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Max Lynch for Ionic

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Saying Goodbye to PhoneGap

Adobe just announced that they are shuttering PhoneGap, PhoneGap Build, and their (long non-existent) investment in Apache Cordova.

As the pioneer of hybrid app development, aka web developers building mobile apps, this is truly the end of an era.

But it's hardly the end of the hybrid app development story. Companies like Ionic have been the leader in this space for a while, so this sunset feels predictable and, frankly, a long time coming.

I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the hybrid app development market, thank the PhoneGap team for pioneering it, and wonder where it goes from here.

Web Devs Rule the World

The brilliant realization that the PhoneGap team had in the beginning was that Web Developers would want to use their existing skills, browser development workflows, and web dev teams to build mobile apps.

Convincing the rest of the mobile market wasn't easy, however. PhoneGap faced intense backlash from the existing native app developer world. These developers went out of their way to trash PhoneGap and the apps that developers were creating on the platform, essentially classifying web developers building mobile apps as second-class. In some cases it felt like a full on war.

Over time, PhoneGap would be proven right: web developers want to use their skills everywhere, and few platforms are as large and as exciting as mobile. Web Developers never stopped honing their mobile skills and the hybrid app development ecosystem evolved to cater to them.

Adobe Passes the Torch

Ionic Framework was launched in 2013 right as the first era of hybrid app development was coming to an end. The iPhone 5 just came out, dramatically pushing the capabilities of the web platform and mobile web performance forward. Android 2.3 was quickly dying and modern Android was just making inroads.

Ionic Framework had a simple pitch: web developers have proven they want to build mobile apps, but there was no official UI library for these apps, so developers struggled to get their UI experience on par with native. Ionic Framework was that library.

Additionally, getting high performance from a web-based UI library was hard, so Ionic took the best practices for web performance and baked them into the UI library so web developers didn't have to worry about it.

And it took off. Over the last 7 years Ionic apps built on Cordova grew to a significant portion of the app stores with millions of apps created.

Along the way, Adobe started taking a back seat and essentially passed the torch to Ionic years ago. Adobe hasn't been active in this space for many years now and Ionic has become the leader in cross-platform mobile app dev for web developers. Thus, the news of PhoneGap shuttering was hardly a surprise.

Web Devs Want to Web Dev

Over the years, the mobile market has changed quite a bit. New projects like React Native, Flutter, and NativeScript have challenged hybrid app development and have brought developers more options for building apps.

But one thing that hasn't changed: web developers want to build web apps and run them everywhere. They want to use their existing skills, browser-based development process, web libraries, and code to build mobile apps. This explained the rise of Cordova/PhoneGap in the first place, and the rise of Electron for desktop.

Cordova (and the modern alternative Capacitor) is still the only game in town for web developers that want to bring their web apps to mobile, and Ionic Framework is still the most popular UI library for them to do it. "Electron for Mobile," if you will.

In contrast, React Native requires developers to build their UI from scratch, won't work with most React web UI projects, doesn't support standard CSS, and can't use most react web libraries (web dev w/ React is 17x more popular than React Native). Flutter requires web devs to throw out their JavaScript investment and their web support is not viable for Progressive Web Apps.

The "build once run anywhere" dream is alive and well in Capacitor and Cordova land, and the many thousands of apps being built on this platform each month as well as significant enterprise traction prove web devs still want to web dev.

What's next?

This space has seen enormous change over the last decade, and it's likely we'll see a lot more in the next. Progressive Web Apps are still nascent but there is growing frustration from developers all over the world about onerous app store requirements that limit a company's ability to reach and serve their users. Many teams are experimenting with Progressive Web App First Development.

Web Developers have honed their ability to build complex apps in the browser and are getting better and better at building high-performance experiences. Thus, the domination of React indicates not that React Native will be the winner for those devs building for mobile, but that React devs building React web apps for mobile is one of the most promising spaces to watch.

Finally, cross-platform is clearly here to stay, and tools like Flutter prove a lot more developers outside of the web dev world want to build for multiple platforms at once. Will it become strange one day to build native apps for single platforms? I don't know, but we're going to find out.

Thanks Adobe

With this news, memories are flooding back of our time working with the PhoneGap team, many of whom have become friends and advisors to us at Ionic. I still find myself dreaming of riding bikes around Amsterdam after PhoneGap Day and the good times we had.

With that, thank you PhoneGap (and, by extension, Adobe) for pioneering this space and helping us at Ionic. Without you, we never would have been able to start this company and we never would have made such great friends.

Farewell 👋

Top comments (16)

93alan profile image
Alan Montgomery

Brilliant write up Max. Ionic has changed our company in terms of being able to quickly offer mobile app solutions of our huge back end systems to our customers to take their work out on the field.

So thank you, and an extended thank you to Adobe for the above. 🙏🔥

adnanahmed profile image
Adnan Ahmed

Remembering my time for trying PhoneGap to implement my web dev skills to mobile. Ultimately switching to Ionic and Cordova.

Good bye PhoneGap and thanks for being the first drop of rain in hybrid mobile development.

miga profile image
Michael Gangolf

👋 good bye Phonegap! Did a lot for the community. It even was the framework that brought me into developing apps with Appcelerator Titanium 😁 At the time when I was evaluating mobile app frameworks I've ended up with Phonegap and Titanum left. The setup, documentation, usability and stability of Ti made the win at the end. So thanks for that 😝👍 I've never regret it!

aisone profile image
Aaron Gong

Ionic Vue hopefully once Vue 3 gets released things will move fast

256hz profile image
Abe Dolinger

As somebody who knows little about Ionic, I have to say I was kind of turned off by this piece, as it reads to me like an ad for a framework, a brief trashing of other frameworks, and a little at the beginning and end about the title. I don't think a good framework has to use articles like this to promote themselves.

Not to say that Ionic is not a good framework - obviously it has a strong following. Just that this strategy of self-promotion leaves a bad taste.

maxlynch profile image
Max Lynch

Not trying to bash. Rather, pointing out the ways the “hybrid” approach still remains important and differentiated. Many people do not realize the differences in how various cross platform projects work. Given how much FUD we get in our direction I feel the need to balance the record from time to time!

sebastienlorber profile image
Sebastien Lorber

Honestly after being a backend dev, then a web dev, then a cordova+reactjs dev, then a ReactNative dev, I don't see how ReactJS would win the mobile battle.

ReactNative looks to me way better than ReactJS + Cordova/PWA for mobile, and it's not so complicated to learn for a ReactJS dev. You can actually use your existing web codebase in RN.

Also the less complete css features of RN looks to me a feature not a bug. The cascade is what breaks the Css encapsulation, and being forced to Css in JS has never been a problem.

And we can use ReactNative on the web, like Twitter does, with extraordinary css scalability thanks to atomic css-in-js...

I don't see why go back to web tech when upgrading to native is so easy today. And for desktop it's the same, do we really want to use Electron when new RN platforms are coming???

vinceramces profile image
Vince Ramces Oliveros

Flutter requires web devs to throw out their JavaScript investment and their web support is not viable for Progressive Web Apps.

I think it enhances their productivity without sacrificing their knowledge in JavaScript, I think most dev switch to flutter suffers from the web dev environment(tooling is not efficient, spend less time in configuration and start coding). Also, flutter supports PWA.

maxlynch profile image
Max Lynch • Edited

Flutter might support PWA, but it's not PWA ready. The amount of JS required for Flutter Web is astronomical as they have to implement browser primitives like text selection and copy/paste from scratch. Their own official gallery demo ships a 4MB JS file! I don't consider that a viable option for PWAs which, according to Chrome and web perf leaders, should be in the single digit KB or low double digits and with much better lighthouse scores. Contrast that with the innovation happening in the rest of the PWA ecosystem resulting in tiny bundles and incredibly high performance web apps and PWAs.

vinceramces profile image
Vince Ramces Oliveros

I think the gallery demo ships with static assets(and not lazily loaded through CDN) that's why it ships 4MB and webp image is not supported. Flutter for web is not entirely ready for production, like SEO for example. Text selection is supported from another widget(SelectableText()). I still think PWA is still pre-mature.

Overall. I generally don't use flutter for web in production. But I really like its support from other online editor(codepen for example)

jashsayani profile image
Jash Sayani

Wow! Sad to see PhoneGap being discontinued. I remember using it and contributing to it back in 2012, and all the Cordova meet-ups I went to in San Francisco.

edthenet profile image
Edwin Witlox

PhoneGap is actually a bit of nostalgy for me. I started developing hybrid app with PG. So i say goodbey with mixed feelings

larrykoch680 profile image

yeah i am also very happy for

raymag profile image
Carlos Magno

Farewell, my friend.

superhero0523 profile image

Thanks a lot PhoneGap.

rubentnf profile image
Rubén Afonso

Great post! Thank you to you and thank you to Adobe. I have a question for you (to Ionic), what will happen with PhoneGap push plugin? I think that is one of the most used plugins available in Ionic

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