Building a Happy Potty

Published on June 11, 2012, 11:44 a.m.

ios javascript mobile web

This past weekend, I particpated in Memphis's 48 Hour Launch. It's a weekend-long event where anyone can pitch a business or app idea on a Friday night, try to get enough people to buy into the idea, and form your team. Then, you spend the weekend building something, and on Sunday you get a chance to showcase what you've accomplished.

I was fortunate enough to team up with a few friends (and some new ones!) to build an intial version of Happy Potty: A mobile app that helps you find a clean place to... go. Check it out! It's not quite available yet, but once it is, we hope you'll have fun using it. Once it's ready, we'll start talking about it on twiter (via @happypotty).

One of the neat things about an event like 48hr launch is that you often get a chance to dive into a few unfamiliar tools. We'd originally planned to build an iOS app, though few of us felt comfortable enough with the toolset to risk having nothing to show at the end of the weekend. So, we decided to build the app using some familiar tools (HTML & JavaScript), while also diving into a few new things.

PhoneGap

I know it's nothing new, per se, but this was completely new to me; I've not really done any mobile work, but PhoneGap really does make prototyping a mobile app increadibly easy. You get access to a lot of the device's internals, while using tools that are second nature to any seasoned web developer.

I'm sure there are some caveats here, but if you want a working prototype for simple mobile app, definitely give PhoneGap a spin.

jQuery Mobile

I really like jQuery, and I've known of jQuery Mobile's existance for quite some time, but again, I'd never played with it. I did run into a few quirks regarding the timing of events (when is my code executing vs. jQuery mobile), but all-in-all, this is a really nice toolchain.

There's also, codiqa which I'd totally pay for if I spent much time at all building mobile apps. It's a really nice drag & drop interface builder using jQuery mobile's widgets.

Parse.com

I can't remember where I first heard about Parse, but we almost passed over it this weekend. I'm really glad we didn't. Parse gives you a really flexible, easy-to-use online data persistance. We just used the Javascript API, and in a few minutes (ok, I spent an hour fooling around with it) we were pushing data out for people to share.

Now, I can't comment on what it's like at scale, but it appears that some people like it, and their $0 basic plan gives you quite a bit of leeway for development & testing.

We weren't using Backbone.js on this project, but it appears that Parse plays pretty nicely there, too.

Takeaway

I'd always toyed around with the idea of getting into mobile app development, but had never jumped headlong into the fray. I didn't realize just how accessible these tools are to web developers.

If you spend your days in HTML & JavaScript land, and you're curious about mobile app development, do yourself a favor and spend a weekend playing with these tools. You'll have a working demo before you know it!

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