Can I use WordPress to create an iPad App like that? Yes

WordPress as a Platform

A few months back, I wrote about how I used WordPress as a platform to develop a different system. The reasons for using WordPress were simple:

  • The majority of the user interface for the “authors” was content creation.
  • There were several different kinds of data that needed to be collected.
  • The output of the data was not too complicated.

When faced with this kind of product, why would I ever want to create a content management system from scratch? Think about all the time spent creating the login, password management, password reminder, security roles, access restrictions, data collection screens and menus. Why do it?

Well, I didn't. I used WordPress. And wrote about it. And when that happens, I often get emails, messages, and comments that come in like today's:

Can I use WordPress to create an iPad App like this one? 

And my answer, which I'll layout here with more words than is necessary, is simply: Yes.

Three ways you can use WordPress to create that iPad app

I'm going to walk you thru three ways to do it, and each one gets slightly more complicated but gives you greater control.

1. Just create a web application theme

When people talk about iPad apps, what they sometimes mean is simply an app that looks good on an iPad. I know, as a technical guy, I almost always overshoot their expectations. Because I jump to a native app way before they do. And you know how I feel about overshoot. So don't do it. The first thing you have to ask yourself is if a webapp will suffice for what your client wants as an iPad app. In that case, your work is pretty simple. You simply need to create a theme that looks and displays your content the right way.

One alternative with this approach, though there is debate on whether it works, is to create a shell application using PhoneGap, and the only thing you do is have it have a browser (with no address bar) and a pointer to your app. Presto, you could have an iPad app. Again, you'd have to test to see if Apple approves it, but I've seen them approve worse.

2. Use WordPress as the data collector, and then use an app generator

As I already wrote about how I used WordPress as a platform, I won't go into the use of Appcelerator's Titanium product again, but I can summarize it for you.

Now, in our case, we didn't want the JSON going out using WordPress's native structure. So we wrote our own custom plugin that would shape the data structure so that it matched what we needed. Then we pulled it into the app we designed using Appcelerator's Titanium, and then we produced our app.

Appcelerator's Titanium isn't the only app generator out there. You can also look at products like Tiggzi – which is a complete cloud-based app generator.

In either case, you design the application in those tools, and then call data from WordPress urls – either directly (like RSS feeds), via plugins you produce, or using WordPress' XML-RPC. (Because my focus isn't on XML-RPC, if you've never heard of it, here's a quick review.)

3. Use WordPress as the data collector, and then custom create the iPad portion natively

My good friends at Zeek Interactive are a special bunch. They're not only gurus with WordPress, they're also mobile and multimedia specialists. So there's only one company I think about when I get that question:

Can I use WordPress to create an iPad App like this one? 

Now, these are good guys to know, and to put in your rolodex.

Can I rant for a second?

Why am I telling you about Zeek Interactive? Because for the last few years we've seen mobile blow up. I'm not talking in theoretical terms. I'm talking – when you walk into a Best Buy they don't sell desktops anymore. Desktops? Who's talking about desktops? I am. Because we used to think laptops were this nice to have kind of thing. Now everyone has it – even if they're not mobile. And you know what else they have? Mobile phones. Smart phones. In fact ask your friends – what are the three things they walk out of the house with every day:

  • Their wallet
  • Their keys
  • Their mobile phone

Websites are to desktops as mobile apps are to laptops.
Say it three times.

So you need a mobile strategy. And that's why I'm getting this question a lot. Because people want to know if the investment they've made in learning how to update their web site (using WordPress) translates to anything in the mobile world. And the answer is yes.

Rant over, back to Zeek

Zeek Interactive brings the mobile strategy and the WordPress expertise together to create native apps. They have staff who code Apple products natively. But they still use XML-RPC to call the data out of WordPress. I help produce an online WordPress show every Monday called WPwatercooler. It grabs a handful of local WordPress folks together and has them chat about various WordPress topics. Last week we did a “show and tell” show and Steve, from Zeek Interactive, talked about his recent iPad app that hits WordPress for data. You can watch the show to see Steve in person.

Are we clear? Crystal?

Like I said, that was a lot of words to simply say “yes” it's possible to create ipad apps like all the other cool stuff out there, and still use WordPress as the platform below it. Check out the various resources linked here and let me know if you still have questions.