On August 11, 2020, we witnessed the end of an era.
Adobe, the powerhouse behind Adobe PhoneGap has officially announced the PhoneGap is shutting down – and with it so is PhoneGap Build. And if that isn’t enough, in the same article, Adobe explains that they will also stop their investment in Apache Cordova. Although this may not come as a shock or a surprise for some, the announcement has made quite a ripple. And the most important question this announcement raises, are Ionic and React Native the best alternatives to PhoneGap?
So in this article, we will look into what PhoneGap is, what it does, and why was it such an important pillar in the development world. We will also compare PhoneGap and Apache Cordova to better understand the differences between the two technologies. Finally, we will do a quick recap on our knowledge about Ionic and React Native, and see if they truly are the best alternatives. Enjoy!
What is Adobe PhoneGap
PhoneGap is an open-source framework for developing cross-platform mobile applications. The project itself was initially started in 2008 by Nitobi, a Canadian web development company. During an iPhone Development Camp, the team at Nitoby tried to create a new technology that would bridge the gap between mobile and web technologies. Needless to say, the “experiment” was a success, and so PhoneGap came to life. And, yes, the name is a play on the words “Phone” and “Gap”.
In fact, this project was so successful that more and more contributors joined in. In 2011, Adobe acquired Nitobi, and the team’s only focus now was developing this revolutionizing new technology. As a part of the acquisition, Nitobi added the PhoneGap code to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), under the new name of Apache Callback – now known as Apache Cordova. Since the team behind PhoneGap promised the framework will forever be free and open-source, Adobe introduced a different paid service based on PhoneGap, PhoneGap Build.
What is PhoneGap Build
PhoneGap Build at its core is a compiler based on the PhoneGap framework. In simple terms, a compiler is like a translator. It is a program that helps a device or a platform to read and execute statements from different programming languages – the software.
However, as PhoneGap Build is a paid service provided by Adobe, it also comes with other features. For one, teams can create projects in PhoneGap Build and collaborate with each other faster and smoother. The service also comes with Hydration, a tool that speeds up debugging by sending every update directly to the testers’ devices.
Adobe PhoneGap vs Apache Cordova
Many of us often confuse Apache Cordova with PhoneGap, sometimes even thinking they are the same thing. And understandably so. At their core, Apache Cordova and Adobe PhoneGap are very similar, since they were “born” from the same project. However, the two technologies are not one and the same.
Apache Cordova is actually the free, open-source fork of PhoneGap. This means that anyone can contribute to the project or use it to build applications. PhoneGap, on the other hand, is the Adobe-branded version, or simply put the paid version. So, while Apache Cordova is mainly maintained by the open-source community, PhoneGap is exclusively maintained by Adobe.
Why is Phone Gap shutting down
The answer to this question sums up in three little words – Progressive Web Applications or PWAs for short. Ever since PhoneGap was created back in 2008, its purpose was to break the barrier between the web and mobile technologies. But ever since progressive web applications hit the market, they evolved into a fierce competitor. Especially because of progressive web applications “live” in browsers. So, they are available for anyone, no matter the device, and they are indexed like every other website making them easier to find.
However, until recently progressive web apps were missing two key features – offline support and push notifications. But that is not the case anymore. Progressive web apps today have “workers” – built-in mechanisms that make PWAs work the way they do – that ensure the application is functional even when the device is offline. Moreover, push notifications for PWAs are now supported by all browsers except for Safari.
On top of that, the development process for PWAs is just so much simpler – no adjustments to the code, no containers or compilers, no pushing the app for review. Build once, deploy, and maintain, that’s it. Coincidentally or not, Adobe also stated a decline in PhoneGap usage.
So considering everything, it really comes as no surprise that they shifted focus from PhoneGap and moved towards PWAs. As a result, Adobe stopped development for PhoneGap and its support for Apache Cordova. However, to give their customers a chance to migrate from Adobe PhoneGap to other alternatives, they will keep PhoneGap Build active until October 1st, 2020.
Apache Cordova after PhoneGap shuts down
While Adobe is dropping both technologies, Cordova still has a community behind it. And currently, Cordova powers many of the apps available in both Google Play and App Store. In other words, Cordova has nothing to worry about.
Additionally, PhoneGap and Cordova are part of the same initial project, based on the same technology. So migrating from PhoneGap to Cordova would be a smooth transition for both customers as well as developers. This is also the main reason why Cordova was Adobe’s first alternative suggestion. As for compiler alternatives to PhotoGap Build, there are plenty of Cordova-based options such as Monaca or Framework 7.
Ionic as an alternative to Adobe PhoneGap
Ionic is a mobile framework for cross-platform mobile development built as an alternative to PhoneGap from the beginning. Back in 2013, when Ionic was launched, PhoneGap was the go-to cross-platform solution. But developers were missing a UI library, and had to build everything from scratch.
The “battle” between Ionic and Adobe for the 1st place in cross-platform mobile development has been going on ever since 2013. But, now that PhoneGap is shutting down, Adobe is finally stepping down. In fact, recently, Adobe worked closely with the Ionic team to put together a migration plan for PhoneGap customers.
The full documentation is available online and comes with step-by-step instructions on how to migrate from PhoneGap Build to Ionic Appflow. Just like PhoneGap Build, Ionic’s Appflow is a DevOps tool allowing developers to build, deploy, and maintain applications from within one platform. And if the guide is not enough, Ionic also provides paid advisory services.
Other alternatives to PhoneGap
Speaking of “almost” native technologies, our second alternative is of course React Native. React Native is the mobile cross-platform framework built by Facebook for its mobile application. This technology is based on ReactJS and is focused on performance and scalability above everything else.
On top of that, React Native provides an almost perfect native feel, which in the eyes of any user is a big plus. While PhoneGap and React Native are rather different, this doesn’t mean one can’t migrate from PhoneGap to the latter. And with the enormous community behind React Native, it is almost a certainty that there will be someone there to help with the process.
PhoneGap will forever be known as the pioneer of cross-platform mobile development. More importantly, PhoneGap provided both an example and an inspiration for mobile development technologies out there. But, with progressive web applications evolving to an almost native level, Adobe decided it is time to move on. As a result, PhoneGap development has stopped, and so is Adobe’s support for Apache Cordova.
However, PhoneGap customers still have until the 1st of October to migrate to different platforms. After that date, PhoneGap Build will also shut down. So far, Ionic seems like the best choice for the migration, as the Ionic team and Adobe worked closely on a migration guide. Two other alternatives, aside from Ionic, are React Native and NativeScript. Both technologies are excellent for building native-like applications and both benefit from a vast community. So migrating to either will not be an issue.
We hope this article provided you with some answers, especially if you are a PhoneGap customer. However, if you still have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us.