Cross-OS Mobile Development Platforms Could Simplify the Future

Carl Weinschenk

Right now, it looks like the fight for supremacy in the mobile application development world is between Google's Android and Apple, whose iPhone 4 went on sale this week. In the longer term, the focus could shift to cross platforms that would make it unnecessary for developers to choose one side or the other.


The tension between Android and iPhone and their efforts to woo developers will be one of the big stories of the next few years. InformationWeek posted a story on an interesting survey by Appcelerator, maker of the impressively named Appcelerator Titanium Developer Platform.


The writer said that the survey, which garnered 2,733 responses, found that Google may be the better long term platform. He points out, however, that the Appcelerator audience may have a propensity to lean toward Android and its more open approach. The story, which puts the two platforms far ahead of any others, links to the survey results. A slideshow by Mike Vizard at CTO Edge highlights results of the March survey.


There is another angle, and an important one, to the Android-vs.-iPhone issue: Just how deep will the bridges between mobile development platforms be? One of the most intriguing promises of HTML5 is that it will provide a robust-enough platform to work alongside Android, Apple, Research in Motion and others.


There already are frameworks, such as those from Rhomobile, that enable applications to be written in any programming environment and used on any device. Another company attacking this potentially debilitating fragmentation is Sencha, which made a beta of its Touch framework available in mid-June. The commercial rollout of the platform is set for next month. The description of the product suggests the attractiveness of cross-OS development platforms:

The Touch platform is "the first HTML5-based mobile application framework," said Michael Mullany, vice president of products at Sencha. Targeted at WebKit browser-based mobile devices, developers can write applications for Google Android-based systems, Apple's iPad and iPhone, and later on, Research in Motion BlackBerry, Mullany said.

The bottom line is that creation of mobile applications will move forward on a couple of levels. One will focus on direct competition between Apple, RIM and the others. The other will involve creation of "write-once, run-everywhere" workarounds enabling developers to focus on creating the best possible apps, regardless of which platform is being used.

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Jun 28, 2010 6:08 PM Guilhem Ensuque Guilhem Ensuque  says:

Carl, nice intro to the world of cross-platform mobile app SDKs.

One aspect that is not covered is that of fragmentation in development languages. The cross-platform tools you mention use Javascript/CSS (Sencha, Appcelerator) or Ruby (Rhomobile).

Beyond those, I would like to mention ELIPS Studio from my company (OpenPlug) that allows building cross-platform native applications in Actionscript and using Adobe's Flex framework. It supports iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian S60. More info at http://developer.openplug.com

Note also that the "write-once, run-everywhere" mantra sounds to me like a fool's errand. Indeed each platform has its own peculiarities, notably in the set of UI controls they offer and their looks and behaviour for the users.

That is why we rather advocate "write a single core codebase, tweak the UI, build everywhere" and provide built-in tools features that guarantee developer productivity while not watering-down the user experience to a lowest common denominator

Jun 29, 2010 12:03 PM Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk  says: in response to Guilhem Ensuque

Thanks, Guilhem. It will be an interesting year going forward while some of this stuff sorts itself out...


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