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.

5 thoughts on “Building mobile apps using WordPress”

  1. Matt,

    A few things to check out:

    Tengo and Cache ( a small iOS application that uses the HTML5 cache manifest file in a HTML file to pull down static content. I built this with a view of using it to deploy HTML/CSS/Javascript applications onto iOS devices and then use the cache manifest to update relevant content. That content could easily be HTML content rendered by a WordPress application. A simpler version of that is here: Happy to show you this some time. This would allow you to build HTML content for the browser and for a device without too much extra effort.

    As for publishing into a WordPress app, Dan Catt has been emailing posts into WordPress (see some description here: So it would probably be a case of writing a script to pull content from the ContentAPI and then email to an account that WordPress is configured to read with appropriate settings for draft/publish status and away you go.



  2. Matt,

    have you looked at JQTouch? It’s designed specifically for more content driven apps.

    It has a very simple format, and I’d suspect for what you want to do, zero JS required.
    Deployment is still the kicker, as you’d need to package it with phoneGap, which needs iOS SDK.

    PhoneGap build looks promising – but no iOS support as yet ;-(

    Rhomobile’s Rhodes development tool comes with JQTouch now, and may allow you to avoid the need for iOS dev tools (not investigated it enough)

    If you have Windows, MobiOne promises iPhone Dev on Windows using web technologies

    But I don’t think you can get these into the AppStore

    Might just be the reason to upgrade that Mac!



  3. Matt, have you seen Ars Technica’s new Reader for iPad? This is the best-looking ‘generated’ magazine app I’ve seen (it was made in PhoneGap), but it’s slow and jittery. It’d be a fun project to build a chain of tools that do what you want – author content in WordPress or push content into WP via XMLRPC, display it in an iPad-optimised theme, suck it up through a simple web service which attaches the iOS / PhoneGap / Appcelerator boilerplate and compiles the app – but like the friends you’ve already spoken to, I’m not sure why you would, when Android and iOS’s Webkit browsers already provide a platform for responsive, full-screen reading, available off-line.

    I’d like to see an expansion of the Mobility / WPTouch effort, adding support for the offline storage capabilities of Webkit browsers, allowing publishers to package up their content as sync-able, tablet- and mobile-optimised HTML.

  4. Lots of great suggestions here. I’m done with the Guardian API to WordPress integration. Now the hard part…packaging for deployment. Will try out a few of these options and report back.

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