A Phonegap Mapping Tutorial
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MapGap is a tutorial designed to get you familiarized with creating mapping apps with PhoneGap.

Table of Contents

  • Phonegap
  • Getting Started
  • Tutorial


What is Phonegap?

Phonegap is an opensource project that allows you to make cross platform apps using your existing knowledge of web technologies (HTML, CSS and JavaScript).

What platforms does Phonegap cover?

Phonegap currently works with:

  • Android
  • BlackBerry
  • iOS
  • Symbian
  • WebOS
  • Windows Phone 7
  • Windows Phone 8
  • Windows 8
  • Bada
  • Tizen

Why Phonegap?

Previously to Phonegap, if a team wanted to launch their iOS app on Android, the app would have to be completely rewritten in Java. With Phonegap, projects can share the same code base making it easy to launch an app on multiple operating systems. Also, you do not need to learn a new language- Phonegap is all HTML, CSS, and JavaScript 👍. PG is essentially a webview which makes it very easy to debug and test.

How is the performance?

The perforamce can be great. There are best practices however to get your Phonegap app to feel native that we will cover in this tutorial.

Do I have access to the same features as a native app?

Yes, you have access to all the phones features- camera, gps, contacts, accelomater etc.

Getting started

Before we begin, decide which platform you would like to get started with and set up your developer environment. In this tutorial, I will cover Android and iOS support. Follow the instructions PG provides here. Note: This is probably the most frustrating portion of this tutorial but do not get discouraged! Make sure to follow the instructions carefully. Here are some caveats I found:

  • When creating an Android project, the path to the project folder cannot already exist. You are making the new folder in the path. Example:
./create ~/Documents/projects/MapGap-folder com.MapBox.MapGap MapGap

In this example MapGap-folder does not exist before running ./create

  • If after opening your Android project in Eclipse for the first time, your project has a red X indicating there is a problem follow these additional steps:

    1. Right click on the project folder.
    2. In the Properties dialog that is displayed select Android from the navigation pane.
    3. For the project build target select the highest Android API level you have installed.
    4. Click OK
    5. Then from the Project menu bar item select Clean.

Hello World

Every time you generate a new PG project, it comes with a simple hello world app that tells you the API is 'talking' to your device. Once you have setup your environment, it will be time to run the hellow world app. For iOS I recommend running the app in the simulator and for Android I recommend running it on your device. I found the Android simulator to be painstakingly slow and it was much easier to plug in your phone and run it there. Apple makes it a little more difficult to an app on a personal device and it will also require membership in Apple's iOS Deverloper Program.

Replace www Folder

The www folder is the heart and soul of the app and where you will spend the majority of your time while working on your app. The HTML, CSS an JavaScript lives here and also the index.html which loads the app initially. Download MapGap and replace the css folder, index.html and the js folder. Do not replace the cordova-2.7.0.js file as that is specific for each platform. Also note, that this tutorial is only guaranteed with cordova 2.7 as this was the most recent stable build when written. Once the files are replaced run the app.

About the API

PG runs once document.addEventListener('deviceready', onDeviceReady, false); is invoked. If there is a connection between cordova and your device the function onDeviceReady() which contains all your JS. In this function you can do things like get the camera:

navigator.camera.getPicture(onSuccess, onFail, { quality: 50,
    destinationType: Camera.DestinationType.DATA_URL

function onSuccess(imageData) {
  var image = document.getElementById('myImage');
  image.src = "data:image/jpeg;base64," + imageData;

function onFail(message) {
    alert('Failed because: ' + message);

Or get access to the devices accelerometer:

function onSuccess(acceleration) {
  alert('Acceleration X: ' + acceleration.x + '\n' +
    'Acceleration Y: ' + acceleration.y + '\n' +
    'Acceleration Z: ' + acceleration.z + '\n' +
    'Timestamp: '      + acceleration.timestamp + '\n');

function onError() {

navigator.accelerometer.getCurrentAcceleration(onSuccess, onError);

As you can see, these are very simple yet powerful JS functions that give you access to all the features the phone offers. These functions are also the same across all devices so you do not need to rewrite a function for iOS or Android.

Onto Mapping

There are many mapping products out there that allow you to make apps on your device, some work better than others. Recently MapBox.js V1 was released which is built ontop of Leaflet which works very well on mobile devices. Tiles load smoothly, it has some support of touch related events and panning is good. Let's now talk about how to get the most out of you mobile map.

Best Practices

There are many small things can make a huge difference in how your app performances and feels.

300 millisecond delay

On some mobile web browsers, there is a 300ms delay after the user taps the screen. The browser is waiting to see if the user does a double tap, but in reality, this 300ms delay makes the app feel less responsive. To overcome this, I use a library built ontop of Zepto.js called Zepto onpress which removes the wait. It is incredible how much better the app feels after including this. Also, I chose to use Zepto to jQuery because of its smaller footprint, it works very well with webkit browsers and also Phonegap.

User tap select issues

There are 3 important lines of CSS to include

  • Prevent the user from select an item. This most of the time, you do not need the user to be able to select text or an image: -webkit-user-select: none;
  • Prevent webkit from resizing text to fit: -webkit-text-size-adjust: none;
  • Prevent the default webkit tap color: -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0,0,0,0);

Remove clutter from the map

Zoom controls are overkill and attribution does not need to be directly on the map. Removing these items from the screen opens up the map.

    var map = L.map('map', {
      zoomControl: false,
      attributionControl: false,

Retina Tiles

More so than not, a mobile device will have a 'retina display'. Supporting these devices when you are able to makes your app look and feel good across all devices. MapBox makes tiles with labels that are 2 times the normal amount. This is because MapBox.js shrinks the tiles by half when (256px to 128px) so the labels need to compensate in size to remain legible.

1x on left, 2x on right

MapBox.js includes a function that will load retina tiles if the screen is retina:

var map = L.map('map')
    .setView([37, -122], 5)
    .addLayer(L.mapbox.tileLayer('examples.map-20v6611k', {
        detectRetina: true,
        retinaVersion: 'examples.map-zswgei2n'


Scaling the viewport makes the items in the screen proportional for smaller screens. Including this one line in your head of code makes huge difference

<meta name='viewport' content='user-scalable=no, initial-scale=1, maximum-scale=1, minimum-scale=1, width=device-width, height=device-height, target-densitydpi=device-dpi' />


This is one of my favorite performance gains. With MapBox.js, tiles are placed on the map after panning has completed (true only on mobile). By setting updateWhenIdle:false the tiles are loaded and placed on the map while the user pans giving the sense that the map is incredible fast. This however can detrimental on larger screens (iPad) and is best set to default. I like to query the screen size and apply this method for only smaller screens:

// Apply method for smaller screens
        unloadInvisibleTiles: true,

Use this with caution

Optimizing your app


Testing is a very important process in creating an app. Although the simulator is good, it is best to test your app on range of actual devices to get a feel for what the user interaction is like as well as troubleshooting bugs. An important decision to make when testing on devices is what minimum software version to support. With Apple, most users have updated to iOS 6+ which makes testing easier. Android on the other hand can be a little more difficult due to segmentation of devices and software. Many plugins (which will be discussed later) only support newer software versions. The bottom line is, test on as many devices as you can as you'll find you apps weak points.

File structure

Although it is possible to make remote calls to a server to fetch assets, it is general not a good idea. This is due to network connection issues that can make your app feel slow and sometimes, not even load. Include all css, js and images in your www.


Phonegap has a growing repository of some awesome plugins. There are all sorts of plugins:

  • Copy/Paste
  • Native Twitter integration
  • SMS feature
  • Google Analytics
  • Facebook
  • More

Although there are a lot, often times they do not keep up with Phonegap development which is their biggest issue. Often times to get a plugin to work, it requires changing a couple lines of java or obj C to make it compatible with newest version. Check the history of the plugin you're interested in and see how well it is maintained before making an app that revolves around it. Also note that plugins are specific to devices so an Android plugin will not work on iOS.

Get Going

Now that I have showed you how to get started, give it a go and see what you can create. If you get stuck, most issues have happened before and a simple Google search will find you the answer. If you have any question about the tutorial, feel free to leave a question in the issues section. Happy mapping.