javascript-frameworks
The Best JavaScript Frameworks for Mobile Development
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Leo Farias
Posted on: October 03, 2018
Mobile
Tags: framework javascript jQuery mobile development nativescript phonegap react native
Tags: framework javascript jQuery mobile development nativescript phonegap react native

JavaScript frameworks are great tools for building mobile apps. They’re efficient, lower development costs, and tend to have the security benefits that come with large, active communities of developers.

Deciding to use a framework is an easy choice. The harder question is, which framework fits the project at hand? Read on for an overview of four of the best JavaScript frameworks for mobile development.

jQuery Mobile

This lightweight mobile framework is based on the popular jQuery library. Developers use jQuery Mobile for mobile website development as well as apps. It’s touch-optimized with a focus on broad compatibility (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry).

Eliminating cross-browser issues is one of jQuery Mobile’s biggest draws. The framework supports a huge variety of platforms, devices, display sizes, and screen resolutions. There’s no need to use a device-specific programming language. Instead, developers can use standards like JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, or AJAX.

Designing is simplified with the ThemeRoller customization toolkit. ThemeRoller offers a lot of tools that make editing themes easy, including drag and drop color and component changes. There are plenty of options for manipulating page layouts, headers and footers, and other design details.

Limitations

While jQuery Mobile makes it possible to perform complex scripting operations with little code, there are drawbacks. Performance varies by device. For example, jQuery Mobile apps lag noticeably on Android but run more smoothly on iOS.

Although the framework can outperform other mobile websites, it doesn’t outperform native apps. jQuery also lacks the full access to device features offered by other mobile app development tools.

NativeScript

NativeScript aims for a “write once, use everywhere” philosophy and comes very close. It’s an open-source framework for building Android, iOS, and Windows apps. With access to native API, it creates applications that behave like native apps on those platforms. Heavy code reuse between platform versions cuts the overall development time, too.

The framework supports the use of Angular, Vue.js, TypeScript, and Javascript. There are hundreds of NativeScript plugins, but developers aren’t limited to that toolset. They can integrate Node Package Manager, CocoaPods for iOS, and Gradle for Android.

Being open-source and free lowers the cost of working with NativeScript. Companies see extra savings through shorter development timelines.

Limitations

NativeScript aims for native performance. In practice, though, users experience some lag when opening apps. Also, critics point out that there are many inefficiencies in the NativeScript core that make debugging unnecessarily complicated.

It’s worth noting that plugins aren’t 100% verified and vary widely in quality. An inexperienced developer could accidentally introduce a vulnerability if they aren’t careful to check every plugin before use.

React Native

Facebook created this cross-platform native app development tool for its own use before releasing it to the public in 2015. Like NativeScript it features heavy code reuse, though the philosophy here is “learn once, write everywhere”. Once the tools are learned they can be applied to any platform.

React Native provides the native performance missing with NativeScript. It renders native UI elements for a “true to platform” feel that appeals to device loyalists while being less expensive to develop than a native app.

Real-time reloading leads to a smoother, more responsive development process where users can get faster feedback on changes as they work. This is one of the developer-friendly aspect of React Native that attract its large, active community of developers.

Limitations

Despite matching native apps in performance, React Native doesn’t fully support all native features yet. Users have to wait for Facebook to add those capabilities. There are generally fewer specialty and custom modules than some frameworks, as well.

The different design styles of Android and iOS will result in unpolished apps if a designer isn’t careful. Navigation is sometimes a little irregular regardless of skill.

Aside from technical considerations, some developers are wary of being totally reliant on Facebook. All signs point to a long future for React Native and Facebook is still putting resources into it, but the platform does still own the license and can theoretically revoke it.

PhoneGap

PhoneGap is a hybrid app development framework that is open source version of Apache Cordova. Users can build for multiple platforms with a single codebase, writing in HTML, CSS or JavaScript. Apps built with PhoneGap have decent access to device hardware. There are allowances for offline capabilities as well.

PhoneGap has a healthy library and a robust backend that makes development fast and easy. Developers don’t need specialty skill sets to use it; web development skills will give them access to all the framework’s features. Those qualities combine to make it a great tool for rapid prototyping on a budget.

Limitations

PhoneGap doesn’t offer a lot of UI widgets, but performance is far and away its biggest limitation. It suffers from noticeably lower performance than other frameworks.

Making the call

There’s no single framework that’s best in every case.

  • PhoneGap is great for rapid prototyping, but the performance issues may frustrate end users in the long run.
  • React Native and NativeScript take opposite approaches to cross-platform development which should factor into their choice for a specific project.
  • jQuery provides slightly lower performance but much wider compatibility, making it useful when end users can be expected to access the app through many kinds of devices.

Try not to go into a project with a favorite framework in mind. Look at the specific needs of the app, consider its purpose and who the end users will be, and discuss options with an experienced developer.

The wrong framework can lead to a frustrating, “square peg in a round hole” development process. The right one saves enough time and money to make it worth a little extra forethought.

Getting ready to build your next mobile app? Concepta has more than a decade’s experiences building dynamic enterprise apps for everyone from state-wide chains to national celebrities. We can guide you through the JavaScript frameworks that will help you meet- and beat- this year’s business goals. Reserve your free consultation today!

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Leo Farias is the CTO and Co-founder at Concepta. He received his MPS in Business of Art & Design from the Maryland Institute College of Art. With over 18 years of technology-focused experience, he plays a vital role in architecting and leading various mission-critical projects for world-renowned clients like Time Warner Music, Orlando City Soccer, Vasco de Gama and Corinthians Soccer Club.