hybrid frameworks for mobile apps

The benefits to building a hybrid mobile app are numerous: they utilize skills most front-end developers already have, and only requires one version of your app, which will run anywhere, on any device. Plus, the process of coding and deploying a hybrid app is faster, cheaper and easier—especially when you’re dealing with simpler apps.

Hybrid mobile app development involves packaging an app’s HTML, CSS and JavaScript code within a “native container” that can run on any operating system or device, without a lot of modification–all thanks to high-powered frameworks. Just like in web programming, hybrid frameworks leverage these technologies with libraries of code, components, integration with frameworks like Bootstrap and AngularJS, and APIs that both streamline and boost the power of your code.

Popular hybrid app frameworks

The next generation of hybrid mobile app frameworks have solved for some previous limitations of hybrid apps—usability, access to device APIs, updating SDKs, and more. Opt for one of these technologies—and a pro who knows how to maximize its potential—and you’ll end up with a better quality hybrid app, lots of features, and less headaches along the way.

A few top hybrid tools include:

PhoneGap (Apache Cordova)

PhoneGap (distributed by Apache Cordova) is a hybrid app development framework that also allows you to compile and deploy apps across multiple platforms. When used with frameworks to develop hybrid apps, developers can harness the power of Cordova’s plugins, which allow hybrid frameworks to connect apps to native APIs like a phone’s accelerometer, GPS, camera, notifications, and more for a more native experience. Hybrid frameworks like Ionic, Onsen, etc. also use Cordova to compile their HTML/JavaScript/CSS app code into a native SDK file format. There’s a free plan, or a paid plan that offers increased data and access to more plugins.

Ionic Framework

This HTML5 hybrid mobile framework has the added bonus of AngularJS components, a robust JavaScript framework that allows Ionic to power some really complex, scalable apps. Ionic is free, open-source, and all of its components—HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—have been optimized for mobile. The framework stays on the leading edge with frequent updates, including recent built-in support for material design, Google’s design standard for Android apps. To push the web code to a native environment, Ionic, like many other frameworks, uses the Cordova JavaScript APIs.

Sencha Touch 2

With hybrid app programming, the end goal is often to make the app feel as close to native as possible—and Sencha Touch achieves this with HTML5-based front-end technology and lots of built-in tools. The cornerstone is its responsive user interface (UI), and you’ll end up with clean, organized code thanks to the object-oriented, MVC-style structure of the framework. Need enterprise-grade apps? Sencha is a good choice. If you’re building more complex applications, you’ll benefit from Sencha’s great documentation (thanks in part to its age), but note that the complexity of using this framework will increase right along with the complexity of your app.

React Native

Facebook’s popular ReactJS JavaScript library is running under the hood of this mobile framework, built specifically to design natively rendered UIs for iOS and Android. Any developer who knows JavaScript can work with React Native, and it’s fast, streamlined, and feels more native—without requiring a WebView. Instead, native components are built with web technology. A React Native-designed UI can be incorporated into an existing mobile app’s code, making it more like a library than a framework, but it’s still packed with extras that make styling, debugging and deploying your app into the App Store or Google Play a breeze. React Native is proving to be a big game-changer in mobile development, blending the productivity of web technology with the functionality of native apps.

OnsenUI

OnsenUI is hot on the heels of Ionic, with AngularJS components as well, but it also offers jQuery components, the “write less, do more” JavaScript library. Like Ionic, OnsenUI also relies on Cordova for native compatibility.

jQuery Mobile

Taking jQuery’s “write less, do more” approach, mobile developers released jQuery Mobile, a compact framework that hinges more on fluidity between mobile and web application versions and unique UIs for each platform, but less on trying to create a super native experience. It uses an HTML5-based UI and customizable themes that get a boost from CSS3’s newer functions. This JavaScript framework lets developers create one version of an app that’s responsive and works across all devices and platforms and is one of the older hybrid frameworks.

Adobe AIR

This Adobe mobile app development platform is pretty high-powered, using front-end languages like HTML and JavaScript, making it easy to pick up, but also adding in some Adobe-specific technology, like Flash, Flex, and ActionScript. It uses a runtime environment that’s compatible with OS X, Windows, and Linux. Like Java’s runtime environment, Adobe AIR uses a just-in-time (JIT) compiler which allows your app to run across different platforms. It also offers a range of APIs that give developers access to functions like database management.

Kendo UI

Kendo UI is an impressive platform for building both hybrid and native mobile apps, with a unique capability: developers can use client-side technology like HTML and JavaScript, or they can build an app with server-side technology like Java, PHP, and ASP.NET—thanks to Kendo’s range of UI components that come with its mid-level subscription plan, the Complete License.

Other Kendo basics? It has full AngularJS integration, or allows developers to use almost any JavaScript framework they prefer, and also offers support for Bootstrap 3 for mobile-friendly, responsive apps. As far as design goes, it includes 16 themes, or you can customize with the ThemeBuilder tool.


Note: Even though hybrid apps let developers use skills they already have, there can be tricky aspects to working with the platform or framework you choose, as well as unique features of each that require a little know-how to make the most of. You’ll want to make sure your hybrid app developer has experience with that particular tool’s runtime environment, WebView, plugins, and other code features.

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