If you already building or looking into getting started with mobile web applications you should understand the basics of PhoneGap. The name ‘PhoneGap’ is widely recognized, and perhaps more widely misunderstood.
That’s where PhoneGap steps in.
So what, tell me what PhoneGap does?
PhoneGap is owned by Adobe and it has an open source top-level Apache Foundation sister project called Cordova. I won’t bore you with its long and twisted history, you can read about it here if you want.
Who uses this stuff, well you may be using a PhoneGap app from one of these online stores and not even know it. To mention a few: Southwest Airlines and many others.
What limitations can PhoneGap address that responsive libraries don’t?
If your requirements call for all or most of the following items, then PhoneGap is the correct choice for your project today. That may change as HTML5 continues to rapidly grow, but for now I’m sticking with the following bullet points. Stick with me and read through all of these before starting to throw out counter arguments.
Or, maybe you have genius-level developers that could easily and quickly spin up on all your need to know on ObjectiveC and Java Android. If this isn’t the case, and your timeframes and budgets don’t allow for this then you’ll need a fallback plan such as PhoneGap.
Access to camera. Yes, you can currently access the camera on some web browsers today. However, the support on mobile browsers is still inconsistent, limited or non-existent. On the other hand, native device OS’s are expected to have access to cameras If they didn’t it would be considered a serious oversight. PhoneGap provides cross-platform mobile device access to the camera.
[Correction Jan. 27, 2014] I mis-wrote. The FileWriter API exists however it has limited supported across browsers: http://caniuse.com/#search=filewriter. And, examples of it’s use can be found here.
AppStore or Google Play. If you have a requirement to submit your application to the app store then PhoneGap will help you get there. There is no way today for submitting a stand-alone web application for acceptance on AppStore or Google Play. Period. Some will argue that the need for using these online application stores is going away, but that’s a non-issue if you have been directed to meet this requirement a.s.a.p. and your job depends on it. If that’s the case, then PhoneGap will be your friend.
Is there anything else I should know?
Yes…First, PhoneGap is not perfect, but then again few software projects are perfect. You will need to install and know a few things about the native IDEs you want to support. If you want to deploy Android you’ll need to install Eclipse or IntelliJ. For iOS you’ll need to install XCode. Etc. You still have to compile a native project or you can try your hand at Adobe’s PhoneGap Build, which is a cloud based build system for PhoneGap.
It is confusing that there are two projects that share a common/similar code base: PhoneGap and Cordova. Also, Cordova’s documentation has typically been more up to date that Adobe’s. If you do your research you’ll find various performance complaints and bug issues (like I just said are there any software projects that don’t have these??). Yet, overall it’s a great starting point if you have the needs listed above, and it’s much better than trying to start from scratch given today’s dramatically shortened delivery expectations.
If you want to add functionality to PhoneGap because you find some critical thing is missing that you need for your project, the good news is you can develop a custom plug-in.
PhoneGap Platform Support