Before we dive in, Iâd like to quickly establish the playing field. In this chapter, Iâll define key terms, compare the pros and cons of the two most common development approaches, and give a crash course on the three core web technologies used in this book.
To me, a web app is basically a website that is specifically optimized for use on a smartphone. The site content can be anything from a standard small business brochure site to a mortgage calculator to a daily calorie trackerâthe content is irrelevant. The defining characteristics of a web app are that the user interface (UI) is built with web standard technologies, it is available at a URL (public, private, or perhaps behind a login), and it is optimized for the characteristics of a mobile device. A web app is not installed on the phone, it is not available in the Android Market, and it is not written with Java.
In contrast, native apps are installed on the Android phone, they have access to the hardware (speakers, accelerometer, camera, etc.), and they are written with Java. The defining characteristic of a native app, however, is that itâs available in the Android Marketâa feature that has captured the imagination of a horde of software entrepreneurs worldwide, myself included.
Different applications have different requirements. Some apps are a better fit with web technologies than others. Knowing the pros and cons of each approach will help you make a better decision about which path is appropriate for your situation.
Hereâs where it gets exciting. The always-online nature of the Android phone creates an environment in which the lines between a web app and a native app get blurry. There are even some little-known features of the Android web browser (see ChapterÂ 6) that allow you to take a web app offline if you want. Whatâs more, several third-party projectsâof which PhoneGap is the most notableâare actively developing solutions that allow web developers to take a web app and package it as a native app for Android and other mobile platforms.
For me, this is the perfect blend. I can write in my preferred language, release a product as a pure web app (for Android and any other devices that have a modern browser), and use the same code base to create an enhanced native version that can access the device hardware and potentially be sold in the Android Market. This is a great way to create a âfreemiumâ model for your appâallow free access to the web app and charge for the more feature-rich native version.