App builders (no-code and low-code platforms) broke into the app development market not so long ago. The rise of interest started in the 2010s. However, the idea of developing software without software developers has been discussed since at least 1982. James Martin published a book called Application Development Without Programmers. Today low-code and no-code platforms and tools all go under the terms app builder (sometimes app creator, drag-and-drop builder, DIY builder).
A low-code platform offers a method for creating software with minimal coding. However, low-code platforms are usually piloted by developers who add custom, hand-written code where required. No-code platforms, on the other hand, promise the ability to create a working application without writing any code.
In this article, we will examine no-code tools, as they are more interesting for the business public who do not want to deeply research technical aspects of app development and concentrate on the easiest and fastest way to build an app for their business. So, let’s answer the question: are app builders really a hack?
What You’ll Get From App Builders
What users get as a result from app builders often depends on the tariff plan and service politics. Minimal tariff plans may include only Progressive Web Application (PWA), while other pricing plans may provide reduced functionality of a native app. Some platforms reveal this information clearly and early, but in other cases, users are left to guess and make unpleasant discoveries when the work is underway. One way or another, with app builders a user may obtain a native app built using templates or PWA.
A few words should be said about the differences between PWA and native apps so you can make a more informed choice. To make a long story short, we’ll mention that PWA concedes to native apps by the range of possibilities:
- Increased battery consumption.
- Limited access to device hardware and operating system.
- Performance is inferior to native apps.
The native apps have full access to the device feature sets as they are built to run as a part of platform software. PWAs have rather limited access to device hardware and functions. To learn more about progressive web apps and their pros and cons, read this article.
App Builders Possibilities and Confines
An app builder is a good option for a business that does not have the desire or ability to invest a lot of money in an application, especially if such an app does not need to be profitable. For example, a business may want an ad to offer a service for marketing purposes. It is also a hack for those who want to avoid technical problems with opening hosting or developer accounts in the App Store.
Many business owners test their ideas on app builders, but as a rule, proceed with professional app development. So, if an application is not a business itself, but only a supporting part of it, or when you’ve got a small business with low budgets on development, DIY services may be a good choice. Today, many platforms provide multiple templates and app components.
The first obstacle on your way to build your first app without coding is the choice of a tool. Here’s a brief overview of what you need to know about the variety of the no-code builders in the market. No-code services have got a number of confines.
App builders may limit (quite reasonably) the number of resources used, the number of unique users, the number of push notifications, etc. Increasing these limits automatically increases the subscription cost or a monthly fee. In most cases, it increases significantly. Here are some more limitations:
- DIY builders may restrict the use of third-party services.
- Built-in features are limited (ex. select payment provider, analytics service).
- For a number of builders, when making payments, you must use only the recommended acquiring.
- Some services show their own ads, which can be annoying for the user.
There are other limitations that should be considered. Users of some app builders may occasionally complain about issues with localization. For example, there may be issues with the use of non-Latin characters like Cyrillic or Arabic.
Users also face difficulties with the template choice and customization possibilities. Different services offer different templates and components: feeds, e-commerce, catalogs. But what if you can’t find the proper template that matches your business needs? Or maybe you are not satisfied with the workflow of the existing template? Or DIY builders don't provide a component to integrate with the required third-party service? In all these cases, a user needs to negotiate an additional service and pay for additional customization services.
It also applies to adding your own new features. For many services, this option is not available.
App Builders Pros and Cons
The most exciting thing about app builders is the feeling that you have created something by yourself - and for the price which is quite affordable for a small business owner. Also, you can test your idea or get a vision of what you need. App builders are a good training and learning field. While using them, you start to bring your ideas to life.
And now let’s talk about some pitfalls that you’ll find most likely dealing with. First of all, you need to learn how to use the tool/platform. Apparently, you appear not to be the legal owner of the application. You are only responsible for the content of your new app, and the builder service is responsible for all other files. Thus, the fate of the application depends entirely on the build-app service. If the service closes or disappears, everything you developed has to be recreated on another platform.
In addition to that, you may be facing issues with service compatibility. As a consequence, a transfer to another, possibly competing, platform is not possible. The source code won’t be provided either. As a result, it is impossible to download the code and obtain support from other or own specialists.
One more thin-ice question is your app’s security. It fully depends on your app development service provider. Whether it’s good or not, you don’t control the security of your app, yet have to guarantee the security of users’ personal data.
Custom App Development
If you don’t feel you are up to dealing with the constraints of app builders, it’s a feasible idea to find a vendor who specializes in proficient custom mobile development services. Among many more things, they provide:
- Recognizable and non-template design: UI/UX audit, creation of the concept of a product design, creation of animation for complex transformations. etc.
- Business analysis, including the discovery phase.
- Development from scratch, or joining the project at any stage of the development and an app life cycle.
- Different levels of specification: Minimal functionality for a presentation, MVP for an acceptable budget (you can make the “minimal” functionality of the application, but after that, you can expand and customize the app).
- Support and maintenance.
- Technical consultations and advice.
- Customization - flow, UI, components, branding, styles, colors, etc.
- Data protection level, GDPR requirements, encryption if necessary.
- ASO (app store optimization).
- Transfer of all rights to the code, visual, and content.
- Compliance with various requirements: During development, the developer must adhere to the Apple and Google requirements, use native components or their derivatives as a basis, and is responsible for hiding data, storing them.
When custom mobile development is a better choice
A business should take a closer look at custom app development when it wants to highlight its uniqueness and stand out among competitors. This is also helpful if you’ve got different revenue models and a substandard business model and a flow. Custom app development is a better option in case you plan to store personal data or need extra data protection, for example, encryption in messengers.
If you represent a corporate business, you’ll have to think about contract terms that correspond to your company’s politics, extra quality control, and guarantees. Some bright ideas just really need a turn-key solution, not something out of the box.
App builders are good for those who want to test the idea or want a simple, often templated app that serves marketing purposes or is not intended to generate profits. Apps that are created with app builders will certainly need many improvements and customization before they may possibly reach the quality, speed, and security level of tailored apps. Builders themselves have got many limitations and don’t have the vendor’s flexibility when it comes to terms and conditions. Finally, you won’t own the code and sometimes you’ll need to pay a monthly/yearly subscription fee. Integration possibilities are also limited.
If you really need a serious and a reliable solution to build business on, your better option is to discuss your needs with a development team, who knows how to help you with your idea, embody it the most technically savvy way, and achieve great results.