Review–Build Android and iOS apps in Visual Studio with Nomad

Nomad is a Visual Studio extension that allows you build apps for both Android and iOS platforms in Visual Studio using HTML5. There is no need to switch between .Net, Java and Objective-C to target different platforms - write your code once in HTML5 and build for all common mobile platforms and tablets. You have access to the native hardware functions (such as camera and GPS) through the PhoneGap library, UI libraries such as jQuery mobile allow you to create an impressive UI with minimal work.

Nomad is still in an early access beta stage, so the documentation is a bit sparse. In fact, the only documentation is a simple series of steps on how to install the plug-in, set up a project, build and deploy it. You're going to want to be a least a little familiar with the PhoneGap library and jQuery mobile to really tap into the power of this.

The sample project included with the download shows you just how simple it is to create projects in Visual Studio. The sample solution comes with an index.html file containing the HTML5 code, the Cordova (PhoneGap) library, jQuery libraries, and a JQuery style sheet:

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The html file is pretty straightforward. If you haven't experimented with JQuery mobile before, some of the attributes (such as data-role) might be new to you, but some quick Googling will fill in everything you need to know. The first part of the file builds a simple (but attractive) list with some links in it:

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The second part of the file is where things get interesting and it taps into the PhoneGap library. For instance, it gets the geolocation position by calling position.coords.latitude and position.coords.longitude:

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...and then displays it in a simple span:

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Building is pretty simple, at least for Android (I'm not an iOS developer so I didn't look at that feature) - just configure the display name, version number, and package ID. There's no need to specify Android version; Nomad supports 2.2 and later. Enter these bits of information, click the new "Build for Android" button (not the regular Visual Studio Build link...) and you get a dialog box saying that your code is being built by their cloud build service (so no building while away from a WiFi signal apparently). After a couple minutes you wind up with a .apk file that can be copied over to your device. Applications built with Nomad for Android currently use a temporary certificate, so you can test the app on your devices but you cannot publish them in the Google Play Store (yet). And I love the "success" dialog box:

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Since Nomad is still in Beta, no pricing plans have been announced yet, so I'll be curious to see if this becomes a cost-effective solution to mobile app development. If it is, I may even be tempted to spring for the $99 iOS membership fee! In the meantime, I plan to work on porting some of my apps over to it and seeing how they work. My only quibble at this time is the lack of a centralized documentation location - I'd like to at least see which (if any) features of JQuery and PhoneGap are limited or not supported. Also, some notes on targeting different Android screen sizes would be nice, but it's relatively easy to find jQuery examples out on the InterWebs. Oh well, trial and error!

You can download the Nomad extension for Visual Studio by going to their web site: www.vsnomad.com.

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Print | posted @ Friday, June 1, 2012 12:32 PM

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