How to Build an iPhone App Without Hiring a Developer
by Carter Thomas
“As I said, men value their independence in a weird way, above practically everything.” – George Weinberg
Build Me Up, Buttercup
Just as the internet did, the app market is beginning to cater to people that see the potential. There are thousands of people looking for a way to get started (especially on the cheap) without any programming, design, or marketing experience. They have an idea and want to make it a reality.
Similarly, a lot of companies want to have an app that they can point people to but don’t want to invest into something expensive. It can be as simple as a news feed app – they just want a presence in the app world.
Because of this clear demand in the market, companies have sprung up that allow people with no coding experience to build an app themselves. The service offering is a smooth, easy integration that will get anyone an app for free.
I decided to do a little research myself and signed up for one of these services that advertises themselves as the “No experience needed!” type deals. They sell the uber-simpleness of their offering and how a caveman can do it. I wanted to see where these companies were at and how they navigated the complex world of app creation and app publishing.
More importantly, I wanted to be able to provide objective insight for everyone reading this blog who’s wondering if this is a good idea.
So, I signed up for www.appmakr.com – probably the biggest player out there right now. I’m going to talk about three separate pieces of this experience – the build, the publishing, and the ROI.
Here’s what happened.
When you start building your app, this is how the interface is going to look (after all info is added). I chose to do a Triathlon News app because the triathlon market is WIDE open for apps (someone go steal that idea and make an awesome triathlon app – you will make a ton of money.) I used the Add Another Tab area ( PURPLE BOX ) to add RSS feeds and some photo feeds. You can see the “preview” of your app on the right side in real-time, a nice bonus.
What this is doing is taking the RSS feed and parsing it into an easy to read format on the phone. These can be blog posts or news articles coming off of the main website. They have a nice RSS search engine built in so it really is easy find the RSS feed of choice. You have a few other options as you can see (Photo Album, Post message tab, etc) and I used the photo album for the Flickr Feed. It’s good to mix it up so that Apple will approve your app, otherwise they’re going to say it doesn’t have enough functionality to qualify as an app.
This took me a total of about 20 minutes to do. You will need to create an icon and a header image (seen above). They have a Google Image search that you can use to make a quick and dirty version, just be careful about using images that are on the open internet. I’d recommend making those yourself if you know how to use Photoshop, or just keep it simple and plain.
The rest of the Build experience was pretty easy – App Info refers to things like the meta description and keywords. You’ll use this all again in your iTunes account when you upload, it’s more for record keeping and if you pass the job off the Appmakr (more on this later).
The Monetize tab is where it gets weird, which I’ll talk about in a second. It gives you the option of leasing the app for $79/mo in exchange for full ownership of the ads and having total control over the app….sort of.
So – the build side of things is actually pretty sweet. You can get up and running very little time and ready to publish your app.
Unfortunately, that’s where the headaches start.
I’m not going to get into a “how to publish apps on appmakr” type post, but I will say this: I’m a pretty seasoned iPhone app publisher and it took me a few tries to get this right. I spent about 4 hours going from start to finish, getting everything lined up correctly.What that translates into someone with no experience is hard to say.
Looking back, it’s not as complicated as I originally thought, but they don’t make it terribly easy for the lay person to do it. If you’ve never gone through the entire publishing process, especially with a third party, this is going to be a BIG investment of time. You basically need to have Appmakr create the permission slip for you to publish the app and use their Push Notification services. This allows you to upload their software build of your app into your own iTunes account.
They have a wizard that helps and good step by step instructions, but you still need a working knowledge of iTunes Connect, provisioning profiles, push notifications, App IDs, and certificates. I had a hard time understanding that the Private Key I had for my developer certificate had to be re-done so that I could grant AppMakr access. If that sounds French to you, imagine trying to actually do this all yourself
What Appmakr does offer, however, is a service that will do this all for you and then seamlessly integrate into your account. I think it costs a couple hundred bucks.
Once you get everything locked an loaded into your developer profile, you’ll submit it to the app store and wait a week for it to be reviewed.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. The biggest offering of these sites like Appmakr is that it’s free and easy to use. And it is – it cost me nothing to build this app and submit it to the store. They put ads into the app which is how they make money.
The trick is for apps like this, you need to make them free to get any sizable download numbers (which will make you zero money, but will make Appmakr some) or you have to charge for the app which will maybe make you a few bucks a week.
What Appmakr does is offer you a $79/month per app service that gives you full control of the app – you get the ad revenue and can build the app as many different times as you’d like.
But – I can hardly imagine anyone makes more than $79/month off of a news type app that Appmakr puts out. There might be some that are superlative and can break that barrier, but I doubt it.
I released my Triathlon News App free and had about 60 downloads, then 30 the next day, then smoothed out at 1o or so. Then I made it paid and I’ve had 4 downloads in about a week.
Bottom line – you won’t make much money off of these apps. If you just want an app for your blog or for your business, then it’s actually not a bad gig. You can point people to the app and get extra traffic.
None Shall Pass
In the last 6-12 months Apple has seriously tightened their belts on the app review process. They are keeping a much closer watch on people submitting apps that are just news feeds or uber-simple apps that are essentially templated out. This is the language they use for Rejection reason 12.3:
” We found that the experience your app provides is not sufficiently different from browsing a content aggregator web site, as required by the App Store Review Guidelines .
While your app may facilitate access to content from a range of web sites, even when including features such as Push Notifications, the experience it provides is not significantly different from using Safari. Such apps do not include enough native iOS functionality to be appropriate for the App Store.
We encourage you to review your app concept and evaluate whether you can incorporate additional features to enhance the user experience. “
Similarly, you may see Rejection reason 10.6 which states:
“We found the user interface of your app is not of sufficient quality to be appropriate for the App Store. Apps that provide a poor user experience are not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines .
We have found that your app does not take advantage of the iOS platform. It would be appropriate to add iOS specific UI and functionality rather than displaying just text and feed views.
Please evaluate whether you can make the necessary revisions to improve the user experience of your app. “
I have submitted about 5 apps that I made on AppMakr, all of which scored very high on the “Likely to be Approved” scale and keep getting these messages back.
What you can see happening here is that Apple is moving about 2 months behind these template sites to make sure the functionality is unique and great. Appmakr is going 200mph in order to add more functionality like Sharing on FB, Twitter, Email along with dozens of other bells and whistles. It’s a very tough game to be in because the market is constantly evolving.
I’m telling you this because there is a very real possibility that your app is going to get rejected from the store – these apps are by no means a sure thing.
The ability to have a template that is easy to update and can have a high guarantee of approval is a gold mine in the app market – you can product hundreds of apps that are loaded with Ads, creating both a fleet of money makers and a terrific barometer of market demand. That’s exactly what Amish Shah is doing with The App Code and something I’m working on in my spare time.
Hope this helps! Please leave a comment if you have had experience with AppMakr or any other service like it.