Widgets are quickly becoming an indispensable tool for developers that want to improve the functionality and features of cross-platform mobile applications. Until recently, it has been necessary for developers to build and rebuild native apps for the various platforms like iOS, Android, RIM, Symbian, etc. With the advent of responsive design app development platforms however, these redundancies can be eliminated. "Agnostic" mobile web widgets are key to this evolution. This article will explore why and how these widgets can be used for the creation of cross-platform apps.
Mobile widgets – What are they?
A mobile widget is a small portable mobile application with a very simple user interface and a specific functionality. Widgets typically provide access to real-time, live data such as weather reports, stock market information, news, sports scores, etc. Whether users are looking for the nearest gas station, traffic status, or a flight arrival time, widgets are the perfect solution for adding dynamic content to apps. However, widgets can never replace the functionality of apps, but can significantly contribute to the development of cross-platform mobile apps.
Limitations of native mobile apps
Mobile applications became very popular within a very short span of time because they add excellent functionality to mobile phones. However, native apps could only work on the platform to which they were "native" and therefore developers had to create multiple versions for multiple platforms. The evolution of mobile cloud-based applications and widgets however, has dramatically simplified the creation of cross-platform apps.
Advantages of web widgets for cross-platform app development
Thousands of developers around the world are creating open source widgets every day because they are easy to build and maintain and are extremely desirable to mobile and tablet app developers. Widgets also provide an excellent opportunity to distribute monetized content and games to large audiences via those app developers. More, mobile widgets can be deployed in low-end devices like Nokia 2700, Samsung S5230, LG enV2, etc., with Internet connectivity, using mobile widget platforms.
The demand for widgets
As discussed earlier, widgets are not just for smartphones, thus extending the potential reach to consumers. For example, many big players, including Yahoo, Google, and Facebook already have a huge database of widgets which are compliant with multiple platforms, like phones, tablets, browsers and websites.
The Importance of HTML5 for future widget creation
The introduction of new technologies like HTML5 has made development of mobile widgets much easier. HTML5 enables existence of a unique open standard API supported throughout all platforms, thus developers need not re-create the same widget for multiple platforms. HTML5 widget creation is much easier and more cost-effective. And since these widgets load faster and require lesser bandwidth to perform, more users are likely to adopt it, thus increasing the scope of market space.
Fragmentation issue for widget platforms
Despite all of their advantages, mobile widgets are not as robust as native apps. Widgets designed to run on multiple platforms have limited functionality as they are not able to access a device's API. To further complicate the issue, mobile manufacturers like Nokia, Samsung, Blackberry, and LG have their own widget implementation mechanisms in place. The industry is working to overcome this problem by standardizing widget APIs. JIL (Joint Innovation Lab) and OMTP (Open Market Terminal Platform) are among the organizations dedicated to finding a solution. In the meantime, we believe that widgets can provide the greatest value when deployed as feature enhancements to cloud-based mobile apps for smartphones and tablets.