Many companies' IT departments are strapped for cash and human resources, which means that business users don't always have access to the software applications they would like. Users in enterprises around the world have responded by building their own software apps - for their own use, for use in their departments or, increasingly, for customers' use.
This post on an Intel blog, written by a software architect, describes how "some of my colleagues outside of IT built a little app that provides mobile access to real-time conference room availability so you can find an empty room" to address a problem of often overbooked meeting space at the company.
Thanks to BYOD programs and the rise in mobile device usage, many DIY apps being built today are mobile apps - either native iOS or Android apps. HTML5-based Web apps are also popular and can be used by mobile or PC-based users.
An increasing number of Web and cloud-based applications allow even non-developers to build mobile apps of varying sophistication in a matter of hours or minutes, with no need for any coding skills.
In some circumstances there is clearly a need for some IT department oversight - or what Gartner calls a "citizen-developer support program" - to ensure that data security, privacy and compliance procedures aren't threatened. There are also issues around software support - especially when these apps are available to customers and other users outside your organization.
How Do DIY App Services Work?
This may not always be the case, however. Most DIY app building services work by allowing you to choose a template, collect content such as images, video clips, price lists and catalogs, and combine them with other modules such as a "click to call" button, directions , maps and calendars. Many also integrate with existing corporate accounts on services such as Twitter, Facebook or WordPress, allowing content from these services to be brought in to the app.
The more sophisticated DIY app building services also enable you to upload data to cloud-based databases, or even allow the applications you create to connect to corporate data sources using REST. This makes it possible to produce highly functional apps such real estate or job search portals, or apps to track and manage the progress of large construction projects.
Most app building services have a free offering which may include limits to the amount or type of content that can be incorporated, the inclusion of advertisements or the service providers' branding. Paid options usually allow for the inclusion of more modules, no advertising or the inclusion of the company's own advertising, and removal of the service providers' branding.
Other differentiators include:
- Analytics - allowing the application creator to see how much the app and its various components are being used - and therefore which parts are useful and which are not
- Editing options - including layouts, fonts, colors and icons
- Communication with users - including alerts and geo-targeted push notifications
- Device awareness - providing the ability to make use of the internal capabilities of a mobile device running the application
- Integration - with online databases and other applications using REST APIs
- Scale - the number of people that can use the application
- Storage - the quantity of data or records that the service stores for applications' use
- Automatic publishing - by submitting mobile apps to Apple's AppStore, Google Play or Amazon
A short list of DIY app services follows. The first two offer more sophisticated app-building capabilities, while the latter three are more basic.
Appery.io, One of the most sophisticated enterprise app building services, Apperio allows you to connect to any REST API and use it in your app or add a cloud database and backend to your app and connect with REST APIs.
Exadel, the company behind it, also offers Exadel RESTXpress, which it says provides easy and secure integration of your data for your mobile development. It consists of two components running on your server. The administrative console lets you configure data and service assets for "REST-ification" in a browser-based UI. The run-time gateway then serves up the REST-ified resources.
Pricing: The Pro version of the service includes 5 million API calls per month and 5Gb of storage for $312 per year. The Premium version includes 15 million API calls and 15Gb of storage for $180 per month. An enterprise version for private cloud installation is also available, with price provided upon application.
Knack. Knack is a tool for creating simple Web apps that use online databases populated with data you move from your servers. Data can be imported from spreadsheets or entered manually, and once in the cloud it can be edited there for quick updates. Users can log in and access their own database records, making Knack suitable for building many types of complex applications.
Pricing: The Pro version, which includes 25,000 records and 2GB storage and phone or Skype support, costs $49 per month. A corporate version which supports 100,000 records, 5Gb storage and a support manager is also available for $149 per month. The top level Enterprise 3 version offers 2 million records and 50Gb storage for $999 per month.
Conduit mobile. Conduit's business offering using its online Conduit Mobile App Builder to build iOS and Android apps and mobile sites. Applications can include e-commerce, directions and maps, push notifications and click to call.
Pricing: The Gold plan is $33 per month billed annually ($396 total) with Conduit branding. Platinum plan is $83 per month, billed annually ($996 total). Both plans include customer support and automatic submission to Android, Apple and Kindle app stores.
iBuildApp. IbuildApp's service produces iOS and Android apps as well as HTML5 Web apps. It includes analytics reporting; in-app notifications and integration with Google Maps and Google Calendar; email support and submission to app stores.
Pricing: Basic plan is $99 for up to 300 app users, unlimited Web app visits, and email support. The Business plan caters to up to 1,000 app users with unlimited Web app visits for $295 per year, and the Enterprise version allows unlimited users for $799 per year.
Infinite Monkeys. Infinite Monkeys allows you to create iOS, Android and HTML5 apps "in about 20 minutes" using the drag-and-drop interface of the company's online App Builder. The company claims that over a million apps have been built in this way, bringing in resources from cloud services such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
Pricing: A one-time $99 fee gets you native iPhone and Android apps and an HTML5 website, with no advertising or service branding and full access to the source code. Alternatively, a similar (but not identical) service which does not provide access to the source code is available for $9 per month.
Paul Rubens has been covering enterprise technology for over 20 years. In that time he has written for leading UK and international publications including The Economist, The Times, Financial Times, the BBC, Computing and ServerWatch.