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“Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript” book release party at AS220

On January 20th, Jonathan Stark presented his new book “Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript” to the Providence Geeks at our monthly dinner, hosted by AS220. Jonathan is an expert on mobile software and mobile web.

Jonathan began by saying that writing for O’Reilly is a wonderful experience. Brian Jepson, one of O’Reilly’s editors and a Providence Geek organizer, was there. Several O’Reilly people from around the country where in attendance as well.

Mobile Apps, a quick history. June 29, 2007, iPhone released. Everyone at release event goes nuts when Jobs slides to unlock the phone. “How to develop on it?” At the time it was only web apps but 9 months later Apple releases the SDK, then the App Store. 1 Billion app downloads by November 2009, 3 Billion by January 2010.

Compares to Android, Blackberry, Nokia, Palm. All are good but none are as definitive as iPhone.

Web Apps

Developing for iPhone is a complete pain in the butt. SDK is only available on Mac, Apple takes 30% of sales.

“I want my app on all these phones.” Each platform uses different languages and APIs for development. “Don’t web apps already run on all of these?”

Identifying web apps:

Is: available at a URL, uses web standards optimized for mobile.
Is Not: installed on the device, available at iTunes or other app store, no access to certain phone features: accelerometer, microphone, speakers, address book.
Can access: GPS and text SMS services.

Native apps always look better. Development complexity depends on project goals. Beta testing much easier on web apps. Load testing and distribution especially. Payments and cross-platform issues also easier on web. Native app development means sitting on hands waiting for Apple approval.

Hybrid apps – Phone Gap gives developers the best of both native and web. MIT licensed application framework will work as native app and web app. Has functionality differences such as access to camera and cosmetic differences. More people can create the mobile web.

Fragmentation – with scores of different devices, better hardware and software. “If you can build your app with HTML, CSS and Javascript, then you probably should.”

Jonathan demos his “Kilo” app at http://jonathanstark.com/kilo/ This is a Phone Gap Javascript application, can access camera etc, to demonstrate the abstraction layer.

Q&A

Q – Does it (Phone Gap) store cookies?
A – Actually uses a SQL instance but similar to cookies. Makes web apps available offline.

Q – GPS access?
A – Not sure about other methods but Phone Gap does support GPS. Also can get GPS coordinates in Safari.

Q – Phone Gap as an app-bundler?
A – Yes but has approval issues.

Q – Is it open source?
A – Active development under MIT license.

Large retailers want to be on every device, much easier to target using technology like Phone Gap.

Q – Monetization model?
A – Same as other web SaaS products. Depends on market, mobile payments are still an issue.

Q – Please talk about writing for O’Reilly.
A – O’Reilly books are the best – but it’s not just the writers. The whole system including editors and interested people is amazing. The book is online for free now but also available in multiple formats. Open feedback loop like a blog system where each paragraph of the book is an entry. Constant feedback makes a better book.

Q – How does a web app work offline?
A – HTML 5 runs offline, loca storage creates persistence with the SQL databases. Check Safari settings “database” page for the Offline Application Cache – list of cachable stuff.

Jack Templin says “This is one of the most important technology titles of the year.”

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