You can build a mobile app yourself, but beware – the devil is not in the detail, it’s in the overall concept. Graeme Addison explains DIY apping.
An amusing Dilbert cartoon in Business Day says it all: Stop doing what you’re doing because it isn’t working! I’m not suggesting that mobile apps – or for that matter websites – are a waste of time. Far from it. But unless you have a clear, integrated strategy for pulling in users you may be spending more time and money than it’s all worth.
At the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg I’ve just led a 3-day workshop on DIY App creation. If you want to do it yourself, the main question is how – what buttons to push – but this is really not the question you should be asking. It’s actually quite easy to sign up on one of the many online DIY app builders and get the technical job done.
These cloud-based services may cost you anything from $3 to $750 per month or more, but they are specifically designed to make apping easy. It’s Apps for Dummies, or the Idiot’s Guide to Going Mobile with your idea. One of the first such services to be successful was Infinite Monkeys, an ironic name chosen because the theory goes that an infinite number of monkeys given enough time and keyboards with word-processors could produce the works of Shakespeare. (They since changed this name to Appmakr, possibly because it was an insult to their users!)
You are probably no monkey but you may be an idiot when it comes to computer coding. At a loss, anxious, befuddled and wanting to make a good splash but not knowing how, you opt for one of the easy client management systems and hope it will do the job for you.
It won’t. It can’t conceptualise what you want, and can’t plan the natural flow that should navigate your user through murky cyberspace.
Those functions all come from you: they are about applying your mind to the purpose of the app. Remember, if a user isn’t satisfied within a few seconds he or she will uninstall the app and be gone for ever.
You’ve got to make an impact right off with an attractive flash screen, then get straight to the meat: what is your app supposed to DO? Apps should be focused on a single task, making the user’s life easier by smoothly executing that task. This is where they differ enormously from websites. You can pack a website with all sorts of information and complex functionalities which the user will pick and choose. But with an app you need an instant, interactive relationship with the user that delivers a service simply and well.
One of the first things I emphasise in workshops is that the app’s logo and name are critical. They are its identity. Behind that identity may, indeed, lurk lots of complex programming and sophisticated ideas that hold the user’s loyalty. So an app needs a firm technological foundation (which you can buy from the online services) but it also needs your brainpower to plan and drive it.
In the picture is Joe Misika from The Citizen, showing a storyboard of an app planned by his thinktank team. Storyboarding is the key to an app’s success because this is where the connections between screens are thought through, and the menu navigation is born. Do a storyboard, and as Dilbert says, you are halfway to the solution.
The rest is quite a steep learning curve, even with the user-friendly online services. The better you get, the more you will want. All of the services offer templates for the overall design, and containers into which you pour your content – for example text, pictures, contacts, videos, maps and much more.
Many small businesses make use of these services but they are all “out there” in the cloud and you don’t have final control. More control is granted by using a WordPress website as the foundation for your app and uploading a “plugin” (working component) that affords the ability to create apps from WordPress. The content is yours. The app is generated by the server in the cloud – for example WiziApp, WordApp or Mobapper – and you can pick and choose which plugin is best for you.
For the bigger businesses it will be essential to move onto one’s own server so as to control the infrastructure and own the design, with technical support from your host. There are very good developer platforms on both Google and Apple. As you get to know apping better, you will probably want to move away from the idiot’s platforms to the higher level stuff.
- Want to know more? Contact me at +27 84 245 2490 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Take a look at a little app I built to promote the courses at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism: http://apps.appmakr.com/appcourse1. This can be downloaded onto desktop as a webpage or saved to work on your smartphone.