Today I am taking a look at iBuildApp, a popular online app maker for Android and iOS (iPhone and iPad). Online app creators are an interesting alternative if you don’t know how to develop Android apps yourself: no programming skills are required to use iBuildApp.
You can sign up for an account by providing your email and a password or by logging in with Facebook. This will get you a free “Start” account. Paid options exist which do away with the ads and iBuildApp branding that come with the free version. The paid options are monthly/yearly based plans for one native application so if you have several you will need a plan for each app. The prices of the plans are related to the number of downloads per month (screenshot).
Limiting the number of downloads seems a little strange as the free version supports unlimited downloads. However, iBuildApp serves many small businesses that create apps for relatively small numbers of users: for them it makes sense to pay for a version without the iBuildApp branding and ads. You can also choose to develop web apps, either free or paid, and here the number of downloads is always unlimited.
For iOS apps, iBuildApp can help you with submitting the app to the app store for $299. Another paid option is a tool for resellers. With this you can provide iBuildApp as a service to customers under your own brand.
iBuildApp has its own app store where you can download the creations of fellow users: as of writing this, over 150 apps where available.
Building the app
Clicking the large “Create App” button on the site leads to a page where the user must choose an app template. There is a choice of only five templates: “Bar&Restaurants”, “Custom1″, “Ebook 2″, “Music” and “Small”.
More templates are available in the Marketplace. Here you’ll find over 2700 templates priced between $0.50 and $5.00. You can also create your own template with a drag and drop interface.
Next you must name your app and subsequently you are directed to the main page where you build the app, labeled “App management”. This consists of five tabs.
The first tab is “Build your app”. On the left side of the screen is an image of an iPhone or Android phone which displays the app’s screens as you develop them, a very useful feature. You can push the buttons and the icons on the phone and the corresponding options are displayed in the “Customize your app” pane on the right. This is where you can edit the background (color, image), the logo image for the app’s header, the text on the “home page” of the app, manage navigation (add or delete buttons and tabs on the home screen) and manage content such as relevant contact info, URLs for video, social media. The “Manage Content” section also has an HTML editor. The same can be done by choosing pages from the Manage Content menu on the right.
The second tab, “App settings”, has options to choose the target mobile platform (Android, iPhone or both), the time format, upload a splash screen image and integrate advertisements if you have a paid plan for the app.
The third tab is called “App Info” and here you can edit the app’s name, choose a category for the app, write a description, list some keywords, add a website URL for the app and upload a logo.
The fourth tab is where you can configure options for push notifications and GPS notifications, a pretty useful feature.
Similar to AppMkr, iBuildApp has an “App Quality Indicator”. A little bar is displayed which fills up gradually as you add content to the app. When you have added all the required content, you will be able to go to “App Publishing”.
Finally, this brings us to the fifth tab: “App Publishing”. Here’s where you create an MD5 fingerprint for the app and setup a Google maps API key. You are then prompted to wait a few minutes while the app is being built. The finished APK package for the app can then be downloaded and uploaded to the Google Play Store or an Android device.
The result shown above is based on the “Custom 1″ template. The buttons on the screen were actually part of a grid of 9 buttons, three of which I deleted. The result looks messy with the empty spaces where the buttons used to be. This can be avoided by making your own template. This will take some time and effort but is probably worth it.
I also made a basic web app with iBuildApp to see how it would compare to the native app. The web app is basically a mobile website that’s hosted on an iBuildApp server. The web app design options are pretty much the same as those in the native app building process. Unfortunately, the web app did not display properly on my Android device: no such problems occurred with the native app option.
iBuildApp is similar to products such as Buzztouch and AppMkr: all of these allow you to make apps that are based on internet content. The free version has iBuildApp branding but this is quite unobtrusive. The process of building an app is fast and you’ll get a ready to install APK file within minutes so I suggest you give this one a try for yourself!