Beyond the App

 

Beyond the App

Digital’s most recent field trip took a couple of us all the way to Amsterdam, our Intermarketing Agency sisterland, to attend the PhoneGap EU Day.

PhoneGap is an Adobe product that allows you to create hybrid (IOS, Android, Windows etc) mobile / tablet apps using web development skills in HTML, CSS & Javascript (principle languages a front end developer must know).

I’ve built all our recent apps in Apache Cordova which is the corresponding engine to PhoneGap (think of PhoneGap as a distribution of Cordova with tools that let you deploy Cordova apps easily).

The main takeaway from the conference was that hybrid apps are becoming easier to build than native IOS and Android apps.  Therefore, our front end developers can use their HTML, CSS and Javascript knowledge to build hybrid apps using the Cordova engine instead of using native IOS and Android languages.

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The Conference:

Speakers at the conference varied from performance and progressive enhancement speeches through to new development frameworks for Cordova, even to the way in which mobile app development is growing in the developing world. Notable speakers included Kerri Shotts, who serves as a moderator on the PhoneGap Google Group and went through the ‘phone gap gotchas’ that she has to answer on a day to day basis, and Eddy Verbruggen – showing how the web and apps can share code between them, even using pages from the website in the app.

The top 3 things we learnt that we will be implementing / coming across in the next 6 months:

One of the main problems when developing an app is testing the plug ins (plug ins for apps can be anything from using the phones camera through to using a plug in that checks whether the phone is online or not). Recently working on the adidas Camera app which places you onto a branded background and allows you to drop emoticons onto the image, I was unable to test the app in browser like I normally would with a website, so every time I made a change to the codebase I would have to have the iPad plugged into my system and refresh the app through Xcode to test the apps functionality. Using Cordova Simulate – we can test the plug ins in a browser without needing to physically test the app on a device every time we make a change! The next 6 months should definitely see some usage of this.

Another interesting speaker was Tim Lancina from Ionic.  Ionic is an open source framework again using HTML, CSS and Javascript but also implements Angular to create apps. I’ve done some internal tests using Ionic and Ionic Creator to create prototype apps for internal use. One problem that we’ve often come across  in previous app builds is working the keyboard around a form.

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Tim showed us how to keep it simple and clean and use the Snapchat UX when creating form inputs, so that the input is fixed to the screen, and won’t move when the keyboard comes up from the bottom.

In his talk, ‘The State of the Gap’ Remy Sharp quoted Adobe’s Brian LeRoux in 2012 “PhoneGap is a polyfill, and the ultimate purpose of PhoneGap is to cease to exist”. In short, the only reason we currently create apps is because the web can’t do it. At the moment, you can use some apps offline something you can’t do with the web, but that’s all starting to change. Apps allow you to use the phone’s camera, microphone, etc where the web couldn’t. However most modern browsers like Chrome, Safari are starting to let us to do this. Soon apps as we know them will be redundant and we will download them from the web directly. We used this method, for example with the Italian Restaurant Salvos’ website. Sharp shared an interesting piece on download drop-off from advertising to download stage. If you have 1000 customers downloading the app, research shows a 20% drop off occurring after every click. Therefore the quicker you get someone to download the app, the higher the number of users you will get. We are continually looking at using new browser connectivity and hope to create more ‘web apps’ moving forward. Watch this space…

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