Appcelerator's Titanium: A truncated review

Like any self respecting entrepreneurial geek, I've got my eye on mobile applications.  Recently receiving my sweet sweet Nexus One (seriously, drool worthy phone), I wanted to see what I could break.

I used one of my very precious Sundays about a month ago to dig in.

What is Titanium 

As far as I can tell (this review is truncated) Titanium is basically an API and runtime which allows you to build a web application and deploy it to a mobile device, or run it on the desktop.  The differentiator is that while your app is just running in a webkit browser, you can add controls and utilize APIs on the host machine using Titanium's custom JavaScript APIs.  I guess they accomplish this via a plugin for webkit which renders them in the browser?  I don't know, but anyway, that's the gist.  It's supposed to be better than Phonegap (which is now my only other option for x-platform mobile development) because it uses these native controls instead of the ugly browser based ones.  So your app doesn't look like a web app (even though it kinda is).

The company's website has been nicely lacquered with Web 2.0 spray and they are venture backed.

Great idea, doesn't work.

Getting the desktop runtime working and building a sample app from the docs was pretty easy and straight forward.   But that's not what I came for.  The desktop is so 2009.  I wanted to get something working on Android.  Sadly, while the website claims everywhere that Titanium works for Android (and I'm sure it once did), I just couldn't get it to work.  No errors, just silent failure.  Then I found this thread:

 

http://developer.appcelerator.com/question/12991/create-new-mobile-project-in-ti-developer-121-missing-android-emulator-option

Android is completely borked.  It just doesn't work.

Amazing: 5 weeks later, still no resolution.  Barely a peep from customer service too over that time.  BTW, there are another dozen similar threads.  We're not talking about an edge case or training, we're talking about the product being fundamentally broken.  If I paid for it, I would certainly take legal action.  This company is venture backed and sells support services. 

Developers are willing to struggle, but only to a point

If you're a technology company making something for developers, or something developers will have to integrate, please pay attention.  Developers these days have a huge sway in I.T. decision making.  Sure, a great board and savvy marketing will help it slip past the VP or CEO, but developers will feel your product, touch it, they will test your support, they will try to hack it, and they will try to fix it.  And then, if you didn't waste too much of their time, and responded to them quickly and completely, they might make a recommendation.

So please, stop the product design meetings, skip that next conference, cancel the management offsite and have all hands support your product.  The idea is great, but unless you are fanatical about having me as a customer, I can't trust that you'll be fanatical about serving me later.

 

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