Developing hybrid mobile apps with Phonegap, AngularJS, Bootstrap

In this post I am going to talk about developing hybrid mobile apps with Phonegap, AngularJS, Bootstrap. In my post Develop mobile applications using web development skills, I pointed out a list of possible frameworks which can be used to create a hybrid mobile app. My favorite choice so far is using Cordova/Phonegap (Read my post on my opinion about Cordova/Phonegap) in combination with a hybrid app development framework. In my previous mobile applications I have developed, I used to use jQuery mobile as my framework of choice for developing the UI of my apps. Nowadays, I have switched to another combination, which is:

Cordova/Phonegap + AngularJS + Bootstrap

The hybrid mobile app architecture with Phonegap, AngularJS, Bootstrap looks like this:

The presentation layer is built with Bootstrap framework, the app domain is modelled using AngularJS, and the is packaged using Cordova/Phonegap to a native app. Let us go through the components of this hybrid mobile app architecture and describe them.

Bootstrap

Bootstrap is a mobile-first responsive front-end framework. What this mean? Bootstrap has an easy to use responsive grid which allows you to position your layout in a well structured responsive way. As the framework is built with mobile use in mind, it responds well to different screen sizes and adapts the layout of the app easily to different screen sizes. This is a good possibility to use the very same implementation for tablet and mobile devices of different screen sizes. And it is not only the grid that makes it special. It helps you manage typography, responsive images, forms, form validation messages, notification messages, responsive tables, and a good number of UI components. You can download it from getbootstrap.com.

AngularJS

AngularJS

AngularJS

A very powerful, full-featured JavaScript MVW framework. With AngularJS framework, you can give a structure to your app domain model and manage your app logic in a very flexible way. Everything is organized around a model which is displayed through a View. Views can be well structured templated HTML code styled and organized using Bootstrap. Controllers organize the communication between the View, Services, and all other parts. The framework supports a good routing mechanism, which can also be extended by other extension libraries for more powerful functionalities. There are a plethora of extension libraries for AngularJS which add value to the framework by filling in the gaps of the framework. You can get AngularJS from angularjs.org.

 

Cordova/Phonegap

Cordova is an Apache project which creates an underlying platform for developing multiplatform mobile applications. In our case, it makes possible the AngularJS+Bootstrap web app to be packaged to a native mobile app which can be published to the mobile markets and be instlalled in mobile devices. Adobe PhoneGap is a distribution of Cordova.

Basically what Cordova does is to make possible the web app to run inside a WebView component of a native app, we can say it as a native package of a web app. You can do the packaging using Cordova Command Line Interface (CLI) or using Adobe PhoneGap Build which does not require any installations.

The most powerful feature of Cordova in my opinion is the extension possibility by plugins. By installing specific plugins, you get access to device’s hardware such as camera, compass, geolocation, as well as other device specific APIs such as contacts, media, notifications, etc. Very powerful plugins such as barcode reading, push notifications, and many more, can give your application good features by writing few lines of code.

The development process

As we described the architecture parts, let us start with the process of developing hybrid mobile apps with Phonegap, AngularJS, Bootstrap. We start with creating a sample application  which shows you your current location coordinates and demonstrate the development process. The easiest way to start the app development is by creating initial template using Cordova/Phonegap CLI. We do this through this command (if you do not have cordova cli installed, here is the link showing how to do it: https://cordova.apache.org/docs/en/4.0.0/guide_cli_index.md.html)

The create command requires 3 arguments:

  1. The directory name to be created for generation of the project, in our case “blogSample”
  2. The second argument is the project identifier, in our case “com.ariancelina.blogSample”. Usually it is used as a reversed domain name identifier
  3. The third argument is the display title of the application, in our case “BlogSample”

In this sample code, I used phonegap to create the app. The command equally applies to cordova as well.

If you already had phonegap installed and the app was created successfully, inside blogSample directory you should have a config.xml file and four other directories (hooks, platforms, plugins, and www). Platforms folder contains builds for specific platforms, plugins directory contains installed plugins, and WWW directory contains all our web code (AngularJS + Bootstrap + other files).

To read our location coordinates we need to install the Geolocation plugin (Find the list of plugins) and we do that by executing this command:

Now that we have the initial structure, we need to add platforms to which we want to deploy, but to do that, we need to be inside out app directory, which in our case is blogSample. Adding ios platform is done using the command

After the platform is added, we can build our app using

We can repeat last two commands for all other supported platforms like android, windows phone, etc.

If we want to test our app, we can go to directory blogSample/platforms/ios and lunch BlogSample.xcodeproj and run the app in simulator or existing device.

We have our platform set up, now let us add the AngularJS and Bootstrap files. After we download these (download AngularJS as a zip file so you get all parts of it), we put inside blogSample/www/js directory AngularJS and Bootstrap js files: jquery-1.11.2.min.js (jquery is a dependency of bootstrap and can be downloaded from jquery.com)angular.min.js, angular-route.min.js and bootstrap.min.js. Inside blogSample/www/css directory we put bootstrap.min.css and bootstrap-theme.min.css files. And the last part here is to link these files in our main file index.html. We put css code in head section:

and near the closing body tag we link the javascript files

Now we have the setup ready and we can start coding the logic. We need three things to define to make it work, we need an angular route config which allows us to navigate from page to page, then we need an angular controller, and a view which will display the user his/her current location.

We start with the app.js file which contains the initialization of the js app. This file also is the place where the initialization events are placed. In our case, it looks like this:

We start by defining our angular app, blogSample (line 1). We initiate it and  define the modules which we need (ngRoute, ui.bootstrap). There are other interesting things happening here. As we are used to use jquery ready function to react when the page is loaded and ready for use, here we have onDeviceReady event which is fired when the app is loaded and we can start using it. Inside this event, we will get the current position of the device through this line of code

The getCurrentPosition function which gets the current latitude and longitude of the device, needs two functions as parameters, first being the function that is called if the current location can be obtained successfully, and the latter for errors. The error function is used to report the unavailability of the location. The success function is used to read the coordinates and bind them to our angular app, blogSample through this function

Now that we have our app setup ready, let us define two views, one about page and the other showing location information. Showing the coordinates inside the view is done using

AngularJS will substitute the values inside curly braces with current coordinates set in onSuccess function. But views do not access application level values. We usually link a controller with a view, and view is limited to the scope of that controller, so we need to define a controller to glue the coordinates to the view. The controller will look like:

and finally we add the router configuration to bind the controller to the view and enable the user moving between pages. The router has this code:

The router part defines one default url and ‘/about’ url. The default url ‘/’ binds to main.html view, and the ‘/about’ url binds to about.html view.

Now that we have all the building pieces in place, we need to add the reference of last created files in index.html and the references will look like this:

Now that everything is on place, we can deploy our app to the phone for testing, or run it in a simulator. Running the application is different depending on the platform. You may use the simulators that can be started from phonegap, by xcode, eclipse, or android studio, but for any serious app development, I would strongly suggest you try your app in a real device. I will not go into details about deployment as it is out of scope of this post, but in the simplest scenario, you may go to platforms folder inside  your phonegap project folder, and open the project of the specific platform and run the project from the respective ide.

The complete source code of this application can be found on GitHub https://github.com/acelina/phonegapWithAngularJs, you may download it and try it on your computer.

Develop mobile applications using web development skills

The need for mobile apps has increased dramatically as their number to. The number of mobile devices in use has passed the first billion more than a year ago and it is still increasing. As mobile use is closing the gap with computer use, the gap of development skills is increasing. Mobile platforms are huge with lot of possibilities and not so easy learning curves. Apple iOS supports Objective-C, C, C++, or Swift programming languages, on the other side, Android supports Java programming language. If you want to target these platforms, you have to be proficient in at least two programming languages, which is not very easy. In addition to that, publishing to both platforms requires you develop and maintain the very same application twice. Cross platform development of hybrid webview applications could be your saviour if your requirements are not graphic or resource intensive. With the performance of the mobile devices of our time, we can easily run mobile web applications packed as native apps with a performance close to native apps (games and resource intensive apps make an exception here). But how do we build such an app?

The answer is, by leveraging our existing web development skills with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript and packaging it to a native app. But as we make our mind to use these technologies, we have still many other choices to make. The next one is what framework do we want to use. You can choose to make your UI by yourself, but chances are you will make a not so good feeling UI, or you will use quite a good time with it, so going with a framework is a wise choice here. Some of the choices are:

and this is not the end of the list. There are more choices.

Some of these frameworks offer only a mobile friendly User Interface (UI), and some have UI and packaging features. UI only frameworks are jQuery mobile, AngularJS and Bootstrap combination, Ionic and AngularJS, Kendo UI, and intel XDK. If you choose one of these, you can packaged them to a native mobile app using Apache Cordova or Adobe Phonegap Build. Appcelerator Titanium and Sencha Touch offer their own tools of packaging.

How do you make your choice? I would say your experience and required time to market are most important factors here. Perhaps jQuery mobile can give you the fastest way to put the app together, however, I must say it does not give you a very native user experience. Kendo UI has a good set of UI components but it comes at a price. So, in my opinion. there is no clear line here. The project requirements and available skillset influence the choice.

From my personal experience, I have developed few apps using jQuery mobile, Sencha Touch, and AngularJS with Bootstrap. The latter is my favourite choice, but I am looking forward to expand my horizon and try other frameworks as well. Let’s see what future brings.

Multiplatform development with Phonegap

It has been a while not being active in blogging. I have been engaged in a project developing mobile applications for a tourism project in Kosovo. The project entailed development of three mobile applications for the needs of the project in three major platforms, iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile.

As the requirements were to develop the very same functionality and look in all platforms, the first thing that came to my mind was to use in HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript combination. I would share the same code and design in three different platforms and finish the project in a faster time.  After a short analysis and readings, I came to decision to use jQuery mobile and PhoneGap. Now that everything is finished, I would like to describe my experience here so you can make a better judgement when you start your own project.

Goods

The initial start of the project was a fairytale. I managed to customize the jQuery mobile theme and adjust the design as needed and created the prototype within a week. It was a nice piece which satisfied the needs of my client. I used the PhoneGap build which made my job easier. There was no need to install anything and was using a text editor to write HTML + CSS + JavaScript code.

PhoneGap is an excellent tool to build non-native applications in an amazingly fast way. Our application was a basic brochure which did not require a native experience and HTML5 app was doing a great job.

Leverage existing knowledge

Leveraging existing knowledge was the main motivation behind going non-native development. My experience in designing and developing web applications was a great help in immediately starting to develop the applications.

Shared functionality

Although I managed to port around 70% of the functionality in all three platforms, the idea of write once run anywhere is a fallacy. I faced the most problems when porting to Windows Phone. The browser was not rendering well the look and feel and had to do some custom tricks to adopt. Also there was a bug with back button event in jQuery mobile which was not reacting well to Windows Phone back button event. Apple iOS and Android platforms were working fine with minimal differences.

Easier maintenance

Maintenance is a huge cost factor in the lifecycle of an application, and mobile applications make no exception on this. Having the same codebase made changes easier and faster. After deploying the first version, we saw the need to some updates, and having to touch same JavaScript or HTML code made propagation of changes to other platforms a matter of copy – paste.

Bads

After putting some images to the application, the application soon passed the size of 35 megs. PhoneGap build does not support applications larger than 15 MB. As my app was larger I had to build them locally. This required separate installations of mobile development platforms and the PhoneGap build itself, and required to have a Windows PC and Mac computer.

Some performance issues

PhoneGap and jQuery mobile is a good combination, but, there are some performance implications though. It is not hard to notice some latencies on clicks. There are some performance improvement tips and tricks out there, but you have to do a little research and customizations to achieve a desired performance level.

Overall opinion

In general, my experience developing these applications was OK. I managed to create three applications within a month and a half, which deadline, I’m sure I would not be able to meet if I would have chosen to develop in native platforms. Depending on the requirements, if there is no need for a very fast application, such as games or any real time communication application, I would recommend  PhoneGap. When it comes to jQuery mobile, on my next project I will test another framework first and then post my recommendation 🙂