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jQuery Mobile and the Fall of the Native App

Posted by
1 April 2011

Ever since Apple’s hugely unpopular announcement that they’re going to claim 30 percent of all developers’ in-app revenue, alternative platform talk has been more rife than ever before.

It certainly looks like Apple has cooked the goose that lays the golden eggs for dinner.

jQuery Mobile

So, what is this alternative platform, exactly?

I mean, you don’t want users to have to jailbreak their iDevices to be able to install the next big serendipity app, right?

Let’s take one step back.

In the blue corner, we have native frameworks and languages. These are vastly different from platform to platform – in other words, once you’ve finished coding an iPhone application, you still have to code a version for Android from scratch, as well as a version for Blackberry, a version for Windows Mobile, and every single update you release, has to be ported to all these platforms.

In the red corner, we have good old HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript. It works the same in all browsers on all devices, with minimal styling adjustments between different platforms. In other words, a mobile web app is easier to build than a traditional desktop website.

This is mainly due to the fact that, on mobile, there is no equivalent to Internet Explorer version 6, 7 and 8. Hallelujah!.

The main trade-off here is native app styling, which is quite design-heavy, and has had a lot of thought and development put into it.

And here jQuery Mobile provides us with a true Silver Bullet.

The jQuery legacy

jQuery, self-branded as the write less, do more javascript library, has all but re-invented Javascript in the past six years. Based on, and improving on a discontinued library called Behaviour, jQuery treats Javascript development as a bag of functions tied to HTML elements. This results in a much more organic development paradigm for the web.

This all sounds pretty technical, but all you need to know is, once you’re used to jQuery, it makes previously complicated things very simple. In a very big way.

jQuery goes mobile

In August 2010, jQuery announced an alpha version of their new library, jQuery Mobile.

Everything jQuery does for the desktop also applies to mobile, so what does jQuery mobile add to the mix?

Styling and behaviour. With some Javascript and CSS magic, jQuery Mobile turns this:
Woos.at unstyled

into this:
Woos.at with jQuery Mobile

without any work on the developer’s part.

Pretty nifty eh?

In the Interim …

While the app store is still alive and well, HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery Mobile can be used in conjunction with platforms like Phonegap or Appcelerator Titanium to actually compile HTML5/jQuery apps down to native apps on most of the main mobile platforms.

Hopefully, before too long, one of these will happen:

  • Someone will start an alternative, hugely adopted HTML5 app store (quite likely)
  • Apple will come to their senses and try and save the app store by including HTML5 apps (less likely)
  • The entire app store paradigm will die, and people will install apps from a variety of third party providers (not very likely at all)

So … while we keep on building HTML5 apps and mincing them into apps through Phonegap, won’t someone please go ahead and start up an HTML5 app store, please? (and make it hugely popular, of course … )

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