Third party solutions to making mobile apps

Posted on September 12th, by Liam in Blog, Cross Platform Apps. Comments Off on Third party solutions to making mobile apps

This is a quick look at the more popular third-party programs and frameworks for making mobile apps (mostly iPhone and iPad).


Of all the ways to make apps, PhoneGap is one of the easiest, especially if you already have a web developer skill set and want to deploy cross-platform. PhoneGap is supported by Nitobi, is free and open source and apps are built with HTML, CSS and Javascript with APIs that access specific features of a mobile device, including geolocation, accelerometer and vibration.

The documentation is improving and PhoneGap has an active google group. It works well with JQuery, JQTouch, iUi and Sencha Touch, too.

‘Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and Javascript’ written by Jonathan Stark is a great book to get started with. It has a chapter on PhoneGap and Jonathan’s writing style and examples are straightforward and easy to follow. You can see a sample chapter here. He also recently released an Android version of the book available from O’Reilly Media.

It can be a little confusing to get PhoneGap downloaded and installed for some users, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to install it properly as an Xcode template file. Just follow the Getting Started Guides.

Devices: iPhone, iPad, Android, Palm, Symbian and Blackberry.

Pricing: Free and open source.

Support: A wiki and google group and tutorials are available.


A relatively new product from the developers of Ext JS, Sencha Touch builds upon JQTouch and adds in a custom library of icons and graphics with resolution independence. Apps are built with HTM5L, CSS3 and JS libraries, including great animations and custom themes using SASS. It currently outputs to iPhone, iPad and Android. You can include audio and video, and use local storage for offline data.

ST projects are deployed to mobile devices using PhoneGap.

Devices: iPhone, iPad and Android.

Pricing: $99 for the most basic license with no support, $379 for a basic license and standard support, $1795 for a 5-user license and Premium support. Support packages can also be purchased separately. Support works on a ticketing system with credits.

Support: Documentation and example projects are included in the download and help is also available via the Sencha forums, tutorials, Sencha blog and with the support packages.


With 1000+ APIs, Appcelerator from Titanium is gaining in popularity. Titanium Mobile apps can be built with HTML, CSS, Javascript, Python, Ruby, and PHP and easily packaged and deployed to iPhone, iPad and Android from the Titanium Developer desktop application.

Pricing: The Community license of Appcelerator is free and open source with premium support, additional training and pre-releases available to Professional ($199/month) and Enterprise ($699/month) users.

Devices: iPhone, iPad and Android.

Support: Documentation, developer centre, community forum, google group, tutorials and examples are available via the website (although some of the tutorials are only available to paid users).


No your favourite beer hasn’t branched out into mobile frameworks… yet! Corona from Ansca Mobile claims to be the easiest way for Flash designers to start making iPhone apps (well at least before the Flash exporter for iPhone) as it shares some similarities to Actionscript 2.0. The guys who created it used to work at Adobe and it uses the Lua scripting language, the same one that all those World of Warcraft plug-ins are written in.

Pricing: 30 day free trial. $249 for a one year membership. Corona Game Edition is $349/year and includes all Corona features as well an integrated physics engine amongst other additions.

Devices: iPhone, iPad and Android.

Support: Documentation includes 500+ APIs, tutorials, sample code, reference portal and community forums.


rhoMobile is a Ruby-based solution to making apps utilising web skills. They claim to be ‘the only smartphone app framework which has support for all smartphones’. RhoHub is a hosted development environment that is built on top of Rhodes and RhoSync. Apps are written in HTML and Ruby via a web browser.

Pricing: According to their website, Rhodes is ‘Free and open sourced under the MIT License. Those companies requiring commercial grade support can purchase a Commercial License for $1,000′.

Devices: The Rhodes framework supports development for iPhone, Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS, Symbian, Android and BlackBerry.

Support: Documentation, tutorials, wiki and google group are available. Commercial grade support includes access to Rhomobile’s automated helpdesk management system.


This one is for C# and .net programmers with bindings to native APIs. You can adapt your existing .net code for mobile projects.

Pricing: Licenses are sold on a yearly subscription model. $399 for personal, $999 for organisations and $3999 for a 5 developer license.

Devices: iPhone and iPad

Support: Documentation, forums, tutorials and wiki are available on the website.


GameSalad claims to be ‘Game creation for the rest of us’. True to this, it is a basic game creation tool that is easy to learn for those without a programming background. You can output to iPhone or iPad, but doesn’t currently support Universal apps and you have to build iPhone and iPad apps separately. Some users will find it limited – and it is still in beta – but is a good way to create basic 2D games and the community is very helpful and supportive.

UPDATE: GameSalad recently announced ‘GameSalad Direct’ which has caused quite a stir in their forums. GameSalad claim that GSD helps people get their apps to market quicker and cheaper, however it appears to involve Gamesalad selling your app for you and taking a percentage of your profits. Hard to see many developers being very happy with that.

Devices: iPhone or iPad.

Pricing: Like many of these third party solutions, GameSalad is free to download and only costs once you want to deploy your game to iPhone or iPad. The The basic Express license is $99. Pro pricing is quite a jump at $1999 and its advantages include the ability to remove the initial GameSalad loading graphic, iAd support, direct customer support and in-Game URL forwarding. Most users opt for the basic license.

Support: GameSalad has an active community forum, a growing reference library, some video and text tutorials, a blog and sample projects that users can adapt. Pro licensed users can obtain direct support from GameSalad.


A professional and extensive package, Unity 3D is a complex and full-featured game development tool that now offers export to iPhone, iPad and Android plug-ins.

Pricing: Currently offering an early adopter discount for mobile devs, Unity Pro costs $1200 with add-ons for Android Pro ($1500), iPhone Basic ($300) and iPhone Pro ($1200). The base Unity program is free. iPhone Pro advantages include plug-in support for Obj-C, video support and the ability to remove the Unity loading graphic.

Devices: iPhone, iPad and Android.

Support: As you would expect, Unity 3D has an extensive library of tutorials and supporting documentation, resources and community.


Wax is a Lua framework for building iPhone apps, although its current status is unclear.

Devices: iPhone

Support: Google group.


After Apple’s recent announcement, it appears that Adobe’s Packager for iPhone feature for CS5 will again be a solution for Flash developers wanting to port their projects to the iPhone.

* * *


Cocos2D is another game creation tool for the iPhone and iPad. While like GameSalad, it’s still in beta, it differs in that it is a cocoa-based library for Objective-C.

Pricing: Free and open source MIT license, but users are encouraged to donate to keep the project going.

Devices: iPhone and iPad

Support: A wiki, blog, forum and programming guide is available.


iTorque 2D uses the Torque Game Builder and provides a WYSIWYG interface that runs on Mac or PC.

iTorque 3D coming soon.

Pricing: $750-900

Devices: iPhone and iPad

Support: Documentation and forums, add-ons and examples.

Shiva 3D

Shiva 3D from Stonetrip is a Game Engine with development tools.

* * *

The following are objective-C add-ons or libraries.


An open source iPhone development library for iOS Obj-C devs, Three20 is best known for its use in the Facebook iPhone app.

From the website: ‘If you’re building a native app that talks to web APIs or accesses images from the web, then Three20 will undoubtedly save you a lot of time. If you’re not doing any of that, then you’ll probably still find a lot of code within Three20 that you’ll find useful. And heck, it’s all licensed under the Apache 2.0 license anyway. Pick and choose at your pleasure.’


Sensible TableView is another cocoa library to streamline Obj-C development.

Pricing: Sensible TableView is offered at an introductory price of $30 for a single developer license.

Devices: iPhone and iPad

Support: Full source code, documentation, samples and forum. 90 day standard support package with basic license.


Oliver Drobnik offers Objective-C code components for sale from his website. Prices are reasonable (50-250 EUR).

Oliver discusses his project and links to other similar services in a blog post here.

* * *

I doubt this is an exhaustive list, so if you know of any other third-party frameworks for making iPhone or iPad apps, or any corrections to what is posted here, please share the info in the comments below!

You should also check out Apple’s Development Tools section of their website:

Disclaimer: this information was current at the time of posting. Obviously, the pricing and features referred to will change. This is intended as a guide only.

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