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Native or X, and native who?

Update: This just in: "Big Android Market expansion". Thx Jason :)

Last night I attended another YOW! Nights Sydney. This time the title was Mobile Platform Developer Shoot Out! and the battle was between Google Android, Apple iPhone, Microsoft Phone 7 and cross platform.

Here’s my position before:

iPhone rocks! I have one and I love it. My only issue is it’s too much fun – it eats away at precious hours of my days. (That’s why I’m not getting an iPad btw.) I don’t love vendor lock-in and arrogance, but I just can’t not love excellence and beauty.

Android is definitely interesting, but it’s like Linux for me. Great stuff, but too fragmented, too unpolished, demands to much fiddling. But yes, I do welcome competition and I love openness and solid technical groundwork.

Windows? On a phone? No thanks…

X platform sounds really interesting. I wonder, is there more to it than just packaging and touchifying websites?

When it comes to developing for mobile (which I have yet to do first hand, native that is) I’ve since long been a proponent for native for apps requiring anything beyond the most rudimentary touch based interaction. For pure info, adaptive websites will do fine.

And after last night? Pretty much the same, only now I’m a wiser man. Read on…

Doing such a session in a little over an hour, with four speakers taking turns, you know you’re in for merely a scraping of the surface. Sometimes that’s a good thing though. Like when you want to merely …well, scrape the surface. What’s out there, where to start?… And I think that’s pretty much what most of us wanted, or at least expected, this evening.

Some quick notes from the session:

(I’ve provided some links, but to find out more about the program, speakers and their background, check the itinerary.)

Android

  • XML/Java and Eclipse IDE. Familiar stuff.
  • No. of apps per day to Android Market catching up, but Apple’s still way ahead.
  • Bad :(
    • Piracy, viruses and malware! Major issues. Google are taking actions against it, but haven’t been all successful so far.
    • Developers in Australia can’t sell apps on the Android Market! Didn’t go home well this evening. (The ones in Norway – my professional home country – can’t either, if that’s any consolation.)
    • UPDATE: Yes, they can! (ref. article)
    • Fragmentation. 25% of Android handsets run OS v. 2.2 (the latest) and about 45% v. 2.1 and the remaining 30% was a jungle of older versions. And then there’s the hardware…
  • Good :)
    • Choice! You’re not restricted, not even to one Market. There are already more and rumour has it Amazon’s up to something here…
    • Extremely fast cycle! Push to market and it shows up instantly. First download after 20 seconds and another 20 seconds later you get your first bug.

iPhone

  • Ten different devices spread across different screen sizes. However, Apple’s hide that diversity very well for developers.
  • The toolkit (XCode, Interface Builder, Simulator and Instruments) is great says Nathan de Vries.
  • (The Simulator’s fast. Don’t forget to check devices too.)
  • The documentation is really good. And check the sample code; lot’s of useful examples.
  • An initial hump to get over.
  • Get over it by reading a good Objective-C book and another one on memory management. After that, it’s all fun. Again, according to Nathan.
  • (Quickly mentioned Blocks (closures or lambdas for obj-C). Check it out if you will. And while you’re at it, check out Grand Central Dispatch. Not new, but exciting stuff still.)

Phone 7

Harder to bullet point this one, because Dave Glover was so eager to show us their new phone that I think he forgot he wasn’t a salesman. (To his defence; he was the only vendor representative up there.) So, did he sell?

  • Well, no but I’m quite impressed with the UI. He let me play with his phone after the session and it was really snappy; the closest I’ve seen to iPhone’s superior touch feeling. Not bad.
  • The UI’s different, with hubs, tiles, panoramas and some-other-fancy-name, and different’s good. Considering how late they are to the party, choosing the same path they would never catch-up, but this? I don’t know, they might just have found a shortcut through the woods.
  • But with no copy-paste and only 1st party multitasking they have to step it up a notch…
  • It’s Visual Studio (for Windows Phone) and Silverlight, so it should be honk and go for .NET devs.

Cross platform

Hard to get where he (Julio Maia) was heading (and what he was saying) due to some basic presenting issues, but basically:

  • jQTouch for UI. (jQuery-ish, pretty good, fast learning.)
  • Phonegap for packaging (fairly straight-forward).
  • Used Agile Australia conference app (http://aa2010app.com) as PoC.
  • Don’t trust simulators. Try every phone out there. Browser testing anyone?!…

Ok, so the questions are:

  • Do you go native?
  • With whom?
  • Or do you go X?

My combined answer is simple: Go native for (mobile) apps and cross platform for websites. (And make sure your website adapt to whatever client.)

As for whom, do iPhone first, then Android. If Phone 7 turns out to be a success, you’d better have a look at C#/Silverlight too…

Then again; interesting to see what HTML5 will do for X platform. Thanks André (Heie Vik) for queuing me in on that thought. Still think it won’t keep up with a native experience (without wizard’s magic), but still…

Why native?

Basically: Experience and performance of the app. After listening to Nathan and his iPhone talk (which, in my opinion, was the most convincing and credible) and talking to a couple of great people afterwards, my own thoughts and views found new strength.

It does really make a bunch of sense utilising all the specialised, built-in magic, or as Nathan said it (ca): The frameworks are great, especially on the UI side. Stay at the highest possible level and let the existing frameworks do the heavy lifting.

And on a final note

I had a great time. Again. Always a pleasure hooking up with the YOW! crowd. Lisa Cumes and Dave Thomas are doing a fantastic job on both these YOW! Nights and the upcoming, great looking conferences in Melbourne and Brisbane.

It was really interesting talking to Dave about what’s going on behind the scenes of YOW!/JAOO/QCon; the branding, the marketing, the speaker selection and the great focus they have on delivering quality form one end to the other. I went to JAOO in Århus in 2008 and had a great time, learning tons. This year I’m going to Brisbane in December, expecting nothing less :)

And had a nice talk to Tim Lucas too, before he had to run out to look for some stolen bikes. Thanks Tim for sharing your thoughts on the native/cross issue. (…and for sponsoring YOW! of course!)

(And thanks to Nathan for the tweet reply. Helpful.)

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