It seems every time I use Facebook, YouTube or Pandora I am presented with an ad for a different “Create our own mobile app” company. In this blog post we are going to explore what these services are capable of.
Google acknowledged that they had an automated app inventor in 2010 (about a year and a half after the release of Android). By the fall of 2010, they released the source code for “App Inventor for Android” and gave the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), some funding to continue on with it.
App Inventor was the first of its kind and still is in popular use today. It’s somewhat hard for the layperson, but for the technically minded, you can make working apps with a few hours of effort. With 10 to 20 hours, you can actually get pretty impressive results. And it’s free.
Current Batch of Services
As impressive as App Inventor was and still is, it was not without drawbacks. It does not work for iOS, it’s for Android only (and somewhat does work with Fire OS). And the second issue is that it is hard to use unless you at least somewhat versed with web software.
So those drawbacks are what has propagated to the current fleet of app creation services. They are easier to use, as well as faster to having an app, and many handle your app store listing as well. The app store listing is where you upload your app, information, and screenshots. Of course, with all this simplicity, automation and speed there is a cost, and that is the number of features your app can have. Speaking of cost, most of these services are affordable. On the low end, there are some that are around $5 per month and others as high as $250 per month, all depending on what they provide.
Most of the cheaper services are great at taking the RSS from your blog and making that available on an app, or having some simple content or maybe even having a few forms. Many of the more expensive options can make complex applications that do many things, but requires you to have some backend APIs (such as REST or SOAP).
So my simple answer boils down to this: if you need an app that is mostly static content or from an RSS feed, the layperson may find success with app creation services. To make complex applications, you need developer skills.
They are tons of “mashup” type possibilities too. You can pay an “App Creation Service Company,” to make your app and then get a developer to make the RESTful API that powers the app. If you need functionality in your app that no current “App Creation Service Company” provides, you may just need to go custom. Going custom costs some money, but you get exactly what you want.
Another option that is often overlooked is getting your current site more mobile. There are things like responsive design and adding bookmarks to home screens of mobile devices that can produce good results. It may not be a bad idea to take a minute and pull up your current website and see how it looks on a phone, or a few different phones. It may be eye opening in more ways than one.