Convert a PHP Web App to a Mobile App with Canvas

In this article we’re going to show you how you can convert your PHP web app to mobile apps with MobiLoud Canvas in under two weeks - and save yourself a ton of time and money in the process

We’ll briefly cover some context on the PHP language, go over a few of the reasons to build a PHP mobile app, and explain how and why you should do it with Canvas

Want to get a personalized look at how to turn your PHP app into a mobile app? Book a free demo and one of our app experts will walk you through the process.

What is PHP?

PHP is a server-side scripting language used to develop websites and web applications. It is a go-between for the server and the front end of a website or web application that manages dynamic content, databases and such.

Can You Build Mobile Apps with PHP?

PHP’s purpose is to create websites and web applications. The technology that powers mobile applications is completely different. There is no way to directly translate what you have built with PHP into native applications for the iOS and Android platforms.

There are ways to do it though, that for brevity's sake we'll categorize under two main methods:

  1. Build an API for your web app, then rebuild the front-end of your existing PHP application as native apps from scratch
  2. Convert your PHP web app into hybrid mobile apps that package your web content inside a native container
An example of a web app put packaged inside the container of a native mobile app

The first option is theoretically possible, but extremely difficult - ask your developer. It would take a competent team months to get a first version out, as everything needs to be rebuilt and you can't reuse any of your existing code. You would also likely need to make compromises on the feasibility of some features and functionality.

The second is much more efficient, and in most cases, the best option.

Converting a PHP App to Native Mobile Apps

PHP is good at what it does, but it isn't exactly known for its adaptability - and it certainly wasn't made for anything close to mobile app development. It would be difficult to find people with the requisite skills who were willing to take on such a project.

You'd need at least two full time developers, one for iOS and one for Android, and the cost could reach six figures by the time you get the desired result - assuming you actually get there.

If you do, you'll have a lot of added work and expense to update the apps, maintain them, and put out new features and versions. You'll need to keep developers around, which will get expensive.

David Cost from Rainbow Shops discovered this while they were looking for the best way to create an app:

"If we had unlimited time and money, we would probably go for a custom native app, but that is half a million to a million a year to maintain.”

This route is just not feasible in 90%+ of cases. You're a business, not a computer science laboratory. A more efficient and proven path is needed so that you can get to market with solid iOS and Android apps within a reasonable budget and timeframe. This means reusing what you already have by converting your PHP web app into hybrid, not native, mobile apps.

Let's take a closer look at hybrid apps and explain why they are the best option for converting a PHP web app to mobile apps.

Convert a PHP Web App to Hybrid Mobile Apps

A Hybrid app combines web and native elements within the same application, and use "webviews" to display web content inside a native "shell".

Think of it like a dedicated browser for your web app that can be installed on the device, published on the App Store and Google Play, send push notifications - and generally behave like a native mobile app. 

Quora is a Hybrid app
Quora is a Hybrid app

With a webview, there’s no rebuilding of features or the UI - because the iOS and Android apps are your PHP web app, in a native “wrapper”.

If you're happy with apps that essentially do the same thing as your web app, this is the way to go. The only reason you’d do it any other way is if you need features that go above and beyond the web app and can only be achieved through the native APIs.

If you want that you basically can’t use your PHP code anyway, so it’s academic. 

How to Convert a PHP Web App to Mobile Apps with Canvas

Our tool, Canvas, was built specifically to convert web-based apps (such as PHP apps) to mobile apps.

It's incredibly fast, simple and affordable, and gives you a result that's not far off what you'd get if you paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a native app.

There's very little for you to do. The bulk of your mobile app is simply a recreation of your website, and our team does all the work under the hood to bring your mobile app to life.

Let's briefly look at the process.

  1. Start by scheduling a call with one of our app experts. You’ll go over the process, consider the options, and decide whether it's right for you. Alternatively, you can use our preview tool to get a preview of what your site will look like as an app.
  2. Sign up for Canvas. No long term contracts, full refund within 60 days for whatever reason.
  3. Work with our team to configure your apps. This involves adding some small mobile-specific touches, such as native mobile navigation elements, menus and logins.
  4. Your apps get built by our team. There’s nothing for you to do in this stage, we’ll build the first versions of your apps. 
  5. Test your iOS and Android apps on your own devices.
  6. Publish on the App Store and Google Play. We handle this part for you. App store guidelines can be tricky, but our team has done it thousands of times and we handle it all for you under your own developer accounts.
Our preview tool, where you can get a look at the kind of app you can build with Canvas.

Once your apps are published, you can promote them and start getting downloads. You could be live in as little as two weeks - as the EU-funded [email protected] app was:

“The delivery time was excellent. I mean 10 days, 10 working days.”
- Ivan Ivanov, Project Manager at the European Federation of Food, Agriculture, and Tourism Trade Unions

That’s how simple it is to convert a PHP web app to mobile apps with Canvas. You’ll have integrated all the features and functionality from your web app, and applied it through a new channel with the optimal mobile UX. 

With all the tough bits done for you and plans starting from $200/month, you’ll have saved a lot of time, money and stress - and got your PHP app to the iOS and Android platforms efficiently.

Are Hybrid Apps Worth Building?

Using MobiLoud Canvas, you'll create hybrid "webview" apps, rather than fully native apps.

Is this a problem? Is it worth the extra expense to go native?

The short version is no, it's very rarely worth it to build a native app. Webview apps can be just as good, with much less upkeep, as long as you do them right.

Just a webview on it’s own is not that great. It’s just a box with your web app in it, obvious to users and almost guaranteed to be rejected by Apple.

But by adding native mobile elements on top of the webview, you get a great user experience, often indistinguishable from that of a native app.

Hybrid apps can be great if they are built well. The main criticism of hybrid apps is performance, but they perform as well as the underlying web app. Gone are the days of 2g internet where only native apps could be fast. Nowadays - If your PHP web app is fast and well optimized for mobile, the hybrid mobile apps will be fast and smooth too.

The efficacy of the hybrid approach is proven by the fact that tons of tech giants and countless smaller brands have successfully relied on hybrid apps at some point. According to UX matters:

“We know that Facebook, Evernote, Instagram, LinkedIn, Uber, Slack, Twitter, Gmail, the Amazon Appstore, and many others are or have been WebView apps”

The fact that these companies all chose the hybrid route given their demanding requirements and technical talent available really speaks volumes.

Example of a hybrid app built with Canvas
Example of a hybrid app built with Canvas

This is an example of hybrid apps done well. The native components make it more than just a web app in a box - from the users perspective its a whole new experience.

Basecamp also went the hybrid route for their iOS and Android apps. Co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson wrote a great piece on his thought process for the project, in which he says the following:

"The hybrid model is eating its way up through the complexity chain. I’d argue that the majority of information-based apps today can be successfully implemented through this approach with varying levels of the native/HTML split."

It's an interesting case study in hybrid app development from the perspective of a medium-sized organization. Give it a read if you're interested.

The hybrid approach is orders of magnitude more efficient than pure native development, but that's just one of the benefits. Let's review the key reasons for converting your PHP web app to hybrid apps.

  • Save $100k+, cut down development time by 90%, no need to hire developers or agencies
  • Reuse what you already have, the hard work is all behind you and there's no need to reinvent the wheel
  • Replicate the functionality and features of your PHP web app exactly on iOS and Android
  • Shared codebase across web and mobile, so rolling out updates and improvements is much easier, and the apps update automatically with new web content

Want to convert your PHP app to mobile apps now? Click here to get a free, personalized demo.

Why Canvas is the Best Way to Build PHP Mobile Apps

We built Canvas to give established businesses a fast and stress-free route to the App Store and Google Play. Unlike many other hybrid app platforms Canvas isn't something for developers to tinker with, it's for businesses that just want to get the job done with minimal expense and headaches.

That said, if you do want to tinker - Canvas has a code editor that you can use to customize the apps to your heart's desire. We've made Canvas to be a simple platform for non-technical founders to use, but also made it flexible enough that it can be extended significantly.

More than 2000 apps have been built with Canvas, enjoyed by millions of users around the world. Whatever your PHP app currently does on the web, it can do the exact same thing as mobile apps through Canvas.

So how does Canvas work? In a nutshell - Canvas builds hybrid mobile apps for iOS and Android from your existing web app, adds all the important native app UI features, and combines everything with a service that handles the tricky parts and keeps your apps running optimally going forward. 

Canvas is our native platform that uses webviews to build hybrid apps - apps that have both native and web elements. 

When you convert your PHP web app to mobile apps with Canvas, you’ll get apps for iOS and Android that have the exact same features and functionality as your web app. It will be more than just your web app though, as Canvas will add the following native features:

  • Native tab bar and navigation
  • Unlimited push notifications on iOS and Android
  • Native splash screens and loading indicators
  • Push preferences and a message center to make your notifications more effective
  • Automatic ratings prompts
  • App analytics

You can manage your Canvas apps through a simple dashboard - with no code required. The apps will also update automatically with any changes you make on the web, so your workflow will remain almost exactly the same as you can do everything through one codebase. 

Canvas isn’t just a tool, it’s a service. Our team helps out extensively with the configuration and build process, and we test, prepare and submit the apps to the App Store and Google Play - guaranteeing approval. After the apps are live, we handle all ongoing updates and maintenance, saving you time and money every month for the lifetime of the apps. 

Convert Your PHP Web App to Mobile Apps Today!

In summary, Canvas is for you if:

  • You are happy with iOS and Android apps that essentially mimic your PHP web app
  • You want someone to take care of all the difficult parts of building hybrid apps
  • Your priority is getting to market fast and efficiently

Canvas is not for you if:

  • You need features that depart from what you have on the web and require the use of native APIs
  • You do not want to invest $500 for the initial app build and set up, and at least $200 per month for the license and all ongoing updates and maintenance development work

We hope this article has been informative in introducing you to Canvas -  a viable way to convert a PHP web app to mobile apps and get all the key benefits for a fraction of the cost of traditional development. 

If you want to learn more about Canvas and how we can bring you live on the App Store and Google Play - schedule a demo call with one of our app advisors and get answers to all your questions. You can also check out the FAQ section on the main Canvas page for more information. 

We’re ready to help you convert your PHP app to mobile apps today - just book a demo call and let’s get started!

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