Tips for Assessing App Generators

500millionapps.gifAlmost every day I hear about a new iOS or Android app generator. I also regularly get enquiries from clients asking what I think about particular app generators. The headline capabilities always look compelling. Often, you have to dig deeper to uncover the limitations. Here are some tips for things to think about when assessing app generators…

  • Is it html/Javascript based? If so, how close do you get to a native look and feel? How difficult is this to achieve for the developer? Does it involve using 3rd party Javascript libraries? If so, are these libraries known to work ok on all smartphone browsers?
  • Does the app generator support all the phone features (APIs) you require? How far behind is the current SDK/Tool compared to features provided by Google and Apple in their developer SDKs?
  • Think what features you might need in the future to ensure they are supported. Since this is difficult to know, an alternative approach is to discover the limitations of the generator. Looking at the FAQ and public forums can quickly uncover things that people expect to be available but aren’t.
  • How complete is the documentation? Some tools sacrifice usable documentation for earlier availablity. This can be frustrating and time-consuming for developers.
  • Is it a proprietary technology? If so, assess whether the company is likely to be around tomorrow when you may need to update your app to, for example, support new features or phones. 
  • If it’s a proprietary technology, how complex is the app generator itself? Does it require programming? If so, assess how difficult it might be to recruit developers with these skills.
  • What’s the app generator business model? How do they make their money? Monthly subscriptions for the life of your app can be costly and unnecessary. A monthly subscription also might imply the app relies on remote data and hence the reliability of their server.
  • Is it cross platform? If so, how much extra work is actually required to make it work on additional platforms.
  • In what name is the app published? Some app gnerators include publishing under the app generator’s name that can be undesirable.
App generators can be particulalry useful for simple apps that have to developed quickly at low cost. However, it important to assess and balance the advantages and disadvantages.