Want to build an app but don’t know how to code? Don’t have the inclination to learn?
Don’t worry: there are still plenty of options out there for you. Android app makers are tools created specifically for those people who want to release an app on the Play Store (and possibly other app stores, ssh!) but don’t want to get involved with learning Java or Objective-C. These are largely drag-and-drop affairs. A little customization here, a little branding there and voila, you have an app!
Of course you will lose something in translation. App builders do not provide the same level of control or functionality as building a native app from scratch. However, you might be surprised by just how flexible many of these tools are. Depending on the app you have in mind, there’s a surprisingly good chance that an app builder will supply you with all the tools and functionality you need. And in many cases, you can have something up and running in no time at all.
On the surface, many of these builders seem to offer the same features packaged slightly differently. Dig a little deeper though and you’ll see that they have some fairly big differences, making it important to ensure you choose the right Android app maker for your own project. In this post then, we’ll take a fairly comprehensive look at what’s out there and assess which tools are best for various scenarios. Whether you want to create a 2D platform game, or you want a top-end business app, you should find something to suit your purposes.
Top code-free app builders
AppYourself is an app builder for HTML5-based apps on Android, iOS or Windows Phone. You’ll see a lot of HTML5-based app creators on this list; these apps work more closely to webpages, which is what allows you to sidestep the need for programming and what makes them cross-platform.
This tool is clearly aimed at businesses, but is a little more ‘startup-friendly’ and a little less corporate compared to other options. The process of building apps is kept streamlined and fun as a result but there are also a few neat features for potential monetization – including synchronization with Open Table and Resimo. Perhaps the most compelling feature though, is the option to create your website using the tool as well and then keep content synced with the app.
Pricing is relatively good here, with the most basic membership for building apps setting you back just $15 a month. Full business membership is $50 with a $200 setup fee. But the good news is that you can try the tool for free for as long as you want and you only need to pay if you decide to go ahead and publish. So app yourself silly!
AppInsitute is another business-friendly iOS and Android app builder that is easy to get started with and has a lot of business-centric features. There’s a powerful booking feature for instance, a loyalty program, GEO listings, social media integration, analytics and push notifications for reminding users to check your app. Perhaps the most impressive feature is the ability to make transactions entirely through the app itself.
Once again, there is a free trial that will allow you to create your app in its entirety. Payment is only required once you decide to go ahead and publish for $28 a month.
AppyPie is an app builder from India that once again focusses on ease and simplicity. The homepage features kids running through fields of wheat which serves as a clue that this is a slightly less corporate solution.
This is a mobile app creator that sets itself apart in a few ways. Firstly, it gives you a number of templates and features for apps other than shopping and business apps. There’s the option to create your own Fitness Tracker app for example, or to create a ‘birthday app’ for a loved one. I especially like the Kids App Builder, designed to help kids get into app development. There’s also a game builder that is based on pre-made templates but goes beyond the basic word searches etc. that you typically see with this kind of builder.
Another unique aspect of AppyPie is the pricing structure. While there are the usual options to build an app and publish it for different sums per-month, there is also a free option that is supported by ads. You’ll also lose the ability to edit the app after 48 hours but if you just wanted the satisfaction of having an app in the store with your name on it, this is an easy and free way to do that. Interestingly, you’ll need to manually submit your apps to the Play Store, which is both a good and bad thing. There’s also a lack of polish in some other areas compared with the slicker offerings on this list.
Back to the business-oriented app builders, Shoutem is a particularly polished and crisp app maker with a number of features that will be useful to many users. In particular, the monetization side of things is handled well here with Shopify integration and mobile advertising support – meaning that you can sell your back catalogue of products, or make money by keeping your users glued to the screen and showing them ads. It’s a nice and simple creator tool as well, with a host of ready-made and smart looking templates to pick from.
The problem is that publishing your app will require a slightly more expensive pricing plan, starting at $49 for the Advanced Plan. For the right businesses, this could be a price worth paying though.
Appery.io is an app-builder that is powered by PhoneGap, meaning it has access to some of the more native features of your phone like the camera and vibrations (see below for more on PhoneGap). There are also a number of plugins available to further extend functionality. The builder is aimed at the more technically minded however and uses a fair bit of jargon that might be off-putting for some. If you can get past that though, then this is one of the more capable options. There’s a free trial but the most premium plan will set you back $180 per month, making this one of the costlier choices too.
The strangely named GoodBarber is one of the more capable and feature-rich options on this list. Unlike many others here, GoodBarber provides native apps written in Objective-C and Java for iOS and Android respectively. This gives it some more advanced features for an Android app creator including social network support, iBeacons, Geofencing and more. It can also once again integrate with Amazon, Etsy and Shopify and content can easily be updated via the ‘back office’. The monthly fee for published apps is $32 per month.
Mobile Roadie is one of the bigger names in the app builder space and has some impressive clients such as Disney and TED. But with those bragging rights you might expect a prohibitive asking price and that’s exactly what you’ll get here with the core membership costing $149 per month and pro asking for a mere $799 per month.
As you’d expect for that price, you’ll also get a very professional looking design and a range of features but for this price, I find it hard to understand why you wouldn’t just outsource development of a native app to a professional service. But hey, if it’s good enough for Disney!
AppsGeyser is another app builder that lets users build apps for free. The catch is that all ads you create will have a banner space along the top showing ads. What makes this a little different though, is that you’ll share 50% of your revenue with the company but only once your app reaches a minimum usage. To start earning, you’ll also need to register your own account with an Ad Network and get your own banner. The slot will then display your ad 50% of the time and AppsGeyer’s the 50%, so it is a little fiddly.
I certainly wouldn’t approach this as an opportunity to get rich but again, if you’re looking for a fun way to get a simple app in the store, then this is one option. Contributing to the good cause that is shovelware!
There’s some fun options for what you want to create here though, including a range of simple games (such as a word search or quiz) and an option to ‘turn any site into an app’. It won’t be for everyone and the UI isn’t the most polished and looks a little dated, but it’s different enough to be worth checking out.
Aimed squarely at the business crowd and small businesses in particular, BiznessApps comes with all the features you might expect, including food ordering, loyalty programs, push notifications, analytics, shopping carts and more. This is perhaps the best suite of features for a small business and that is backed up by some professional-looking templates as well as an easy builder. There’s a free trial, while paid membership will cost $29-$59 per month. It’s not the cheapest but it is fairly good value nonetheless.
AppMakr is worth including on this list as one of the oldest builders in town. It calls itself the ‘Original Way to #MakeAnApp’ and it has a lot of features, supporting both HTML5 and native creations. The other pleasing differentiator is the price – this is one of the most affordable options around with it only costing $13 to publish to iTunes and Google Play. For $2 you can publish to AppMarkr’s own store though, while HTML5 mobile websites are free to build.
The downside is that this is one of the more clunky and dated builders in town, which makes the process a little less streamlined and enjoyable. This is a shame, seeing as the low pricing would otherwise have made this a good choice for fun DIY projects. The other downside is that billing is annual, meaning you can’t pay $13 to have your app in the store for a month…
Finally, BuildFire is another PhoneGap powered app builder that has some very smart looking templates, an easy builder and the option to let the pros handle the design for you if you so wish. BuildFire.js is a feature that impressively extends the capabilities of this tool as well, allowing you to do such things as creating new UIs from scratch, or integrating with a custom database. This is one of the more powerful and professional tools and so once again, that makes it one of the more expensive – costing $59 per month for the most basic option and $149 for the professional package.
GameSalad is a tool for making games and salads. Okay, it’s just games but it’s actually one of the more impressive builders on this list. This is a drag-and-drop tool for creating simple games within hours and it can serve as the perfect introduction to game design, or even a useful prototyping tool for professionals. The tagline ‘Drag & Drop Programming – No Coding Required’ is rather confusing but I get the point.
Suffice to say that this is an involved-yet-simple and very flexible tool that is also fairly affordable at just $17 per month.
Stencyl is another cross platform game builder for iOS, Android, Windows and even Flash. You can publish Flash games for free but if you want to release on Android, it will set you back $99 per year. The system is once again very beginner friendly and utilizes a tile-based 2D set-up that likens itself to using Lego.
While GameSalad and Stencyl are good at what they do, neither is likely to give you quite the necessary power and flexibility needed to make an app that will be a ‘big hit’. GameMaker Studio from YoYoGames certainly does have that potential though and in fact has helped to build some fairly well-known titles such as Hyper Light Drifter. There’s no code required but the option to dabble in programming is there for those that do want the extra freedom. The trial is free but then you’ll need to pay a one-off fee of $59.99 and up depending on the features you need.
Consider this the missing link between something like Stencyl and something like Unity. But actually, you might find that even Unity is less code heavy than you think, so that’s possibly worth a look too! Oh and Unity or Unreal are free to use.
What is PhoneGap?
This means that PhoneGap and builders powered by Apache (such as Appery.io) offer a surprising amount of native feature support, allowing you to access things like the camera, the compass, media storage etc. Generally, if you see that an app builder is powered by PhoneGap then that’s probably a good sign!
If you choose to go directly to the source though, then you’ll gain more flexibility and power when building your apps. PhoneGap is cross platform, so you can build an app and then publish it to either iOS or Android. Development is handled through a desktop app and you can use a mobile app to try your creations out on a physical device. The best part of PhoneGap is that it is free with zero ads or other restrictions, which we’ve seen is not always the case when you use a builder!
But while PhoneGap certainly makes the process a lot easier than going native with Android Studio, it still presents a slightly steeper learning curve compared to some of the other items on this list seeing as you will need to deal with HTML etc. You could consider this to be one rung down from app development ‘proper’.
My picks and closing thoughts
So there you have it, a huge selection of Android app makers offering varied features and benefits. Of course this is a subjective matter but if you’d like a little guidance on which one to pick, here are some thoughts.
For the majority of small businesses, my top choice would have to be BiznessApps. These apps look good and the features supported are perfect for local businesses that want to be able to market themselves through push notifications and take bookings and orders. The pricing is also up there with the best value.
That’s for business apps used to market and sell though. If you want an app that will actually do something then you’ll probably want something powered by PhoneGap so that you can access the camera. For that, either Appery.io or BuildFire will be good choices.
But if you’re going that route, then why not do just a little more learning and make something yourself in PhoneGap? You’ll need to use HTML and CSS but you’ll get more functionality and it will be completely free.
For vanity projects, a free app maker like AppyPie or AppsGeyser make more sense. For games and kids, GameSalad and maybe GameMaker will provide a surprising amount of power and flexibility, while being fun and easy.