How to enter the app
Special to Globe and Mail Update
Published Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010 9:36AM EST
Making your own apps for mobile devices isn’t an easy proposition. But if you’ve determined you need one,
ou’d rather not spend thousands on consultants, there’s a growing number of companies that would like to
ease the way for you.
Apps for mobile devices such as iPhones and Android handhelds are programmed on PCs, or Macs, using a
downloadable software suite
called a Software Development Kit. The software is free, but the years of computer
science courses to learn how to program with are not.
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But not all apps are so complicated that they need to be designed from scratch. For instance, apps that are
primarily informational can be boiled down to simple elements: a page for a description of the business, a page
for contact i
nformation, a page for photos, and so on.
For businesses that would like an app that fits this template, there are tools that make app
creation a code
affair, designed using a point
or even just by filling out a questionnaire.
course, there’s a trade
off between simplicity and flexibility: the more flexibility you’re looking for in the
design and functionality of your app, the more complicated the tools to create it will become.
The more flexible approach involves downloading a
development program on your PC that puts a
click interface on the app
making process. (It’s analogous to the way that programs such as
DreamWeaver once hid the process of coding websites behind a drag
, for instance, is a downloadable software framework that puts a point
click interface on
the iPhone app
making process. Like many entrants in the app
making market, the platform is geared toward
taking the kind of content that might already be publish
ed on the Web
articles, updates, blog posts, photos
and packaging it as an app. However, you’ll have to compile the results yourself by downloading Apple’s
iPhone Software Development Kit, and paying the $99 it requires developers to pay to register.
n the Android side of things, Google has released a similar program called App Inventor, which lets users
build applications by dragging and dropping icons that represent both interface elements such as buttons and
fields, as well as the actions that they
Then, there’s a category of app
making services that use a web interface to step users through a simple mix
MobBase ($20 setup plus $15 a month) offers to put together apps that are specifically geared towa
rd bands and
musicians. Working through its spare web interface, would
be app owners use custom graphics to personalize
an app that bundles together biographical information and upcoming
show data with streaming music clips and
their own YouTube feed. In a
ddition to a setup fee, MobBase charges a monthly fee, as well as a $5 charge for
every further 1,000 installations.
Other services offer variations on this model. SwebApps ($399 plus $29 a month) offers a more robust set of
making tools aimed at a gen
eral audience. Its prices start at $399 for a basic application, built with
predefined elements, and $1,799 for a layout put together by their own designers. In addition to standard
publishing tools such as photo galleries and republishing web cont
ent, SwebApps offers features that
make better use of apps’ capabilities, such as Google Maps integration that lets you pinpoint multiple locations
on the map.
Meanwhile, AppMakr ($999), which boasts some big
name clients, provides a simple way to wrap fee
particularly blog feeds, in their various formats
in an app’s wrapper. A limited
free version offers to create the app for you, provided you pay Apple’s $99 developer levy.
There’s a proliferation of similar tools out
there, so be careful
not all automated app
generators are created
equal. Before committing time, energy, and your brand, try downloading and using apps made using the same
process. Make sure that they use an interface that’s native to your phone, that th
ey’re visually pleasing, perform
perhaps most importantly
give your users a compelling reason to download an app instead of just
visiting a mobile website.
And that brings us back to a familiar Catch
22: A business should think twice about ma
king an app in the first
place if the content is so simple, it could go on a website. A mobile
oriented website is a better match for
displaying simple information. Good apps, meanwhile, are immersive, engaging, and practical.
Falling short of this standar
d will leave customers scratching their heads at why they bothered. But if you can
just make users glad they’ve downloaded your app, a booming marketplace of prospective clients awaits.