One of the missions of PhoneGap has always been to bring about its own demise. The PhoneGap team wants the web to have all the functionality that we currently enjoy on devices so that there isn’t a need for PhoneGap to exist. It’s one of the reasons I love the project; I think that’s the perfect goal. I hope we get away from app stores and back to a world where the web rules all. There are obviously many things that have to happen before that becomes a reality but every once in a while I see a glimpse of what the web could be if that vision comes to pass. The latest iteration of that is Bookboard. (Sign up here)
Bookboard is a web app that was written for the iPad. It makes heavy use of iOS specific features that allow websites to add themselves to the home screen for a full-screen experience and provide specific icons so that to the end user, it kind of feels like an app that just didn’t come from the app store. Even though it’s iOS-specific right now, the UI design is such that it would work across platforms. So many apps, even PhoneGap apps, follow the specific list->detail form that brings a lot of baggage with it. You have to work at making sure your list/detail view works the way it’s supposed to on iOS or Android (or other platforms). But Bookboard has a very design-heavy UI that lends itself to any platform. The books intuitively ask to be swiped from side to side as you are looking through them (with a nice parallax effect in the background) and when you go into the book itself you use the same swipe motions you would expect. It’s list-detail but brought to life in an interactive way.
Bookboard also makes use of hardware acceleration of CSS for many of its transitions. Everything on my iPad 2 is incredibly fluid and it’s difficult to tell that it’s *not* native. One of the things many app developers have to deal with is making their content feel native without it actually being native. The Bookboard approach seems ideal to me. They’re using a UI that hasn’t been replicated by every other app so they get a bit of leeway in terms of performance, but they don’t need it because they’re offloading to the device hardware via CSS. It works out very well.
Beyond the tech side Bookboard is simply a beautiful, well-designed app. It’s meant for children to read (and they can unlock achievements for reading more books) so it has to be intuitive, but it also looks great. Attention to detail like the parallax scrolling add a friendly touch and my daughter loved the app. She knows how to use an iPad and scrollable books, friendly gestures, and words that are magnified on touch all came naturally to her. If you’re a parent with a kid who enjoys reading (or you want them to enjoy it more) Bookboard is well worth a try.
This is how I want the mobile web to look and behave. Bookboard leverages the mobile-app centric parts of iOS to create an app-like experience while still retaining the unique, design-centric approach that has made the web so great. It’s this kind of custom UI and design influence that starts to make developers stop and think about whether they go native or web. A basic list-centric app isn’t that tough to do in native so more often than not, it probably makes sense just to go native. But the kind of custom UI and design that Bookboard uses lets you involve the designers much more deeply in the process. Since most designers (should) feel comfortable with CSS, they can jump in and contribute directly to the end result. If you can get performance like this using web technologies, I think it becomes a tougher sell to try and do native when web gets you more platforms, more reach, more designer input, and more deployment flexibility.
Hopefully in the next couple of years apps will have been replaced by experiences like Bookboard. It would make my home screen a much more interesting and beautiful place while giving developers ultimate flexibility. That’s a big win for the web. I encourage you to go sign up and see what I mean.Tweet