A year ago, the mobile development community was shocked to learn that one of it favorite tools, PhoneGap, was acquired by Adobe. PhoneGap promised to give the world a wider range of mobile apps by letting developers turn Web-based HTML5 apps into native apps for iOS and Android. How would PhoneGap fare after being subsumed into the Adobe empire? Today, we know the answer.
Out Of Beta & Into Adobe's Edge Suite
Today, Adobe introduced PhoneGap’s latest iteration in an announcement at the first stop of its international Create the Web tour. PhoneGap is part of the company's new Edge tools and services suite. Developers that are members of Adobe’s Creative Cloud program can access its latest features. Specifically, Adobe released PhoneGap Build, a service that compiles HTML5 code in the cloud before deploying it to the native app stores. PhoneGap Build has been in an open beta period since the fall of 2010. Today, it is publically available to all developers.
“This is exciting because what Adobe is doing for Web technologies and HTML5 will define how the mobile Web will grow in the next few years," said Al Hilwa, program director for application development and software at research firm IDC, in an email. "The mobile device revolution has been huge for consumers, but supporting each mobile ecosystem is a chore that developers at both enterprises and software firms have to work hard to bring their apps to all the major platforms.”
Adobe's acquisition of Nitobi, publisher of PhoneGap, has not affected the product's core capabilities. The team continues to release new features and updates on a weekly basis. It continues to engage with the open source community and build a free product with paid features, for developers to deploy their HTML5 apps to the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone Marketplace and BlackBerry App World. PhoneGap is still agile and useful.
PhoneGap, which is technically known as Apache Cordova, remains an open source project. According to an Adobe press release, companies like Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard have contributed to the project. PhoneGap has been downloaded over a million times and there are 400,000 developers registered to the service. PhoneGap Build has compiled 200,000 apps for the native app stores to date.
The big news is that PhoneGap Build is finally available to the general public and comes with a new pricing plan. Developers can either become full Adobe Creative Cloud members for $49.99 a month or choose an al a carte option just for PhoneGap Build for $9.99 month. A free option still remains, though it allows only 100 app builds (compilations) a month as opposed to the paid version’s 1,000 per month.
Developers who keep up with each successive PhoneGap update will not find much different with the new product. PhoneGap Build has a faster debugging and build cycle, called Hydration, and it lets developers test apps directly by pushing the code base to test devices. The PhoneGap interface has also been updated with the goal of improving workflow.
PhoneGap’s Place In The Development Landscape
PhoneGap was one of the first “wrapper” services for mobile developers, but other companies rushed to create cloud compilation services for HTML5 apps. Companies like Brightcove, Conduit, appMobi and others also offer compilation services that have matched or exceeded PhoneGap’s original products. A Brightcove executive told me not long ago that its App Cloud service was like “a next-generation PhoneGap” with enhancements and features not found in Nitobi’s original product. Adobe is trying to address the notion that PhoneGap has fallen behind the competitors by releasing App Cloud to the public.
“The mobile Web offers an important path forward for developers and designers that want to leverage their work productively across the different devices. There is no one doing more than Adobe in advancing the mobile Web and the bunch of tools released today into Adobe’s Creative Cloud show that the company’s transformation is making great strides,” Hilwa said.
PhoneGap, despite being in limbo on Adobe’s product shelf for the last year, will now benefit from being part of the larger suite of tools that the company offers. On its own, Nitobi would have had trouble competing on a feature-by-feature basis with companies like Brightcove. With Adobe behind PhoneGap, the service is now part of a much more comprehensive, competitive whole.