20 DIY resources for SMB mobile app development

The focus of these platforms is on rapid, visual development for teams that don't have programming or development backgrounds.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Over the past several months, I've slowly been adding mobile applications to the Passbook digital wallet section of my iPhone, one of which I use on an almost daily basis. I've downloaded pretty much every app I'm interested in using, and have noticed that small, local businesses are underwhelmingly represented.

This isn't all that surprising, given both the stringent development policies around the Apple iOS platform, the fragmented nature of the Android device world, and the still-nascent market for digital wallet applications. 

The potential for the latter is explored in a new report by Cashstar and Digital Research ("Mobile App & Digital Wallet Usage"). The data -- gathered during an online survey of 1,651 U.S. consumers in February and March 2013 -- shows that about half of them have used a digital wallet systems (most often PayPal) and approximately one-third are making purchases with mobile phones and tablets on a monthly basis. 

This isn't an incredibly high adoption rate, but younger consumers (those less than 35 years old) were twice as likely to use a mobile application for this purpose.

It's not all that hard to envision a scenario just five years from now in which mobile applications represent a dominant way in which to "transact" with their customers -- whether that transaction means an actual purchase or whether a mobile application is a conduit for an appointment, an order, customer service, whatever. 

Now seems like a great time to point to some other research that I uncovered last year, from Pew Research, which looks at what sorts of mobile apps people are using. Two of the top three were very informational (weather or news, along with research-related resources). 

Another sign that mobile application development is reaching mainstream awareness: the Federal Trade Commission has actually released some tips for small businesses thinking about getting on board.

Should your small business be using some sort of mobile application to represent itself or reach out to customers? My past blogs about mobile applications development resources for those interested in taking on that challenge have tended to attract lots of interest (thank you!), so it seemed like a reasonable juncture to update a list that I first started assembling in April 2012. 

Those of you who have looked at that resource in the past will know that I'm keeping my eye out ONLY for those sites, services or solutions that can be used quickly by members of your own team who aren't necessarily tech-savvy. My list DOES NOT include resources that require someone with a developer degree or that are focused on providing custom mobile development resources. The focus is on do-it-yourself (DIY). I appreciate those other sorts of offerings, but they aren't the focus of this list. Here are the latest ones I've come across, along with updates on ones I've included before (in alphabetical order):

App Express (Android, Apple iOS; pricing is $75 per month, plus a $199 set-up fee) - This platform supports development of mobile apps for appointment scheduling, handling invoicing and accepting payments, messaging and marketing with coupons (among other things). You can also use it to create a mobile Web site

Application Craft (HTML 5; starts at $14 per month) - The focus of this cloud-hosted development service is one-click application deployment, turning HTML, CSS and JavaScript into mobile applications. You can try it out for free for 45 days. One of the reference customers for this approach is Coca-Cola. 

Appmakr (Apple iOS, Windows Phone, Android is in beta; paid plans start at $79 per month) - If you're looking for simplicity, this barebones development service from San Francisco lets you build apps for free, if you allow in-app advertising. The service includes analytics, along with RSS and push services to help you market your mobile app when it's finished.

AppNotch (Android, Apple iOS, HTML5; paid plans start at $9 per month) - Hailing from St. Louis, the service includes a prototyping option for mocking up your mobile applications before committing too deeply. It offers a wide variety of templates and there is a 30-day trial period.

App Press (Android, Apple iOS; pricing not published) - This three-year-old cloud-hosted development platform was designed with image in mind: the focus is on helping small businesses create highly visuall mobile apps. One of the most notable features is an instant preview function.

AppsBuilder (Android, Apple iOS and HTML5 Web; pricing starts at approximately $12 per month, depending on the euro exchange rate) - "You imagine it, we build it" is the slogan of this mobile apps design platform created by a startup in Italy. Among other things, the platform supports the inclusion of QR codes. As of April 2013, AppsBuilder boasted more than 500,000 members. 

Attendify (Android, Apple iOS, HTML5; starts at $399 per year per event for a guide event) - The specific focus of this development platform is to support companies that run events, and that want to create mobile apps with schedules and content to support them. It also offers features that are meant to encourage attendee engagement, such as an activity feed or messaging.

Bizness Apps (Android, Apple iOS; $59 per month for native app) - The platform contains templates for small businesses including bars, restaurants, lawyers and realtors. You can customize the design, though, and get an online previews as you move along. The service includes a free mobile Web site.

BuildAnApp (Android, Apple iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile; starts at $19 per month depending on platform) - The Minneapolis company has created a six-step process for building either mobile native apps or one that can be viewed with a mobile Web browser. It offers a feature that lets your visitors "click to call" from within the app.

iBuildApp: (Android, Apple iOS; pricing starts at $9.99 per month) - More than 350,00 mobile apps have been created with this rapid development platform, which was created by a San Mateo, Calif.-based company. All of the plans include analytics, and the company also highlights its management capabilities, which easily accommodate updates. 

Magmito (Cross-platform; $99.99 for annual subscription with unlimited updates) - Supported by Sprint and Telefonica, the service is aimed at helping small businesses create mobile apps that can include, text, images, RSS feeds, feedback forms and click-to-call features.

Mippin App Factory (Android, Apple iOS, HMTL5, Windows Phone 7; $99 for HTML5 service, $999 per app per year for native versions) - The platform lets content owners pull together mobile applications quickly using RSS feeds, either in a cross-platform format or one optimized for native platforms. 

MobBase (Android, Apple iOS, HTML5; prices start at $5 per month for mobile Web version or $20 per month for a native app, along with a set-up fee that varies depending on the platform) - The specific focus of this tool is to help companies or individuals reach their mobile fanbase, so the focus is on media and content within the application templates. It is intended for companies that are trying to build a mobile fanbase, so there's lots of media considered for the app templates. 

Mobile Roadie (Android, Apple iOS; $125 per month) - As I mentioned the last time I compiled this list, this service from Beverly Hills, Calif., boasts a number of familiar brands (and individuals) as customers, including the NFL, Cirque du Soleil and Adele. The focus is on letting virtually anyone assemble a mobile application, as well as extending that identity to a mobile Web site. The big differentiator here is the ability to update often -- and quickly.

MobileAppLoader (Android, Apple iOS; depending on the package selected and whether you want to publish for more than one platform, pricing starts at $8.99 plus a set-up fee starting at about $100) - The Cupertino, Calif.-based company behind this offering offers all sorts of templates to help small businesses with mobile app development -- it supports everything from car dealerships to contractors to hair salons. Those templates translate into speed of development, although the features are limited to what they include. 

Orbose (Android, Apple iOS; published pricing for businesses is $40 per month) - The company behind this offering, Enigma Systems, is based in Durham, N.C. The team promises a big reduction in development time for those who don't have any programming knowledge. It supports development of apps that can accommodate push notifications, appointment scheduling, payment processing and social media plug-ins.

Shoutem (Android, Apple iOS, HTML5; pricing starts at $19.90 per month for an HTML5 app) The platform is a spin-off of a larger development company in Croatia focused on mobile application development. It is meant for small businesses that want to publish an ongoing stream of content and information to a mobile app. 

TheAppBuilder (Apple iOS, HTML5, Android due in October 2013; paid plans start at $30 per user, per month) - Developed in the United Kingdom, the service features pre-designed widgets that can be dragged and dropped into the configuration that you'd like and that published across more than one mobile platform, if you'd like. The company helps with submitting applications to the appropriate "store," where it likely will receive more visibility. Windows Phone, Surface and Windows 8 support is being evaluated.

ViziApps (Android, Apple iOS, HTML5; starts at $99 per month for one app) - One thing that differentiates this platform is its support for lots of different back-end data sources, so it might be appropriate for an organization that is building an app meant either for external or internal use. It figures it takes about one week for a small businesses to develop a well-planned mobile app; updates are free under the service plans.

Widgetbox: (HTML5; pricing starts at $25 per app, per month) - As the name implies, the service provides all manner of prebuilt widgets that can be assembled for HTML5 mobile apps that are compatible with either iPhone or Android smartphones. The San Francisco company behind it, Flite, maintains a gallery to help with marketing. 


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Thumbnail image: Courtesy of Bizness Apps

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