Software Development

Five DIY mobile app platforms for developers on a tight budget

These do-it-yourself platforms allow developers or designers to create mobile apps at a fraction of the cost a third-party would charge. See which one is right for your shop.

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 Image: iStock/scanrail

Your organization wants to create the next great mobile app to help deliver products and services to its customers, but the project budget is nowhere near what is required to hire an outside firm to develop, build, and deliver it. What do you do? I recommend turning to one of these mobile app platforms and create it yourself: AppsBuilder, Apptive, SeattleCloud, ShoutEm, and uBuildApp.

AppsBuilder

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AppsBuilder is a cloud-based development platform that provides an easy to use interface for DIY developers to create, edit, manage, and promote their native apps and mobile sites. AppsBuilder offers a free 14-day trial, and no subscription is required.

An AppsBuilder account is active forever, though each app only lasts for 14 days. If you want to keep using your AppsBuilder app after the 14-day trial period, you'll have to pick a pricing plan and a payment method.

Follow the App Wizard steps and add your app information with an app name (in this demo, I named mine Test App) and an optional website URL. Choose from a set of features that may include general content such as news, photo, video, podcasting, RSS feed, quick feeds, quick news, Facebook and more, and then select the design template from 83 themes from which you can select from a variety of colors, images, backgrounds, icons, and more (Figure A). Other content you can add to your apps includes multimedia, social, contact, forms, and widgets. Several themes have menu style options, allowing you to select from various grids and menu styles. Once you select all your app options, save your app.

Figure A

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After saving your app, you can publish the app, which is compatible for viewing as an HTML5 mobile site, as well as on an iPhone/iPad or an Android device. This simple app took me about 10 minutes to create from creating an account to publishing the preview app. The AppsBuilder Apps Preview is available for iPhone and Android devices. Screen captures of the iPhone AppsBuilder Apps Preview app are displayed in Figure B and Figure C.

Figure B

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Figure C

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Figure D is a screen capture of the app in preview mode on an iPhone.

Figure D

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Apptive

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Apptive features a newly updated interface for creating iOS- and Android-based apps utilizing a drag and drop capability with a focus on building ecommerce platforms.

A 30-day free trial is offered -- the only requirements are you have to enter your full name and email address and create a password for login authentication. After creating your account, you're taken directly to the app creation dashboard (Figure E).

Figure E

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The six-step process starts with the app's basics, including the type, the name, and the logo. The second step is the app's design features, which include the launch icon, splash screen, background, fonts, and colors. The third step includes adding app modules. The forth step is adding in any content. A preview lets you review and adjust anything before you submit the app for publishing, which is the final step.

For the basics step, the first thing you do is select an app type from the drop-down menu, which allows you to select from either business or organization type apps including: 3dcart Merchant, BigCartel Merchant, Bigcommerce Merchant, Ecommerce Merchant, Other, PrestaShop Merchant, Shopify Merchant, TicketBiscuit Venue, Volusion Merchant, and Weebly Merchant. For this demo, I selected the Ecommerce Merchant. I clicked Next and gave my app the name eComApp (Figure F).

Figure F

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I selected the app $car logo, the Pacifico font, and the #0659c1 color (Figure G).

Figure G

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I clicked Next to generate the logo and then was immediately taken to the design step 2 of the process, which starts with creating the launch icon -- in this case, I kept the one created in the last step (Figure H).

Figure H

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I selected a splash screen, the background, the font, and lastly the colors for nav bar, buttons, tables, table text, and body to complete the app color scheme (Figure I).

Figure I

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The third main step allows you to add in modules from their library, which includes the options for shop, deals, social media, contact info, and about us. You can also add a blog, messages, RSS, and other (Figure J).

Figure J

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For this demo, I used the drag and drop feature to select the social media, about us, and contact info app modules (Figure K).

Figure K

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In the content step, I entered the Social Media content information setup screen, which is where I entered my Facebook URL, Twitter Handle, YouTube Username, and Instagram Username (it requires authentication into Instagram for validation) (Figure L).

Figure L

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The About Us content information was entered for a title, description, and an image. Finally, the Contact Us information was entered to complete the content step.

Once all the app modules content are completed, the preview step allows you to click through the live preview (Figure M), and then the three images for the Social, About Us, and Contact Us modules (Figure N).

Figure M

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Figure N

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After I finished with the preview, I clicked to the submit step, which is the last part of the process -- this is where you have the options of a 30-day free trial or the $24.99 per month rate or an annual rate that comes with a 17% discount (Figure O); you are not billed during the trial period.

Figure O

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I opted to log out for now and did not enter any billing information. This entire process from start to finish took less than 45 minutes, which is not bad for creating a DIY app that would be ready to roll into production in less than an hour. And for the $249 discounted annual rate, it is hard to beat the price for a quick mobile app.

SeattleCloud

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At 237,000 apps and counting built using the SeattleCloud platform, it's a solid contender in the DIY app builder category with a price that's hard to beat. I won't walk through this platform or the next two apps as I did with the first two recommendations because most of the steps to creating apps are quite similar, but I will review each offering's notable features.

Users can choose from more than 200 templates to create native iPhone and Android apps, adding and formatting content, including text, pictures, sound, video files, and more. Once an account is created, users can access the SeattleCloud-supported features, which include push notifications and control, custom tabs, in-app purchases, interactive maps, social integration, coupons/QR codes, Google Analytics tracking, and more.

SeattleCloud is available to try for free with pricing starting at $14.99 a month for the basic plan, which includes one app and one platform. If you want to opt out of the monthly subscription plan, you can make a one-time payment of $199 to buy your app outright with all your content packed and deployed to the AppStore once with no monthly charges, dependencies, or subscriptions.

ShoutEm

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ShoutEm offers a complete content management system for mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, integrating with existing content sources such as WordPress, Facebook, Constant Contact, RSS, OpenTable, and more. Multiple monetization options include mobile advertising, eCommerce, and in-app subscriptions, all with a seamless publishing process.

Modules and templates include options such as menus, galleries, music, people, web, news, social, directories, podcasts, locations, and more. ShoutEm also offers a white label reseller program where you can run your own domain and give power user access to clients, with a dashboard, tiered agency discounts, and premium support.

Pricing starts at $19.90 per month billed annually or $22.90 month-to-month for the basic HTML5 app and no iOS account is required, with the most popular package at $49.90 per month billed annually or $58.90 month-to-month for the advanced iPhone app, Android app, HTML5 app, and push notifications capability. You can try it for free before making a subscription plan selection.

uBuildApp

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uBuildApp is fashioned for business owners, non-profit organizations, political figures, popular personalities, and celebrities. The overall four-step process allows you to: (1) create your app for free, (2) select your app's features, (3) test your app using the iPhone Zine City app, and (4) pay for your app. Then, your app gets submitted to Apple for release in the AppStore.

uBuildApp's pricing plan is $279 for one year with no monthly fees; you only pay when you're ready to release your app for publication and submittal to the AppStore. So your app development is free until you're ready to release and publish the app, and you can make unlimited number of changes and edits to your app, which is also a part of the one-year plan.

What do you recommend?

This list is obviously not the entire catalog of DIY mobile app platforms -- I just wanted to provide an overview of the various options available and in varying price ranges and packages. What DIY mobile platform do you recommend to your peers? Post your suggestion in the discussion.

About

Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

1 comments
grire974
grire974

Another great builder that has the added bonus of augmented reality features is AR Builder; www.arbuilder.net