10 Best Hybrid Mobile App UI Frameworks: HTML5, CSS and JS

hybrid mobile app frameworks

Native developers love working with native code but that doesn't always go well with the business case or result in effective use of effort and time. We often see scenarios where developers end up building same mobile app for android, iOS, windows and other mobile platforms using native APIs and libraries of individual platform. 

HTML5 mobile UI frameworks like Ionic let you create cross platform hybrid mobile apps with native look and feel by using the technology that you already know i.e. HTM5, CSS and JavaScript. Whether you are a web developer planning to pitch into mobile apps development, or an experienced native apps developer, hybrid mobile apps development is the easiest way to start building cross platform mobile apps. You do not need to learn anything more than what you already know and yet create enterprise grade mobile applications.

The biggest reason for hybrid apps growth is that you write the hybrid mobile app once and run it on every platform without putting in any extra efforts. You design the app as a regular web app, a responsive web app that fits different screen sizes by using the components provided by mobile HTML5 UI frameworks. The access to native hardware components like Camera or accelerometer is achieved by native JavaScript APIs like the ones that Cordova (PhoneGap) offers. Your app is then compiled into platform specific native packages, ready to be deployed on your mobile device or on app stores.

Over the last few weeks, I have been busy evaluating the HTML5 mobile UI/UX frameworks. There are way too many frameworks out there now so i decided to cover the best of mobile app frameworks available in the market as of today.

Ionic

Over the last couple of years, ionic has established itself as leader in the hybrid mobile apps development space. Ionic team keeps the framework updated by adapting to the latest trends, ahead of the competitors. Its closest competitors sell commercially while Ionic is free to use and open source, moreover, its ecosystem has grown so huge that you can easily find tons of development resources from the community to get started within no time.

Recently, ionic folks upgraded the framework by adding out of the box support for material design. Under the hood, ionic is wrapping Angular framework and that is what gives this framework most of the hidden superpowers. Like most of the other hybrid app frameworks, Ionic also utilizes Cordova to go native for iOS, Android, windows phone and other platforms.

Ionic framework is maintainable and scalable, uses clean and easy to read markup, comes packed with highly mobile-optimized library of CSS (Powered by Sass), HTML and js components. It also features tools and gestures to ensure interactive apps development with ease. 

You can read more about Ionic at - ionicframework.

Onsen UI

Onsen UI is relatively new but giving a tough competition to Ionic. It is open source and available under Apache license. Onsen UI also utilizes Angular directives and Topcoat framework for most of its UI components.

For jQuery fans, it comes packed with jQuery based components. One can choose not to use Angular in favor of jquery to build hybrid apps. Onsen UI features a large collection of ready to use components, responsive out of the box that allows you to build mobile, tablet as well as desktop versions of your apps, Allows you to write apps in HTML5 and JavaScript and push through Phonegap & Cordova to go native.

I am personally very impressed with the ease of use, flexibility, semantic markup and performance that Onsen UI brings on table. Onsen UI like Ionic is open source and free to use, read more about Onsen UI at - onsen.io.

Intel XDK

Intel XDK is the new kid on the block and a little different from the rest of the pack, it includes the complete range of tools that support development, emulation, and testing as well as debugging and publishing cross platform HTM5 hybrid apps. Intel XDK packs basic ready to use app templates built using "app framework".

App framework is open source JavaScript framework supported by Intel. App framework themes support iPhone, iPad, Tizen, Windows phone, Blackberry and Android look and feel. Apart from app framework, Intel XDK supports jQuery mobile, Bootstrap 3 and Topcoat UI framework.

Due to the clean development workflow and rich feature set, Intel XDK is fast becoming a preferred choice among developers for building cross platform hybrid mobile apps. Intel XDK can be installed on Windows, OSX and Linux and it allows you to build apps for any platform on any platform, of course.

With Intel XDK, You can build apps for iOS, Windows Phone, Android, Tizen and Firefox OS as well as Amazon, Facebook and Chrome web apps. Intel XDK looks quite promising and might be the game changer in hybrid mobile app development space.

Read more about Intel XDK at - intel-xdk.

Sencha Touch

Sencha Touch is an enterprise grade product for building cross platform end to end mobile web apps with HTML5 and JavaScript. You can call it as the big daddy of mobile application development platforms in the commercial space, mostly enterprises. Sencha has a wide range of products that work hand to hand with Sencha Touch, most of these products carry heavy price tag.

For individual developers and freelances, ionic would make a better choice but for Enterprises, Sencha Touch easily leads the way.

ExtJS, one of the most popular JavaScript frameworks is at the core of Sencha touch platform which helps create high performance apps with near native experience. Sencha Touch packs ready to use widgets with native look and feel for all leading platforms including iOS, android, Windows Phone and Blackberry. Sencha also features a drag and drop HTML5 visual application builder with tons of ready to use templates. Custom components can also be built and added to the library for reuse across apps.

You can read more about Sencha Touch at its official website - Sencha overview.

Kendo UI

Kendo UI is another framework for building any kind of web app or hybrid mobile app with HTML5, JavaScript and CSS. It relies heavily on jQuery and comes packed with 70+ ready to use jQuery widgets. Kendo UI allows integration with Angular as well and supports Bootstrap UI framework.

Kendo UI also packs built in ready to use themes including themes featuring material design look and feel. There is a theme builder available as well for creating custom themes, which is one of the biggest advantages of Kendo UI framework.

Kendo UI is maintained and supported by Telerik and comes with open source as well as commercial licensing options. Open source of course is slightly limited in terms of features and you do not get dedicated technical support.

Like Sencha, Kendo UI is also very popular among enterprises. It has a huge customer base including companies like Sony, Nasa, Microsoft, Volvo and Toshiba. You can read more about Kendo UI framework at its official website - telerik.com/kendo-ui.

Framework 7

Framework 7 leads the race among hybrid app frameworks in iOS mobile apps development space. It is not an apple to apple comparison between Framework 7 and other frameworks like Ionic and Onsen UI since Framework 7 doesn't provide support for building cross platform hybrid apps. But it definitely is the finest and most feature rich framework for iOS hybrid apps development.

The main advantage of Framework 7 is that it empowers developers to build iOS apps with just CSS, JavaScript and HTML, the technology that web developers already know. Framework 7 is so close to native iOS apps that it even provides features like swipe back, out of the box. There are many other ready to use UI elements including list views, media lists, side panels, modals etc., that can be used as is without the need to get into JavaScript.

Framework 7 is completely free and open source under MIT license. You can read more about Framework 7 at its official website - Framework7.

JQuery Mobile

jQuery suite is still in the game and holding the ground tight against the feature rich hybrid mobile app development frameworks like Ionic, Onsen UI and Framework 7. The die-hard jQuey fans community has built this minimalist jQuery Mobile package on top of solid jQueyr and jQuery UI foundation.

The focus of jQuery mobile is to empower developers to build web apps and mobile apps that run seamlessly and with unique user experience across mobiles, tablets and desktops. It doesn't focus much on providing native look and feel to apps for individual platforms like iOS or Android.

You can read more on jQuery Mobile at  - jquerymobile.com.

Mobile Angular UI

This one is for the fans of Bootstrap and Angular. With Mobile Angular UI, you get best of both Bootstrap 3 and Angular framework to build HTML5 mobile applications. Angular UI is more like an extension to Bootstrap 3 but without any dependencies to bootstrap js or jQuery. It utilizes fastclick.js and overthrow.js for smooth and better mobile experience.

Mobile Angular UI provides directives for building UI component like overlays, switches, sidebars, scrollable areas and absolute positioned navbars that don’t bounce on scroll. These essentially are the components that you find missing in Bootstrap 3 for building mobile apps.

Mobile Angular UI is available as open source and free to use under MIT license, you can get the source code at github - mobile-angular-ui.

Read more about Mobile Angular UI at official website- mobileangularui.com.

Famo.us

Famo.us is another powerhouse html5 apps development framework and targets to provide near native experience in hybrid apps. The main difference between famo.us and other hybrid html5 frameworks is that it focuses more on graphics rendering, 2d and 3d and hence is more suitable for games development.

Read more about Famo.us at official website - famous.org.

Monaca

Monaca is another commercial mobile app development platform with a huge list of products for managing end to end app development life cycle. Monaca features a cloud based IDE for developing hybrid mobile apps and lets you compile and publish to multiple platforms, utilizing Cordova.

The range of modules and products that Monaca offers is huge and i prefer to cover that in a separate article, keep watching for that and until then read more about Monaca at the official website - monaca.io.

Trigger.IO - The Dark Horse

I have already covered 10 of the best mobile app development frameworks but am finding it a little difficult to leave Trigger.io out from this list. Trigger.io takes a different approach and doesn't utilize Cordova for native access.

Trigger.io has its own platform for bridging the gap between html5 development and native access. They claim (Though I am still in the process of validating it) that it produces hybrid applications that have much better performance than Cordova based applications.

Trigger.io uses Forge JavaScript API for access to native functions like accelerometer and camera etc. Keep an eye on Trigger.io and read more about it at its official website - trigger.io.

Conclusion

The mobile app development landscape is changing very rapidly with developers moving from native to HTML5 based hybrid app development options. The biggest advantage of hybrid mobile apps is “write once and run everywhere” approach.

Hybrid app development using javaScript "however" is not the only alternative to native mobile app development. There are other platforms also like Xamarin from Microsoft that let you write your application in c# and the compliers compile the application to native code of various mobile platforms including iOS, Android and windows.

While frameworks like Xamarin match native performance but none of these in my opinion beats the ease of building mobile apps with JavaScript, css and html – the hybrid way. Do share with our other readers your favorite hybrid mobile app development framework via comments. Cheers!

About The Author: noeticsunil

Sunil is the founder and contributing editor at noeticforce.com. He writes about anything and everything that makes modern mobile apps, web apps and websites possible. Passionate about coding in any language including Python, Swift, JavaScript, PHP, Java, Android & iOS dev, not excluding CSS/HTML. 

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