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BLOG:Technology Trends of 2015 Part 5: Hybrid Apps

Technology Trends of 2015 Part 5: Hybrid Apps

A major focus of performance and functionality in hybrid applications is the webview used to render content in a hybrid mobile application. Both the iOS and Android mobile platforms have stepped up the power of their webviews in the past few months. This, along with more powerful hardware, make developing performant hybrid solutions easier than ever before.

For iOS 8, Apple offers a new component, the WkWebView, which has boosted performance in some benchmarks over 300%. The WkWebView makes Apple’s Nitro Javascript engine accessible to Hybrid applications on iOS. At the moment there is a bug in WkWebView which is why PhoneGap does not yet support it directly. The bug has been fixed in WebKit, but not yet released by Apple. It’s likely this will be corrected in 2015 and PhoneGap applications will see a noticeable performance boost. As an interim solution other plugins are already being developed to allow you to harness the power of WkWebView today.

Historically the webview in Android has been tied directly to the operating system version. Given the slower pace of operating system upgrades in the Android ecosystem this has meant many hybrid applications are saddled with supporting older, slower, versions of the webview. Android Lollipop (Android 5.0) brings with it a way to update the webview via the Google Play Store independently from the operating system. This means we will see improvements to WebView capability occur on Android like never before. The new webview in Android Lollipop already adds support for things like WebRTC, WebGL, and the ability to allow an app running in a webview to directly access the camera and microphone. Given that it will take quite some time for Android 5.0 to be prevalent on many devices some other projects have sprung up to improve things on existing versions of Android. The Intel Crosswalk project brings the performance and feature set of the latest Chromium browser to Android 4.0 and later. In fact, Google has already incorporated CrossWalk into the Chrome Apps For Mobile platform. You can see the Crosswalk project in action in Google’s Topeka demo application. The Cordova team has also been working on adding CrossWalk to Cordova. In addition, the Cordova team has been working on MozillaView which provides another way to render content via the Gecko engine that power Firefox.

Much attention is being focused in the web development community on mobile. This work can be leveraged for both mobile web and hybrid development projects. In 2014 we’ve seen frameworks like Ionic, Famo.us, Polymer, etc. take off. We fully expect to see this momentum continue in 2015. As mentioned in our section on Android, Google’s efforts around material design are intended to make mobile web and hybrid application development easier by providing a UX design that scales from mobile devices right up to the desktop. The Angular JS team has been working on a such a project for Angular. The Ionic team has also stated that the material design project will be the basis for the look and feel of Android apps in Ionic. As the capability and performance of the webview improves on both the iOS and Android platforms we’ll continue to see strides in narrowing the UX gap between pure native and hybrid solutions.

Summary

We’ve seen a lot of advancements appear late in 2014 that are well positioned to have impact in the coming year. Across all the technologies we support there are new capabilities ready to be used in building the next generation of applications. We’ve presented the highlights of what we believe developers and technology planners should be looking at in readying their applications for 2015 and beyond. We wish you success in your efforts for the new year.