Building Mobile Web Apps in the Cloud
Developers who are reluctant to develop the same application for multiple platforms have embraced mobile web apps. In cases where the app needs access to phone features, hybrid apps provide a good compromise. Now, there's a new option that promises even quicker turn-around times called Cloud-based app development. Since everything is on the Cloud these days, why not mobile apps? Their inherent Internet connectivity makes them a perfect candidate for Cloud services. In today's article, we'll learn what distinguishes cloud-based app development from others as well as identify a few prominent cloud development platforms.
What is a Mobile Cloud App?
Before we get into how to build a Cloud Web app, let's take a step back and define what exactly a Cloud Web app is.
In terms of architecture, Mobile cloud apps resemble Web-based applications most. In both cases, the app runs on an external server and is served to the mobile device via a browser. This allows them to be run on just about any mobile device, unlike native apps, which can only be run on the mobile platform they were written for.
Moreover, mobile cloud apps do not need to be downloaded and installed on mobile devices. Users may view the mobile cloud app in a browser with an active Internet connection. Most often, data is transferred between a mobile device and a mobile cloud app server using JSON over HTTP, due to JSON's light-weight structure.
Tools of the Trade
One especially prominent feature of mobile cloud apps is that their development also takes place in the Cloud. Thanks to a host of cloud-based app builders, literally anyone - even someone with practically no technical skills - can churn out a mobile cloud app with ease. Here is just a sampling of the most popular platforms right now:
Formerly known as Tiggzi, this platform is defined as "a rapid development, integration and deployment platform for delivering cross-device apps in the enterprise". The appery.io app builder uses drag and drop to help create cross-platform HTML5 applications. It supports all major device platforms, including Android, iOS and Windows Phone. One of the main advantages to working with a builder that is running in the Cloud is that there is nothing to install or download. It creates hybrid apps that behave like native ones buy using common APIs that run consistently across iOS, and Android devices. Appery.io supports popular frameworks like Apache Cordova/PhoneGap, Ionic, and jQuery Mobile.
Conduit's main product is Como, a mobile development platform that allows users to create native and web mobile applications. Before that, Conduit ran a successful but controversial toolbar platform business. Unfortunately, their toolbar was flagged by most antivirus software as potentially unwanted and adware. Luckily, their mobile development platform brought them greater success.
Como is considered to be an ideal solution for non-technical people, because it allows someone to create amazing designs without any coding. Moreover, you can create applications for both Android and iOS in just minutes. App creation is free, but they do charge a monthly subscription fee to place apps on the Apple Store or Google Play. The Como platform includes a wide variety of additional features including Catalogs, RSS, e-commerce, social feed, Scheduling, notifications, events, and many more. Is it any wonder that over a million apps have now been created using Como?
Codiqa is a drag-and-drop builder for creating cross-platform HTML5 mobile apps, similar to appery.io. As such, Codiqa is more targeted towards designers, rather than programmers. Codiqa's drag-and-drop interface allows for quick and easy mobile prototype building, with a Preview mode to test your prototype. Developers can import, edit, and export HTML/CSS/JS in a cloud-based visual editor that provides a live preview of every change made. Once an app has been prototyped, the tool builds the app with a combination of code and HTML5 components. Thus, once an app has been prototyped, there is no need to start all over again to construct the "real thing".
Probably the most technical of the various cloud based app development platforms, Kinvey provides a complete Backend as a Service (BaaS) platform geared towards entire businesses and mission-critical apps. So if you're a fairly strong programmer, it offers the most versatility and fine-grained control. Major companies like Johnson & Johnson, NBCUniversal, and Farmers Insurance all use Kinvey. The company describes itself as "taking the hassle out of building and operating mobile backends". Their aim is to reduce backend development time to mere hours, allowing you to prototype with less effort and time spent. Moreover, you don't need to write any backend code such as database, user, or file management. Security, compliance, and end user support are all built-in on top of an open, standards-based architecture. Perhaps most interesting of all, you don't have to pay unless your app is successful.
That's just a few sites to get you started. There are others to be sure. In fact, considering how new Cloud Web apps are, we can expect to see a lot of new development sites cropping up over the next year or two.
Rob Gravelle resides in Ottawa, Canada, and is the founder of GravelleWebDesign.com. Rob has built web applications for numerous businesses and has recently developed his own jquery-tables library.
Rob's alter-ego, "Blackjacques", is an accomplished guitar player, that has released several CDs. His band, Ivory Knight, was rated as one of Canada's top hard rock and metal groups by Brave Words magazine (issue #92) and reached the #1 spot in the National Heavy Metal charts on ReverbNation.com.