Jack Wallen examines three of the most popular mobile app building services for Android to see if they're ready for prime time.
You have a business and you want to expand that business into the realm of mobility. Unfortunately, you don't have the finances to hire a programmer to create an Android app that would take your niche shop out into the world. What do you do? Give up on the idea?
Not a chance.
If you want to compete with the insane amount of competition, you almost have to go mobile. Thankfully, there are sites available that allow you to build that app without having to write a single line of code. Unfortunately, these services have yet to reach a sort of 'drag and drop Nirvana' where you can piece together a full-fledged, powerhouse app; but for anyone wanting to get their business known via mobile apps, this is the way to go.
I've found three such services that warrant your time and effort. Each of them offer pretty much the same service:
- Build an app that contains various types of pages
- Include their ads (or pay a premium to remove the ads)
- Publish the app to the Google Play Store
What's key to this is the type of pages these services offer. You won't be creating seriously in-depth, interactive tools. But you can add pages to your app like:
- RSS feeds
- YouTube channels
- Social links
- Audio player (with custom audio track)
- SHOUTcast Radio
- Custom pages
Let's examine each of these three services and see which one is best suited for creating your businesses Android app.
The Andromo service is one that will allow you to pretty much customize your app how you want it, within some very tight limitations. You build your app by adding Activities. Once you've created a project (you can only create one with the free subscription), you then click the Activities drop-down (Figure A) and select which activity to add. Once you've added an Activity, you can then fill in the details (such as URL, RSS feed, images, audio, and more).
The Andromo Activities list.
Once you've created all of your Activities, you can then:
- Edit styles
- Create a dashboard (with background image)
- Set up monetization (displaying third-party ads)
- Add services (such as Google Analytics)
Finally, with a single click, you build your app. After the app is built, it's up to you to get the app distributed. Besides the limitation of what you can add to the app, this is one of the biggest misses of Andromo. There's no facility within the service to help publish your app. You're on your own.
Andromo is the only service in the listing that has a paid offering, which allows you to create more than one app and rid your app(s) of ads.
The AppsBar app builder offers a bit more in the way of features. Your first step is to select a category. Depending on the category you choose, you'll have different options to add. Most every category offers the ability to add websites, contact info, and social networks. However, some categories allow for further additions. For example:
- Real estate: Request info, properties, services
- Online business: Employees, services, coupons
- Restaurant: Menus, events, reservations
- Salon: Staff, services, gallery, appointments
- Author books: Schedule, release info
The list goes on (there are quite a few categories). You can also add forms and ecommerce to your app.
From the Page Manager (Figure B), you walk through the editing of each piece of your app (editing the name and information for each page).
The Appsbar app manager page.
As you build the app, you can do real-time testing with the emulator on the right side of the window. This makes for a very simple process. Once you've completed adding and editing, click Publish. If there's any information missing from the various pages or app settings, you'll be prompted to made adjustments. If there are no problems, click Continue To Publish and then fill out the necessary information for the app (keywords, title, etc) and send the app off for review.
Appsbar has a significant review process in place. They'll comb through every aspect of your app and make sure it's modified to meet the needs of the app store. Once the app has passed review, it will be published to their Appcatch where they'll then help you get your app pushed to the app stores desired.
In similar fashion to both Andromo and Appsbar, AppsGeyser allows you to easily create an app for your business. However, unlike Appsbar, you're quite limited to what you can add. AppsGeyers allows the addition of:
- Web pages
- Offline content (like ebooks)
- TV channels (there's an extensive listing of channels that can be added)
- Social feeds
You won't be adding ecommerce or selecting from various categories to fine-tune your app. This one is very basic, but it can at least get you started. The one thing AppsGeyser does have is the ability to easily submit your app to the Google Play Store, to the AppsGeyser Market, and even using a QR code for easy download (Figure C).
Publishing your app with AppsGeyser is simple.
AppsGeyser also allows you to edit the permissions your app needs, such as:
- App can set wallpaper
- App can add shortcut to home screen
- App can write files to external storage
The truth about AppsGeyser is that its fit for business is slim. But if you're just looking to get an app that offers information about your company (and not much more), and you want an easier path to get your app into the Google Play Store, this is the service to start with.
Codeless app building for business has a ways to go. As it stands, it will never best having in-house staff to build your app. But if you're looking to get something out there (in some cases, something very basic), and you're willing to spend a bit of time and effort to do so, you should give one of these services a try.
For the time being, programmers have nothing to fear from these services. But if they continue to evolve, things could easily change.
I will focus on each one of these in later posts (how-to posts on creating your apps). In the meantime, look into them and see which one best serves your needs. From my perspective, AppsBar is the one service of the three most ready to take on the task of creating a full-blown Android app for your business.
Do you think codeless app building is the way to go for small businesses? Or is it in their best interests to hire a programmer to create a company-specific app? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.