Today, a number of companies are offering cross-platform tools. But with PhoneGap's newly launched service, PhoneGap Build, the compilation of native apps using standard Web technologies is done in the cloud. Also, unlike many competitors, PhoneGap Build is free - at least for now, while in beta. And it will remain free for any open source projects in the future.
PhoneGap Build eliminates the complexities involved with building mobile applications for the increasingly diverse mobile OS landscape, where each operating system requires the use of its own SDK (software development kit) and programming languages.
How PhoneGap Works
The PhoneGap Build service is actually an extension of the original PhoneGap service, which was the LaunchPad winner in 2009. Since its win, the open source code has been downloaded over 350,000 times and thousands of applications have been built using the technology.
There was a brief scare in May 2009, when it appeared that Apple was rejecting PhoneGap-built apps from its iTunes App Store (the original version of PhoneGap supports iOS, and PhoneGap Build will soon), but that was back in the day when Apple was a bit testier about cross-platform applications. The company has softened since, even going as far as to update its Developer agreement to roll back restrictions on the use of cross-platform developer tools. Apple said the changes were based on developer feedback, which it took "to heart." That may be at least partially true, but increased competition from other mobile operating systems, most notably Android, also played a role in that decision, it's sure.
For mobile developers, tools like PhoneGap Build will help ease the burden of developing for so many different mobile platforms - something that's much-needed, considering that the number of platforms is still growing, believe it or not. Nokia's MeeGo platform, bada and Qualcomm's Brew MP are emerging as new players in the industry, for example. PhoneGap will soon support MeeGo as well as bada, Samsung's smartphone/feature phone platform released in 2010. Like Brew MP, bada is aimed more at advancing the feature phone's capabilities, but it's an internal platform, while Brew MP is licensed to multiple OEMs.
Not the Only Option: See Our Spreadsheet!
PhoneGap Build, for all its capabilities, is not the only option for cross-platform development anymore. There are a quite a few players delivering "mobile application building" services now.
We recently created a spreadsheet to document all the various options. You can view and edit the spreadsheet here on Google Docs, where it's shared publicly.
Originally, the focus was just on DIY app builders, but it's expanding now to include every service that helps you create mobile applications, from DIY kits for non-developers up to cross-platform tools like PhoneGap or Titanium. Please help us fill it out with the companies it's missing.