Comparison between Corona, Phonegap, Titanium


I am a web developer and I want to move my web products to iPhone. One of the products is like Google Maps: show map on the phone screen, you can drag or resize the map and view some information that we add to the map.

I know there are some technologies that enables you to use HTML, CSS and Javascript to develop native iPhone apps. I've identified a few:

Are there other, similar products? What are the differences between them? Which should I choose?

2/18/2011 10:17:17 AM

Accepted Answer

I registered with stackoverflow just for the purpose of commenting on the mostly voted answer on top. The bad thing is stackoverflow does not allow new members to post comments. So I have to make this comment more look like an answer.

Rory Blyth's answer contains some valid points about the two javascript mobile frameworks. However, his key points are incorrect. The truth is that Titanium and PhoneGap are more similar than different. They both expose mobile phone functions through a set of javascript APIs, and the application's logic (html, css, javascript) runs inside a native WebView control.

  1. PhoneGap is not just a native wrapper of a web app. Through the PhoneGap javascript APIs, the "web app" has access to the mobile phone functions such as Geolocation, Accelerometer Camera, Contacts, Database, File system, etc. Basically any function that the mobile phone SDK provides can be "bridged" to the javascript world. On the other hand, a normal web app that runs on the mobile web browser does not have access to most of these functions (security being the primary reason). Therefore, a PhoneGap app is more of a mobile app than a web app. You can certainly use PhoneGap to wrap a web app that does not use any PhoneGap APIs at all, but that is not what PhoneGap was created for.

  2. Titanium does NOT compile your html, css or javascript code into "native bits". They are packaged as resources to the executable bundle, much like an embedded image file. When the application runs, these resources are loaded into a UIWebView control and run there (as javascript, not native bits, of course). There is no such thing as a javascript-to-native-code (or to-objective-c) compiler. This is done the same way in PhoneGap as well. From architectural standpoint, these two frameworks are very similar.

Now, are they any different? Yes. First, Titanium appears to be more feature rich than PhoneGap by bridging more mobile phone functions to javascript. Most noticeably, PhoneGap does not expose many (if any) native UI components to javascript. Titanium, on the other hand, has a comprehensive UI APIs that can be called in javascript to create and control all kinds of native UI controls. Utilizaing these UI APIs, a Titanium app can look more "native" than a PhoneGap app. Second, PhoneGap supports more mobile phone platforms than Titanium does. PhoneGap APIs are more generic and can be used on different platforms such as iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Symbian, etc. Titanium is primarily targeting iPhone and Android at least for now. Some of its APIs are platform specific (like the iPhone UI APIs). The use of these APIs will reduce the cross-platform capability of your application.

So, if your concern for your app is to make it more "native" looking, Titanium is a better choice. If you want to be able to "port" your app to another platform more easily, PhoneGap will be better.

Updated 8/13/2010: Link to a Titanium employee's answer to Mickey's question.

Updated 12/04/2010: I decided to give this post an annual review to keep its information current. Many things have changes in a year that made some of the information in the initial post outdated.

The biggest change came from Titanium. Earlier this year, Appcelerator released Titanium 1.0, which departed drastically from its previous versions from the architectural standpoint. In 1.0, the UIWebView control is no longer in use. Instead, you call Titanium APIs for any UI functions. This change means a couple things:

  1. Your app UI becomes completely native. There is no more web UI in your app since the native Titanium APIs take over control of all your UI needs. Titanium deserves a lot of credit by pioneering on the "Cross-Platform Native UI" frontier. It gives programmers who prefer the look and feel of native UI but dislike the official programming language an alternative.

  2. You won't be able to use HTML or CSS in your app, as the web view is gone. (Note: you can still create web view in Titanium. But there are few Titanium features that you can take advantage of in the web view.)Titanium Q&A: What happened to HTML & CSS?

  3. You won't be able to use popular JS libraries such as JQuery that assume the existence of an DOM object. You continue to use JavaScript as your coding language. But that is pretty much the only web technology you can utilize if you come to Titanium 1.0 as a web programmer.

Titanium video: What is new in Titanium 1.0.

Now, does Titanium 1.0 compile your JavaScript into "native bits"? No. Appcelerator finally came clean on this issue with this developer blog:Titanium Guides Project: JS Environment. We programmers are more genuine people than those in the Marketing department, aren't we? :-)

Move on to PhoneGap. There are not many new things to say about PhoneGap. My perception is that PhoneGap development was not very active until IBM jumped on board later this year. Some people even argued that IBM is contributing more code to PhoneGap than Nitobi is. That being true or not, it is good to know that PhoneGap is being active developed.

PhoneGap continues to base itself on web technologies, namely HTML, CSS and JavaScript. It does not look like PhoneGap has any plan to bridge native UI features to JavaScript as Titanium is doing. While Web UI still lags behind native UI on performance and native look and feel, such gap is being rapidly closed. There are two trends in web technologies that ensure bright feature to mobile web UI in terms of performance:

  1. JavaScript engine moving from an interpreter to a virtual machine. JavaScript is JIT compiled into native code for faster execution. Safari JS engine: SquirrelFish Extreme

  2. Web page rendering moving from relying on CPU to using GPU acceleration. Graphic intensive tasks such as page transition and 3D animation become a lot smoother with the help of hardware acceleration. GPU Accelerated Compositing in Chrome

Such improvements that are originated from desktop browsers are being delivered to mobile browsers quickly. In fact, since iOS 3.2 and Android 2.0, the mobile web view control has become much more performing and HTML5 friendly. The future of mobile web is so promising that it has attracted a big kid to town: JQuery has recently announced its mobile web framework. With JQuery Mobile providing UI gadgets, and PhoneGap providing phone features, they two combined creates a perfect mobile web platform in my opinion.

I should also mention Sencha Touch as another mobile web UI gadget framework. Sencha Touch version 1.0 was recently released under a dual licensing model that includes GPLv3. Sencha Touch works well with PhoneGap just as JQuery Mobile does.

If you are a GWT programmer(like me), you may want to check out GWT Mobile, an open source project for creating mobile web apps with GWT. It includes a PhoneGap GWT wrapper that enables the use of PhoneGap in GWT.

9/12/2012 2:04:02 PM

From what I've gathered, here are some differences between the two:

  • PhoneGap basically generates native wrappers for what are still web apps. It spits out a WhateverYourPlatformIs project, you build it, and deploy. If we're talking about the iPhone (which is where I spend my time), it doesn't seem much different from creating a web app launcher (a shortcut that gets its own Springboard icon, so you can launch it like (like) a native app). The "app" itself is still html/js/etc., and runs inside a hosted browser control. What PhoneGap provides beyond that is a bridge between JavaScript and native device APIs. So, you write JavaScript against PhoneGap APIs, and PhoneGap then makes the appropriate corresponding native call. In that respect, it is different from deploying a plain old web app.

  • Titanium source gets compiled down to native bits. That is, your html/js/etc. aren't simply attached to a project and then hosted inside a web browser control - they're turned into native apps. That means, for example, that your app's interface will be composed of native UI components. There are ways of getting native look-and-feel without having a native app, but... well... what a nightmare that usually turns out to be.

The two are similar in that you write all your stuff using typical web technologies (html/js/css/blah blah blah), and that you get access to native functionality through custom JavaScript APIs.

But, again, PhoneGap apps (PhonGapps? I don't know... is that a stupid name? It's easier to say - I know that much) start their lives as web apps and end their lives as web apps. On the iPhone, your html/js/etc. is just executed inside a UIWebView control, and the PhoneGap JavaScript APIs your js calls are routed to native APIs.

Titanium apps become native apps - they're just developed using web dev tech.

What does this actually mean?

  1. A Titanium app will look like a "real" app because, ultimately, it is a "real" app.

  2. A PhoneGap app will look like a web app being hosted in a browser control because, ultimately, it is a web app being hosted in a browser control.

Which is right for you?

  • If you want to write native apps using web dev skills, Titanium is your best bet.

  • If you want to write an app using web dev skills that you could realistically deploy to multiple platforms (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and whatever else they decide to include), and if you want access to a subset of native platform features (GPS, accelerometer, etc.) through a unified JavaScript API, PhoneGap is probably what you want.

You might be asking: Why would I want to write a PhoneGapp (I've decided to use the name) rather than a web app that's hosted on the web? Can't I still access some native device features that way, but also have the convenience of true web deployment rather than forcing the user to download my "native" app and install it?

The answer is: Because you can submit your PhoneGapp to the App Store and charge for it. You also get that launcher icon, which makes it harder for the user to forget about your app (I'm far more likely to forget about a bookmark than an app icon).

You could certainly charge for access to your web-hosted web app, but how many people are really going to go through the process to do that? With the App Store, I pick an app, tap the "Buy" button, enter a password, and I'm done. It installs. Seconds later, I'm using it. If I had to use someone else's one-off mobile web transaction interface, which likely means having to tap out my name, address, phone number, CC number, and other things I don't want to tap out, I almost certainly wouldn't go through with it. Also, I trust Apple - I'm confident Steve Jobs isn't going to log my info and then charge a bunch of naughty magazine subscriptions to my CC for kicks.

Anyway, except for the fact that web dev tech is involved, PhoneGap and Titanium are very different - to the point of being only superficially comparable.

I hate web apps, by the by, and if you read iTunes App Store reviews, users are pretty good at spotting them. I won't name any names, but I have a couple "apps" on my phone that look and run like garbage, and it's because they're web apps that are hosted inside UIWebView instances. If I wanted to use a web app, I'd open Safari and, you know, navigate to one. I bought an iPhone because I want things that are iPhone-y. I have no problem using, say, a snazzy Google web app inside Safari, but I'd feel cheated if Google just snuck a bookmark onto Springboard by presenting a web app as a native one.

Have to go now. My girlfriend has that could-you-please-stop-using-that-computer-for-three-seconds look on her face.

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