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

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. 

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 that time comes at some point.

If you do pull it off, you’ll have a lot to add to your ongoing workflow for updating the apps, maintaining them, and putting out new features and versions. Better keep those developers around.

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 in a similar manner to 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. 

Are Hybrid Apps Any Good?

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. What’s better is a well-built hybrid application that adds all the necessary native parts on top of the webview, to give a solid app user experience and make the most of the channel.

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. Assuming they were well built of course.

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.

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

Is Building Hybrid Apps Really Easy Then?

Compared to building native apps, yes – building hybrid apps is easy.

That doesn’t mean its a walk in the park though. To pull it off well yourself and get a great result is a challenge even if you’re technically inclined. All the native components – the parts that are different to your web app – need to be built from scratch, and everything needs to be extensively tested and optimized.

When you’ve built everything, you need to ensure that the apps work very well on iOS and Android, that the UX is up to par, and that they will get accepted by Apple. There will be bugs to deal with, during development and after launch, and you’ll need developers on hand to get to the finish line.

If you want to sidestep all the potential pitfalls, and take the most direct and hassle-free PHP to mobile app route – we have a solution for you.

MobiLoud Canvas can get you to the App Stores in just a few weeks, with minimal headaches and expense.  

Why Build PHP Mobile Apps with Canvas? 

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 1000 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. 

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

To convert a PHP web app to mobile apps with Canvas is simple. Let’s briefly look at the process.

  1. Schedule a demo call with one of our app experts. You’ll go over the process, consider the options, and decide whether Canvas is right for you.
  2. Sign up for Canvas. No long term contracts, full refund within 60 days for whatever reason.
  3. Submit your PHP web app on our platform, upload your logo and add some key information about the apps. 
  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. Log in to Canvas. In a few days, your apps will be ready for you to test through our dashboard.
  6. Configure the apps. Here you’ll set up the menu, color scheme, push notification settings, logins, ratings prompts, analytics, and other key parts of the apps. You can also add custom CSS in our code editor if you wish. 
  7. Test your iOS and Android apps on your own devices.
  8. Publish on the App Store and Google Play. This is a pretty laborious process, but our team has done it thousands of times and we handle it all for you under your own developer accounts. 
  9. Promote your app and nail App Store Optimization. We can help guide you with this. 
  10. Download and use your app, and get it installed on your users device!

That’s it, 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. 

Setting up the native tab bar in the Canvas dashboard
Setting up the native tab bar in the Canvas dashboard

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. 

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!