Creating an app with PhoneGap Build – Part 1: Background and Introduction

This is the first of a multi-part series on how I developed and deployed an Android app for the Triangle .NET User Group (TRINUG).  I’m not an Android developer and haven’t touched Java in over 10 years.  What was my solution?  It was a mobile-targeted HTML5 web site turned in to a native app using PhoneGap Build.

The PhoneGap Build ‘Getting Started’ document serves as a great introduction to what PhoneGap Build does:

“PhoneGap Build allows you to create cross-platform mobile apps based on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript through a simple web interface. We take care of all the packaging and compilation, and you get some mobile apps back in a matter of minutes.”

The benefit of PhoneGap Build is instead of writing .NET, Java, or whatever language apps are written in for your targeted device, you develop your app’s content using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.  PhoneGap is a true time-saver if you need to produce an app but are unfamiliar with the programming language of the platform you’re targeting.

PhoneGap Build is a service that allows the developer of a mobile-based web site to zip up the site’s assets, upload them, and then return installable app files for various mobile platforms.  This allows a single code base to run on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, etc.  It is in effect putting a wrapper around your web site to make it installable to the various mobile platforms it supports.


The trade-off with PhoneGap Build is since you’re not developing your app targeted to any specific development platform, you don’t get access to unique the native features each platform provides.  The biggest and most clear example of this is you don’t get use of the native device’s menu system from within your app.  However, there is a PhoneGap API available via JavaScript which exposes access to native phone features such as notifications, camera, and so on.  For my purposes, I didn’t use the PhoneGap API in version 1 of my app, but plan to in the future.

I thought it would be best to break up the story of my experience in a series of blog posts outlining the logical steps of the development process.  I’ll start with developing the site and describe the design considerations I had to contend with.  Next, I’ll detail the PhoneGap Build process which included getting my source code up to the build service and obtaining the desired output.  Testing and debugging is very possible, and even powerful when using PhoneGap Build so I’ll be covering that.  I’ll then detail my experiences with submitting the app to the Google Play marketplace.  Finally, I’ll summarize my thoughts on the PhoneGap Build process and discuss what I believe to be the future of this approach to app development.  I’ve put together an outline of this series of posts:

Part I: Background and Introduction
Part II: Developing the TRINUG Mobile Site
Part III: Using PhoneGap Build
Part IV: Testing and Debugging
Part V: Publishing to Google Play
Part VI: Summary

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