Phonegap & Nostalgia

Hello again dear reader!

letters on yellow tiles forming the end text

Today is a curious day, I read yesterday that Phonegap was closing  This might not come as a huge surprise, since not many people where currently using the project. However, it has triggered lots of memories from a different time, after all, it was Phonegap who started and introduced Hybrid App development. I even wrote a post about it back in 2013 in this blog. The idea behind Phonegap is as brilliant as it is simple. It started with the realisation that the point in common every operating system had was a web browser, and so it allowed users to deploy their webpage based systems into a mobile phone. Then, they created JavaScript bridge libraries that allowed the developers to access the different sensors and device capabilities they needed, like geolocation, contacts or bluetooth. The architecture was the following:

phonegap architecture

The idea was to give web developers the easiest experience to turn into the app development world. In order to really grasp why this was such a hit, and hence the nostalgia in the blog post name, we have to look back into how things were in 2012 approximately. Back then there was a huge gold rush related to creating apps. Those were the days. Everyone wanted to build something and there was this feeling that just by releasing it on the Store you could virtually become a millionaire. They were the golden days, everyone wanted to be an app developer. In 2012 we had the following OS usage.

2012 Os

Notice that Android was much smaller and Blackberry still had a big presence, with Windows Phone trying to gain on. But if we look at 2010, Symbian (the operating system made by Nokia) was the undisputed king. And there were many others, like WebOS from Palm or even a version of Linux for smartphones.

2010 Os

Thats why Phonegap was so impressive, because it took on the daunting task of making something cross platform. In fact it created Phonegap Build, which allowed developers to send their code and they would package it and deploy it on the different stores.phnoegap build

This was continuous integration in hybrid development, mind blowing at the time. Nowadays everything has changed, the gold rush is not as intense, only Android and iOS remain, and new systems like React Native and Flutter (about which I have written several posts) have eaten up this model. Phonegap always looked like a webpage, and that was its downfall. It is curious that its biggest strength ended up weighing it down so much. React Native took the approach of translating your code into native, whereas Flutter directly places a virtual machine on top of the OS, by far more efficient than a web browser.

I’ve been following Mr Mobile on YouTube and he has created a series called “When phones were fun”. It is really entertaining to see how things were back then, an era were innovation went beyond simply adding more processing power and it was about creating a new disruptive form factor or a new over the top feature. The video below is a great watch if you fancy reminiscing.

Both software and hardware are becoming boring, and it is a pity to see that the pioneer of hybrid is leaving. Since I’m a great Batman fan, I feel that what happened to Phonegap can be described with what happens in the The Dark Knight Rises, when they talk about Gordon:

But he’s a hero

A war hero, this is peace time

As a side note, Phonegap was so successful that part of my master thesis was building an App to allow students to test their apps on their iOS device without having to use an iOS developer license. You can read more about it here.

Anyway, it makes me feel nostalgic. It was an amazing time, and now things are changing like they always do in tech. Right now data science is “the next big thing”, but hey, for today at least we can dwell on the past for a bit, and remember that time when apps where “the big things”.

Good night dear reader, stay safe and enjoy your memories. Sometimes they are best things we can hang on to. And goodnight Phonegap, and thanks for what you spearheaded.