Building mobile apps using WordPress

I’ve been wanting to test a hypothesis, but I think my time (and skill) are going to come up short.  So, I’m hoping I can use my blog here to get people to help me and shortcut some of the madness that comes when tinkering with code for hours on end.

The idea is that WordPress could be used as a mobile app publishing platform.  Ideally, people with little or no technical expertise could build, deploy and manage really good apps.  If WordPress can do that for publishing on the web, then why can’t it (or something similar) do the same for publishing in an app container?

So, what I’m trying to do is pump topical articles, images and video from the Guardian’s API into a WordPress instance that will then render everything in a nice HTML5 theme.  And then I want to package up that experience which is mostly just for the iOS web view into an app for the app store.

I’ve asked a few people about this, and after we get through the common debate, “why should it be a native app and not a web site?” the conversation about the approaches then varies quite a bit.  (I’m not convinced it should be an app and not a web site, but I want to try it nonetheless.)

To start with, there aren’t many known iPad-friendly themes for WordPress.  There’s WPTouch which is very popular (1.3M downloads).  And Mobility which looks very nice.  But there’s a lot of room for theme developers to come up with some better iPad options.

Then there’s the issue of flowing content into WordPress.  Is it better to pull the API via a plugin or to post content via XMLRPC?

We have a plugin that could be reused to accomplish what I’m after with some tweaks, but I want to simplify it to something that’s essentially invisible to an editor.  I was playing with the auto-post via XMLRPC idea the other night, and stumbled into a Simon Willison script meant to make this easier.  Is there any advantage to one solution over the other?

Now, let’s say we solve the theme and auto-posting issues…how do we package up the app for delivery via the app store?  The iOS publishing tools seem pretty incomplete, so far.  I nearly had Titanium Appcelerator setup before finding my Mac is incapable of running the iOS SDK.  I’m stuck on the deployment part of this project at the moment.

Anyhow, if you accept the premise that WordPress could be a useful delivery platform for mobile apps, then I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to do that.  Obviously, it could easily be a flawed idea in the first place, and I’d love to hear other solutions to the problem.