Mobile Apps Go Native With Appcelerator’s Titanium Upgrade


app_small.jpgADOTAS – I grew up in Washington, DC, and moved to New York City in my swingin’ 20s, trading one tourist hotspot for another. Years spent passing large, bumbling groups of visitors, all wearing the same neon color t-shirts as well as tacky hats and sunglasses (sometimes they even ride Segways!) have bred an intense fear of being mistaken for a tourist. Wherever I go, I pray I blend in with the natives.

Web developers have a similar feel when trying to build mobile apps — while many tech providers can build mobile web apps wrapped around a browser such as Safari for iPhone, mobile-browser-based apps can’t compare with native apps developed using an Apple or Google SDK. Being wrapped around the browser kills app speed, especially when developers want to add 2D and 3D animation and user interface elements such as buttons, sliders and tabs.

The general availability release of Appcelerator’s cross-platform mobile application development tool, Titanium 1.0, has been upgraded to give web developers the ability to make native apps. The company “re-architected” the product to give developers full and unfettered access to smartphone capabilities.

“In the past, it was a hybrid experience, or even worse basically building a website that’s an app. Now it’s coding directly for that application so that you get all the native user interface, all the native user performance as well as all the native capabilities,” said Scott Schwarzhoff, senior vice president of marketing for Appcelerator. “The three legs of that native stool are especially required by folks who have big brands looking to build applications…. These are essential for being at parity with Apple or Google’s SDK.”

Last November, some of the bigger interactive agencies in Appcelerator’s partner program hit a roadblock in terms of platform capabilities. Titanium and other competing platforms take a web browser and wrap it up as an app, which provides access to device features such as the camera and GPS, but agencies wanted to push the limits of what these mobile web apps could do. These couldn’t be done in “a webby type of environment being used as the engine — it wasn’t going to cut the mustard,” Schwarzhoff said.

So the Appcelerator team forswore the web kits for mobile browsers and stripped its Titanium engine down to its core Javascript emulator to offer native access all low-level underlying iPhone capabilities that an Objective-C developer would have for the iPhone OS or Java developer for Android. The new improved Titanium reduces load times from 10 to 20 seconds down to an average of 3 while processing speed has improved five-fold so that pages and options can be seamlessly pored through. Titanium now offers performance on par with Apple and Google’s SDK

Illustrating a native app, Appcelerator has produced Snapost, a training app for developers currently for free in App Store. A relatively simple application, Snapost takes a picture from the mobile camera, pulls it into the photo library, uploads to it Twitter and tweets through Twitpic. However, the app boasts a custom native interface as well as fancy additives such as animation — compare it to a mobile web app and a native app and it more resembles the latter.

A load is taken off developers as only a fraction of code is necessary now compared to before. For example, in Titanium a developer can write one line of Javascript pointing to a URL location to get an audio clip streaming; the same process would require anywhere from 50 to 500 lines of Objective-C or Java code. Appcelerator estimates that developers using Titanium can save 80% of the time and cost it would take to build an app in the iPhone’s Objective-C code or Java.

With creative ready, most branded apps will take two weeks to develop (compared to a six-month time period for native iPhone apps) or four weeks for sophisticated ones. A partner wrote an app a few weeks ago — a Creole to English translator for Hatian aid workers — in three days; two days of the development process was finding a Creole-English dictionary; only one day was needed for coding.

“For the majority of applications out there, an experienced Titanium developer can knock it out in a few days to a week,” Schwarzhoff said.

With the general availability release, Appcelerator is also introducing commercial offerings for developers of all sizes. The free Community version will assist developers in learning how to build native apps without any usage restrictions. At $199 per developer per year, Professional offers support, analytics on for the last six months and a slot in the Beta Preview program for upcoming releases for new platforms like iPad and BlackBerry.

Calling it application development without compromise, Schwarzoff says Titanium is the only offering that goes beyond building a website-like app or a wrapped website, similar to the previous version of Titanium and competitors’ products.

“In essence, this upgrade removes the need to write any HTML in CSS and you can instead code your application in 100% Javascript. When you do that, you’re basically stringing together a bunch of Titanium APIs that say ‘Put this button here!’ ‘Add this ticker here!'” he said. “You’re like a quarterback — I want to get all these resources and I’m going to orchestrate this play, but when I run it I don’t want any of the headroom that I used to have with web appy stuff.”


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