Ionic UK Meetup – Dec Review

Last night I attended the Ionic UK meetup at Makers Academy in Aldgate. Some of the lovely folk from Adobe were there too, to talk to us about some of the things that are going on with them and Cordova. They were on a European tour that encapsulates dotjs, DevRelCon (which I’m sad to have missed), and a couple of local meetups in various countries.

I showed my true pro-meetup colours by pulling out my own bottle opener, following a frantic few moments stood around the beer bucket. I might even make my next t-shirt carry the slogan “I brought my own bottle opener”.

What’s new in PhoneGap & Cordova – Simon MacDonald

As a member of the Cordova Committee at Apache, Simon kicked us off with a brief history of PhoneGap and Cordova, and included this iconic (not Ionic) quote from Brian LeRoux;

PhoneGap is a Polyfill, and the ultimate purpose of PhoneGap is to cease to exist - Brian LeRoux

He went on to the core of his talk, which was on Adobe’s Creative SDK plugins. These are plugins that are able to hook into a users Adobe Creative Cloud account, using their SSO. Simon demoed their Image Editor plugin through the use of an Instagram style app where, following the capturing of a photo, the image was then edited and posted to his Creative Cloud account.

He also talked about Send to Desktop and the Asset Browser plugins, these too interact with a user’s Creative Cloud account, and will be becoming GA shortly.

As well as commenting on the incredibly popular Push plugin (latest version has iOS 10 and Android N support) and PhoneGap Dev, he also spoke on updates that are coming to Cordova itself. I’ve a feeling that a lot of these changes are really going to be received well by seasoned hybrid devs. There is a lot of alignment to the one of the de-facto methods of package management, npm (Node Package Manager). The changes include dropping the config.xml, in place of package.json, and also using the standard npm cache.

“PhoneGap is a Polyfill, and the ultimate purpose of PhoneGap is to cease to exist
– Brian LeRoux, 2012

There was a brief mention of Cordova Electron, too… this makes us very excited at MobileCaddy, especially following the post on Hybrid Desktop apps. If this excites you too, then check out some of the dev positions that we’re currently hiring for.

As of this wasn’t enough, on the horizon with cordova 7 is the promise of better documentation. And this linked in nicely to a request from Simon for contributions. As with most of OSS maintainers/core contributors, the request came in the form of something like “contribute code, but not just code, also documentation…. and definitely good issue tickets”.

More links and info can be found in Simon’s slides, and here’s a vid of a very similar talk he’s previously given.

Embedding PhoneGap in native Android apps – Anis Kadri

Up next was Anis to show off how you can easily add hybrid tech into a native Android app. To start though, he talked us through some of the benefits of hybrid development itself, though in front of a room full of Ionic devs his job was pretty easy. He did, however, mention a stat that blew my mind… there are nearly 1800 cordova plugins available.

He then kicked off his demo, firing up Android Studio and creating a brand new native Android app project. The new PhoneGap plugin was then installed and initialised, which gave him all the Cordova assets that we’re familiar with (config.xml, www dir, etc). He then made use of these by modifying his main.js class to extend cordovaActivity. When he then ran this project up, it loaded what looked like a normal Cordova app – you know, the old “Device is ready” screen. Mind = blown.

There are almost 1800 public cordova plugins available

As cool as this was, Anis then showed us how plugins could be installed from Android Studio, and then also how a webview could be added to an existing native app, giving a result where single views in the app utilised hybrid tech, whilst others relied on native code.

It can easily be seen that with this functionality in your toolbelt you can start to move chunks of your native apps to hybrid, thus removing platform-specific code. It allows devs to think of hybrid as not being a compromise (not that we do), but as a weapon in their armoury, truly meaning the right tool can be used for each job.


There weren’t any takers for the usual Showcase section of the night (perhaps this could be included on the agenda so folk know to prepare?), so I took this opportunity to quiz Simon and Anis (and the other Apacherians that were in attendance) about their views on the future of hybrid apps when it comes to the desktop environment. Sani kindly allowed me to pull an architecture diagram up on the projector, to help clarify my thinking.

Architecture diagram

It was great news to hear that they had been talking about this internally within the Cordova team, and that they’d actually had chats with Electron folk at github. Simon did add that there were no promises on anything, but it was indeed his view that it would be great for devs to write code once and it be run on Android, iOS, Electron, and as PWAs. He was in general agreement with the architecture I’d shown, and the split of responsibilities between Cordova plugins and (something like) Ionic Native. He also said it was their view to continue to align Cordova plugins’ APIs to those having a relative web API.

Ionic Round up

To close off Sani gave us a run down of his talk at the recent Angular Up conf, and that involved a pretty cool looking demo app called Telavivo. The app supports offline working via Service Workers, though sadly the demo-Gods were not on his side… he must have been a bad Dev that day.

His talk, and specifically the offline working through the use of Service Workers, gave rise to healthy debate, and questions about what to do for offline working with iOS (as they don’t currently support Service Workers). It’s a tricky situation, but one that we’ve overcome for enterprise through the adoption of MORE(s) Design, which has enabled us to truly transform the mobile experience for users.

Wrap Up

The Makers Academy, Aldgate, is a venue that well suits a meetup of the size of Ionic UK, and thanks must go to the sponsor(s) for the food and drinks (though I’m not sure who they were – I’ll update as I find out).

Thanks of course also go to Sani and Ryan for organising once again.

As for the talks, it was really great to hear from Simon and Anis; their experience and drive shone through and it makes me very happy to have folk like them in the community.

Useful Links

Desktop Hybrid Apps, Plugins, and IonicNative

This is the first in a series of posts on just one tranche of the future for hybrid apps; the one that sees them continue to expand their reach on to PCs and Macs as ‘Desktop Hybrid’ apps.

Desktop Hybrid Apps

And since this is ‘post number one’ in the series, let us start with an introduction to desktop hybrid apps. As with mobile hybrid apps, those for the desktop can be initially understood as applications that are written with web technologies – HTML, CSS, and JavaScript – but they reside within a native container that exposes functionality and features of the host’s OS and hardware. This exposed layer includes support for aspects such as the following;

  • Installability – As with mobile hybrid, apps can be installed on to the host OS, just like any other app
  • OS UI Integration – Desktop app icons, tray icons, native menus, etc.
  • Hardware APIs – Filesystem access, Bluetooth, cameras, etc.

On mobile devices, this container layer is supplied through technologies such as Adobe Phonegap. With the ever-increasing oomph of mobile hardware, and the rise in adoption of frameworks like Ionic, mobile hybrid apps are no longer seen as the poor cousins of native apps – with many having millions of users¹, and winning both consumer² and enterprise³ awards, including Most Innovative Mobile Solution, Salesforce Partner Awards 2016, won by the TOPS app built using MobileCaddy.

Screenshots of Apps on mobile devices

As on mobile, desktop now has its own enablers for hybrid apps. These have their containers provided by projects including Electron and nw.js. These offerings utilise Node.js to build the bridge between the JavaScript world, and that of processes which have access to standard OS features, such as the file system. The hybrid apps can also be crunched up into natively installable (and upgradeable) forms, such as MSI for Windows and dmg for Mac OS.


Despite its young age, there are already many popular apps written using Electron. Companies using Electron include Microsoft, GitHub (who developed Electron), Slack, and Automattic (

Our own MobileCaddy desktop offering, for full offline-enabled, custom desktop apps for Salesforce, is currently in beta and is looking amazing. It appears the appetite for installable, offline-enabled desktop clients for Salesforce is strong; if you want to find out more, request an activation code using the form below.

Hybrid vs PWAs

Before sitting down to write this article, I was already debating with myself when one should choose to build a hybrid app, rather than build a Progressive Web App (PWA). As with the overall hybrid architecture, the similarities between mobile and desktop again come into play, but this time in reference to the pros and cons that arise when questioning which route to take.

With mobile, hybrid apps have access to a whole raft of native features through Cordova plugins, whereas PWAs are limited to those provided by WEB APIs. The functionality and features you get with PWAs are increasing though – you can have “add to home screen” support, push notifications, and plenty else aside.

The situation on the desktop is very similar. PWAs have the same kind of access, but hybrid apps still (for the time being at least) have greater reach into the native layer, and are treated more like first class citizens. Hybrid apps are able to, for example, make use of native menus, tray icons, and store data outside of web storage.

I’m positive, and excited, to believe that the list of restrictions upon Web Apps will only continue to shrink, but in the meantime, let’s crack on.

One Codebase to Rule Them All

It is now only right to start thinking that, as app developers, it should be possible to have more or less a single codebase that supplies hybrid apps across the mobile and desktop landscape. This is something that the folks at Ionic have written about before, along with their intent to embrace PWAs.

In actual fact, we’re very close indeed to having a single codebase. It’s possible to write a JavaScript application that can be served as a PWA, enclosed in a Phonegap wrapper, or included in an Electron project. This means we can cover this vast landscape without the need to change barely any of the code that makes up the business logic or styling of your app. The vast majority of differences are more aligned to build tasks rather than application code.

So we’re there right? Well nearly, but not quite. Let’s say that you’re writing an app using Ionic – and so it’s an Angular SPA – and the app wants to create and access a private, persistent SQLite database… well you can do this on mobile using plugins such as Cordova SQLite Storage, and on desktop using the Node SQLite3 node package. To achieve the same functionality on mobile and desktop, we’ll be installing multiple plugins (though both eventually installed through npm, under the covers), and we’ll need to inject/reference them differently; we’re now left having to split our project into two.

For mobile we could use the IonicNative project (and let’s say our chosen plugin is supported by it), which means we’ll inject that single dependency, and use IonicNative to access the plugin, which in-turn bridges the JavaScript-to-Native divide and allows us to create and use our SQLite database. For desktop, it’s a little different. For our app to access the node package we could use Electron’s IPC to make a call from our renderer process (where our SPA is running) to the main process.

It can be seen that this difference in inclusion and access means that our codebase can’t be the same, or can it?

IonicNative to the Rescue

Here is where you’ll need to indulge me… what if IonicNative rocked up and said, “Hey, yeah we already love making life easier for devs, so ima gonna step up to the plate”. This is what I’m thinking;

Not only does IonicNative provide a wrapper to Cordova plugins for mobile, but it also has an awareness of the device it’s running on. And if it knows that it’s running inside an Electron environment, it makes an Electron IPC call instead of calling through to the Cordova plugin. And what if the Cordova plugin developers, as well as having branches of code for Android and iOS, also had a branch for Electron? This branch could support the IPC messages and interface to the native layer to fulfill the request from IonicNative.

Architecture diagram

With this architecture in place – or something similar – the application developer wouldn’t need to concern themselves with platform nuances, or managing multiple codebases. Their process could be something like;

I recently managed to kidnap Alex Muramoto – Dev Advocate for Ionic – and chatted with him through some of the above in relation to bringing MobileCaddy apps to the desktop. I’m hugely grateful for the time he spared me (he was busy writing slides for the Ionic UK Meetup) and our conversation definitely helped me to flush through some of my thoughts.

I’d love to find some spare time to put together a proof-of-concept of this, perhaps using the SQLite example above. Perhaps I’d initially start with just implementing intelligence into IonicNative to make the Electron IPC if needed, and have my project package explicitly pull in either the Cordova plugin or Node package, depending on the build target.


I hope this post triggers some thoughts and discussion and perhaps leads to a more unified future for hybrid app, right across the device landscape.

For our part, at MobileCaddy, we know that the demand is there for driving towards a single codebase for Salesforce clients on both mobile and desktop, and we know that hybrid is the answer. As part of this we’ll be keen to share our ideas, and contribute to the great projects that help enable this.

Future posts in this ‘Desktop Hybrid’ series shall look further into the topics of Salesforce, Ionic, and further analysis into the differences between hybrid and PWAs.

Footnotes and Links

  1. Sworkit – Personalised Video Workouts
  2. Untappd – Time Magazine – 50 Best Apps of 2016
  3. TOPSs – Most Innovative Mobile Solution, Salesforce Partner Awards 2016