Resolve Mobile Browser Fragmentation in Cordova Apps with Crosswalk

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Apache Cordova solves OS fragmentation for Mobile App developers but the multitude of devices, particularly older phone models still being used but not updated, means browser fragmentation remains a serious problem for developers. Enter Crosswalk.

VICTORIA, British ColumbiaJune 15, 2016PRLog — While Cordova provides a wonderful solution to cross platform development across iOS, Android, Windows, and other device platforms, it exposes developers to another cross platform issue – browser support of HTML5, CSS, and Javascript specifications. In this article I’ll discuss the problem and the solution used to produce Alamazoo’s Quotastic – Quotes and Sayings app, Crosswalk.

Modern browsers are updated regularly and support of standards is reasonably good. However, older devices may be running OS versions that no longer receive updates. As Apache Cordova runs in a WebView, this often means running in an older browser environment that is no longer updated. These WebViews may also have quirks specific to the device manufacturer or phone model. It it virtually impossible to test against every phone model and thus your app may not function as expected.

As of KitKat (Android 4.4) the standard WebView is based upon Chromium and its superior support of web standards. This is a huge improvement on support of web standards and clearly addresses much of the concern over WebView fragmentation. However, while better, KitKat support is still somewhat lacking (see chart). Furthermore, choosing to base your app builds on KitKat means ignoring the 20.8% of the marketplace still using earlier OS-based devices (as of June 6th, 2016).

But it isn’t just standards support that can affect your app, it is speed of execution. Note this isn’t just the natural result of older processors in these older devices; older WebViews perform poorly. They just weren’t optimized to run efficiently. Combined with older processors and an app can appear clunky or down right unusable.

A solution is required that brings high performant, device consistent, standards-based WebView support. A solution to return us to our vision of one code base for multiple devices. That solution is Crosswalk.

Crosswalk is a bundled Chromium WebView. It completely replaces the default WebView in any device running at least Android 4.0 or above. As of June 6th, 2016, this means you lose less than 2% of the total Android marketplace, an acceptable loss for almost any application. In return, your app runs in a highly standards compliant WebView. Perhaps more importantly, this webview remains consistent across all devices, uses the latest web innovations and APIs and is debuggable with Chrome DevTools. Finally, the Chromium WebView run up to 60% faster than the default WebView on the same hardware and OS (as determined using Google’s Octane 2.0 benchmark).

Yes, there is a cost to using Crosswalk. The Crosswalk WebView is embedded into your application and adds just under 20MB to your APK installation file. While many mobile apps are already many times largely than this, size matters and may affect net downloads of your app, particularly in countries with slow or costly Internet connections. Overall, however, the benefits of a highly performant, standards compliant, consistent development environment should outweight the added app size for most developers and most applications.

Crosswalk is fully open-source, free, and extremely easy to integrate into your existing Cordova application. Often adding new third-party code requires understanding new APIs and coding specifically to them. Crosswalk is much easier:

– cd <cordova- app-root-directory>/li>

– cordova plugin add cordova-plugin- crosswalk-webview

– cordova build

That’s it! Well, almost. Crosswalk builds two APK files, one for ARM processors (almost all devices are) and one for x86 processors. Google Play knows how to handle both so simply upload both and Google will assign the right build for each device automatically.

For Quotastic, Crosswalk provided a noticable boost to performance, eliminated browser quirks, and enabled older devices to support modern standards (like font ligatures).

Quotastic is a quotes and sayings application with 150,000+ inspirational quotes, motivational quotes, love quotes, funny quotes, and many more. Organized by author or by subject, fully searchable and taggable, Quotastic delivers the quotes that matter. Download Quotastic today (https://play.google.com/ store/apps/details? id=com.alamazo…)! For more information click http://alamazoo.com/ quotastic.html.

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