Should application developers use Steroids to improve their performance?

I’m not talking about the same type of steroids that some Major League Baseball players, including Alex Rodriguez, are currently in hot water over having allegedly bought. No, the Steroids in question here is actually a new product from mobile application development tool provider AppGyver (which rhymes with “MacGyver.”)

I took a call earlier in the week with Marko Lehtimaki, founder and CEO of AppGyver. The company’s new product, Steroids Toolbelt, was announced on Wednesday. Still in beta, Steroids Toolbelt is the first of several products that AppGyver says will be rolled out of its new Steroids platform in the coming months.

Promising mobile app developers a better alternative to Adobe PhoneGap, the company says Steroids Toolbelt helps developers build, test and deploy fully functioning, hybrid HTML5 mobile applications that are just like native iOS and Android ones. And the company says it does this without many of the frustrations and issues developers can face when using PhoneGap.

One of the most common frustrations that Steroids Toolbelt addresses involves developer productivity, according to Lehtimaki. “For example, typically, if you develop PhoneGap apps, you need to maintain the native code,” he said. “Even though you are developing your app in HTML, you still need to maintain all the Objective-C and Java code. And every time there’s a new version of PhoneGap or a new version of the operating system, you need to actually compile and manage that whole native code that you are not familiar with as a Web developer.”

Lehtimaki said that’s one of the problems they take away because, with Steroids Toolbelt, all developers need to do is just take care of their HTML5 project. They never need to see the native code or use any of the native SDKs (such as Xcode, Apple’s IDE for creating iOS apps).

Another issue that Lehtimaki spoke about is that, if you’re a Web developer, you are used to developing your apps against a browser. So you just refresh every time you make a code change. “With PhoneGap tooling, you actually need to compile the whole application, including the native code, every time you want to see a change,” he said. “So, say you add one line of JavaScript. You need to actually compile the app, which can take 45 to 60 seconds. And you have to do that a lot of times a day. That’s one of the waste points or waste layers where people just spend a lot of time for no reason, just because of the methodology of how PhoneGap was built.”

But Lehtimaki said that, when starting a project, developers using Steroids Toolbelt can just connect their iOS or Android devices to their laptop via WiFi, and the app automatically loads to the devices. If they want to use a simulator on the desktop, they can do that as well. And every time they make a change to their project, all of their connected devices and simulators update immediately; they never need to actually compile again. That alone, he said, can save developers a lot of time each day.

Lehtimaki said a third benefit of using Steroids Toolbelt rather than PhoneGap is that Steroids Toolbelt offers developers ad hoc distribution via QR codes. By just scanning a QR code to see the application, he said developers can share their projects with other team members or with customers.

I asked Lehtimaki if Steroids Toolbelt is intended to replace the Adobe PhoneGap technology or does it replace the tooling. “Let me put it this way,” he replied. “We love Apache Cordova, which is the PhoneGap open-source project. It’s the project that was there before Adobe purchased it. We’ve been active in the PhoneGap community for a long time. We’ve also been contributing to the PhoneGap Cordova project a little bit as an open-source project.

“But when Adobe took over and made it a commercial platform…we basically decided not to contribute that much to the community, but rather, keep those changes in our organization. We love PhoneGap and the community; there are a lot of people from different organizations working on the Cordova project. But when it comes to the tooling…yes, we are replacing the tooling, but we are not replacing the core technology because we are using it and contributing to it.”

Lehtimaki said AppGyver has taken feedback from developers who have used PhoneGap, and it is aiming to fix what developers say is “broken” with it. He said they are currently working on fixing about 70 issues, one of which is making debugging your project easier to do than it is with PhoneGap.

If you are a developer currently using Adobe PhoneGap, what has been your experience with it? Are there any particular issues that you would love to see AppGyver’s Steroids Toolbelt resolve?