Looking for the best app maker software for your company? We evaluated AppMachine, BuildFire, GoodBarber and ShoutEm, among others.
Credit: ShutterstockOnce upon a time — say, 20 years ago — it was easy for small businesses to establish and maintain an online presence. While the very first websites were hand-coded in HTML because WYSIWYG builders had not yet been invented, visual design apps from Microsoft, Apple and Macromedia (now Adobe) made it possible to create websites without coding. Over time, sophisticated automated web tools with engineering smarts evolved, creating the income-generating, multiplatform precision sites we are now used to.
But today, merely having a website is not enough for small businesses. Increasingly, customers rely on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, running Apple's iOS and Google's Android, to keep them up to speed with a company's products and services. You can adapt your existing website to run a smooth responsive version on mobile devices, but a native mobile app will almost always provide a better, potentially more profitable experience. HTML5 websites functioning as mobile apps may work as an interim solution — helpful but not equal to a genuine app. But that means building a new product in a genre that IT managers or developers may not be familiar with or trained for.
Enter the new app makers. This genre of software does for you what visual website designers did for companies back in the day: It lets you create customized consumer apps for your small business, restaurant, bar, gallery, local service, nonprofit, event or publication without going back to coding class.
These new builders — which live in the cloud — are targeted to smaller screens and support at least the two major cross-platform mobile operating systems. These apps involve monthly subscription costs, but overall, they are much cheaper and inherently more flexible than hiring a developer to create and maintain a customized app.
When searching for the best app makers, we looked for solutions that are affordable and extensible, and let you create professional-looking apps without coding skills.
Our Best Picks
|Price per month||Starts at $19, with Premium and Professional packages at $59 and $89||Plus and Pro packages at $49 and $69||Starts at $19.90, with Advanced and Unlimited tiers at $49 and $119.90||Standard at $16 with Full at $32 and Advanced at $48|
|Ease of use||Fast and easy drag-and-drop interface||Lego-style building-block interface||Fast and easy to use||Colorful, user-friendly design |
|Customer support||Chat, email, online form||Email||Email||Email, online form|
|Platforms||iOS, Android, HTML5||iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry||iOS, Android, HTML5||iOS, Android, HTML5|
|Templates||15 templates spanning small business categories like restaurant, music, church and education||35+ precoded, snap-together content Building Blocks, extensive skin selection, 15 navigation templates||8 major templates or start from scratch, and 12 layouts||50 creative templates or start from scratch|
|Hosting||Hosted and managed by the company||Hosts your design on Microsoft Azure servers and exports it into an app store package||Site hosts the app maker and automatically submits to app stores||Site hosts the app maker and automatically submits to app stores|
|Integrations||Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud, Slack, Google Analytics, Instagram, OpenTable, JotForm, Vimeo, and custom or open-source plugins||25 building blocks like Information, Photos, Video, Push messages and Location services; links to Facebook, Twitter or online stores with PayPal Checkout block ||MoPub ads, WordPress, Drupal, Ning, Facebook, Twitter, MailChimp and Eventbrite ||WordPress, Blogger, RSS, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, 500px, SoundCloud and your own CMS|
|Customizability||Extensive tools, layouts, plugins, color schemes, SmartPush technology||Lego building-block interface facilitates numerous configurations||Large array of variations and elements for layout and design||Emphasizes creativity in varying colors of text, icons and textures|
|E-commerce||Shopify||PayPal integration||Shopify, product catalog||Amazon, Shopify, Etsy|