they did not have access to many of the iPhone’s native features.
Enter Big Five and PhoneGap. Both projects have essentially the same goal — allow web developers to access the iPhone’s native functions, such as taking photos, geo location, vibration, and the accelerometer via the web — but each takes a slightly different approach.
The Big Five Browser Approach
Apps can create a special Big Five URL that can be bookmarked on the iPhone home screen and automatically opened in Big Five instead of regular iPhone Safari.
The problem, though, is that Big Five only works for developers if users have it downloaded. And the biggest barrier to getting it on user iPhones is that Apple has so far rejected it from the App Store. Apple’s stated reason for rejecting the application is that it provides “limited utility to the broad iPhone and iPod touch user community.” In reality, it seems likely that it was rejected over security concerns.
The PhoneGap “AIR” Approach
As I understand it, developers can then package everything up using the PhoneGap SDK into a specialized iPhone application version of their web app. PhoneGap even has a web application of their own that allows developers to “to quickly package their web app into a native iPhone app by providing a URL, a name and icon graphic [which then] automagically create[s] a native iPhone application.” The native iPhone app could then be submitted for App Store inclusion.
AJAX developer Dave Johnson compares PhoneGap to Adobe AIR, though there’s still a lot of work to be done to package it all up. The comparison is sound, however. “The aim of PhoneGap is to bring mobile phone development to web developers just as AIR has brought desktop application development to the web community,” he writes.
The next step will be to get Apple on board.