For mobile, it’s all native – appcelerator vs phonegap vs native

I finally took enough time to form a stronger opinion in the html5 vs. native, vs Appcelerator, vs phone gap debate and for me, I’m all in on native.  Here’s a bit of a breakdown on the different choices.


  • Pros: It’s main selling point is that it allows web developers to quickly create cross platform apps using html, javascript and css.  Appcelerator will actually compile down to native code which in theory runs as fast as native code written in objective C
  • Cons: Compiling to multiple platforms is a bit of a double edged sword.  It feels like they’re constantly having to make design decisions that support the lowest common denominator between the multitude of mobile platforms.  Furthermore, inherent in this model is a bit of follow mentality.  Any time a mobile platform introduces changes, they have to catch up to provide support.  I’ve heard anecdotes about developers experiencing performance hits when using appcelerator … but I actually think I’d call BS on that.  It’s fast.

Phone Gap

  • Pros: Phone gap allows web developers to write html, css, and javascript that runs within a mobile app.  So your web devs can write code quickly across multiple platforms.
  • Cons: IMO this is a cheap solution.  Unlike appcelerator, the javascript isn’t compiled into native code.  It’s simply embedded into a UIWebView (or other webkit control for other platforms).  This has important implications that you have to understand:
  1. UIWebView is a pig and has major performance issues.  Your app is NEVER gonna be as performant as a native app.
  2. You don’t have direct access to native controls like a UINavigationController or UIPopoverController, and native resources like the photo assets on the phone.  Instead, they’ve created some admittingly pretty awesome hooks which bridge the “gap” between native controls and javascript.  But these are a bit clunky from my experience.  It’s difficult to persist application state between these controls.  They’re also playing the same game as appcelerator is here – trying to support several cross platform controls.  They’re always playing catch up, and making lowest common denominator compromises.
I’ve heard people argue for an HTML5 version of an app instead of native, but truthfully, I’m not sure these people really know what they’re talking about.  I guess they’re suggesting an html5 website that users browse to in their phones web browser.  But that’s got incredibly obvious shortcomings – Among others, no access to native controls or assets (obviously); no ability to receive push notifications; a very different look and feel; and having zero presence that persists on the users device.
Developing native applications across platforms is more expensive, no doubt.  But without native, far too many UI and UX compromises are made in a market that’s so dominated by solutions that really nail UI and UX.



One thought on “For mobile, it’s all native – appcelerator vs phonegap vs native

  1. I would appreciate a push from you to go native. I am really confused whether I should learn Obj C or go with PhoneGap.

    I am an seasoned Android developer, no problem there, but my work requires me to write for iOS as well and I am just worried about the learning curve. Will it be a long learning curve, or within a month or two I’ll be able to write some decent code in Obj C and then keep practicing. I don’t want to compromise on quality of my apps.

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