ReachLocal Launches LigerMobile for Creating Hybrid Mobile Apps

ReachLocal, a company that provides local online marketing for small and medium businesses, has launched LigerMobile, an open-source framework that allows for the hybridization of mobile apps. While most app developers create either native applications or HTML5 cross-platform applications, ReachLocal's framework draws on the benefits of both, while eliminating many of the drawbacks.

Though ReachLocal is not primarily an app developer, the company had to determine which type of development platform to use for its mobile applications. "Mobile is a big part of what we're doing. We've got two solutions that offer mobile apps and we had a decision to make. Do we go with a native app, or take a cross-platform app?" Chief Product Officer Kris Barton says.

Native mobile apps are created with a specific operating system, such as iOS or Android, in mind. The program runs on original code and can make use of unique system features—animations, fades, and other effects—that create a more nuanced user interface and better customer experience. The limiting factor to native app development, however, is time to market. Developing individual applications for each operating system is time consuming, and can be costly as well. HTML cross-platform apps, on the other hand, don't pose the same time- or cost-related issues, because they run on JavaScript and load the same way on all devices, much the way a Web page would. There is a drawback, though—because cross-platform apps load like a Web page rather than a native app, slow loading times are a major concern.

As ReachLocal's engineers began working on a new mobile app solution, the team developed a framework that could leverage some of the most appealing aspects of each method. Like cross-platform apps, LigerMobile can run HTML code on both iOS and Android, yet the solution doesn't experience the same lag. This is because the "app state" is managed by the LigerMobile framework rather than JavaScript, Barton explains. The framework serves as the minimal layer between the native elements of the app and code that makes an app cross-platform compatible, marrying cross-platform functionality and efficiency with the native menus and animations that are more user-friendly and appealing.

"LigerMobile is a novel approach to building hybrid mobile apps, and it lowers the barriers of entry for Web developers to produce and release high-quality products, regardless of operating system," Michael Lee, head of engineering at ReachLocal, said in a statement."While it significantly increases the feel of HTML5/JS code in the mobile application landscape, LigerMobile also allows developers to include native screens in applications."

The decision by ReachLocal to make the framework open-source was a simple one, Barton says. "Our goal wasn't to be the best app developers out there. We just wanted to create a solution for a very common problem, so we're excited to share it with others," he says. The opportunity to share is coming quicker than Barton expected—the technology was picked up by SXSW and will be featured at the conference next month.

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