For A Boost Building Mobile Apps, Web Developers Step On the Appcelerator

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Google and Apple. If HTML5 apps started to edge out these closed, controlled app ecosystems, it could undercut Appcelerator’s business. In fact, Rhomobile CEO Adam Blum told me this summer that he thinks Appcelerator is “in a no-win situation competing with the momentum of HTML5.” But Haynie says Appcelerator is preparing for this future too.It recently acquired a Palo Alto startup called Particle Code whose software automates the creation of HTML5 apps from other codebases.

For now, though, most mobile developers are still gravitating first to iOS, then Android, followed distantly by Windows and HTML5. For the broadest distribution, there’s no choice but to build cross-platform apps, Haynie argues. “From our standpoint, having four different development teams with four different skill sets is not rational and not sustainable for the industry,” he says. “That is where we think Appcelerator can really come in and help.”

Appcelerator didn’t actually start out in the mobile business. The short version of Haynie’s story is this: he served in the Navy during Operation Desert Storm as an electronic-warfare technician, then got computer science degree at Southern Illinois University. He eventually co-founded a voice-over-Internet company in Atlanta called Vocalocity. Employee No. 8 at Vocalocity was Nolan Wright, and after Haynie sold the company and waited out his non-compete period, he and Wright co-founded Appcelerator, with the idea of putting to use the skills they’d acquired helping Web developers build voice and call-center applications.

Wright and Haynie boostrapped the company for the first year by doing contract app development work, but their main project was Titanium. Haynie says the platform started out as a kind of precursor to Air, Adobe’s cross-platform runtime environment. It allowed Web developers to turn their JavaScript, HTML code, and CSS stylesheets into desktop apps that run on Windows and Mac OS X.

Zipcar's mobile app, as rendered by Appcelerator Titanium for the iPhone (left) and Android (right).

The desktop tool is still “the core foundation of our product, but isn’t growing nearly as fast” as the mobile app generators, Haynie says. Helping Web developers build mobile apps became Appcelerator’s main focus in 2008, after Apple opened up the iPhone to apps built by third-party developers. “Nobody knew how big this thing was going to get, so fast,” Haynie says. “But it was an ‘Aha’ moment.” To be closer to the action, the company relocated its 10 employees to Mountain View, CA, and started adapting Titanium to ingest HTML and JavaScript and churn out native apps in Objective-C. In December 2008, it won its first round of venture funding—$4.1 million, courtesy of Storm Ventures, a Menlo Park firm founded by a group of former wireless infrastructure engineers.

Today, Titanium is mainly known as a tool for building iPhone apps that feel as if they were written in native Objective-C, even though they were originally built using Web languages. The platform helps developers make their apps feel even more native by giving them hundreds of … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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