I’ve been experimenting with iPhone app development lately (and Android development, but that’s another story) so when I saw a tweet about “AppMakr”:http://www.appmakr.com I thought I would give it a try.
I will preface this review by saying that I do have some coding background (although I wouldn’t call myself a “coder”) and that I am also already a registered Apple Developer. Keep those in mind when considering my perspective.
First, AppMakr doesn’t allow you do develop full-blown applications in the truest sense of what an App is. What it does allow you to do is take RSS feed content and turn that into an application that runs on the iPhone. Why does this matter when you have Safari anyway? Well, it matters for a couple of reasons:
1. By making the content an “app” you eliminate the need to be connected to retrieve the content. So your site’s (or rather, your feed’s) content is always available.
2. The content is displayed in an “app” which can be skinned, so it will have a look and feel that, while somewhat generic, can still be customized with your logo, colors, etc.
3. You can add advertising (MobAd and others) to your “app” to help “monetize” your content.
Those may be valid reasons to use the service, depending on what you had in mind when you thought, “Hey, I want to build an app!”
The process of creating an app is pretty straightforward. Once you sign up for your AppMakr account, you can create your application for free (more on that later). Basically, all you need is an RSS feed, and you’re ready to go.
First, you choose an “Application Template” to get started. When I created my app, the only template available was the “RSS Mashup” template, which is pretty limiting, but I suspect more templates may be added later.
After you select the only template available, you enter the URL for your feed, which will provide the content for your app. From there, you can customize your app–choosing your own icon, splash screen, header image, etc. If you have any graphic design skills, I’d recommend designing your own images, the stock ones provided by AppMakr are serviceable, but look stock. You can also change the color scheme, add the advertisements to your app if you are so inclined, and then you’re done. It really is pretty simple. I created my first app in about half-an-hour, although I already had some custom icons and logos laying around.
Unfortunately, publishing is not quite so simple. In fairness, this is not entirely AppMakr’s fault. You see, applications developed for the iPhone have to be code signed, which means you have to have a public/private key combo, and sign a cert generated by Apple before you can deploy your app–that includes deploying it only on your iPhone for testing.
This is a gigantic pain in the butt.
And I’m a registered developer.
AppMakr goes out of their way to step you through the process, and I think they did a pretty good job. Follow their directions, and it will probably take another 30 min or so to figure out all the correct certs. Keep in mind, I was doing this on a Mac, and as a developer, I’d already done a couple of the steps. Your milage may vary. All along the way, AppMakr pimps the upsell, noting that the process isn’t much fun and is complicated, so they’ll gladly step you through it for $250. That’s pretty pricey, if you ask me, and unless you can’t follow directions, a waste of money.
Once you get your app signed, you’re ready to deploy. I only deployed mine to my iPhone (I don’t think an app of this blog would really be a hot-seller) which is free. It runs well, and looks pretty much the same as it did in the AppMakr simulator. Publishing for the App Store has a couple of other hurdles. First, you have to pay AppMakr. If you have your own Apple Developer account ($99 from Apple), you can publish for free right now because of a promotional special, but the regular AppMakr price to do so is $199. However, if you *don’t* have your own Apple developer account, the price is a whopping $999. Do your own math. Sign up to be an Apple developer. Yikes. $199 might be reasonable, depending on how AppMakr shepherds you through the App Store submission process, but any way you slice it, $999 is too much. If you are of reasonable intelligence or have a teenager at home who can help you, sign up for the Apple dev program, and even at the regular AppMakr price of $199, you’re saving $701 off the “we do it” price.
There are some very important caveats:
1. AppMakr doesn’t approve your apps. Apple does. (AppMakr does some basic checking before they allow you to submit, but it’s still Apple’s call.) There is still a chance that your app will be rejected by Apple for some reason. AppMakr offers “hints” along the way to reduce the chance of rejection–I’d follow their advice–but keep in mind, in the end, the decision is Apple’s.
2. You don’t get a refund if your app is rejected. Think about that one at $999. Or even $199. From what I gathered on the site, it’s not full-price to resubmit (I think it’s $49 per “change”) but still.
3. If you went the Apple Developer route, you can always self-publish your app, which is free. Free.
The bottom line: AppMakr is definitely useful–provided you are looking to make a very specific kind of app, which relies on RSS feed content. It’s a straight-forward way to take an existing site/blog and create an app version quickly and easily. The resources are there to do it for not much money, provided you do a little legwork, and if you don’t want to be bothered, you can pay AppMakr to do more of the work and still get a decent app. Worth checking out if you have a popular blog/site that you are looking to turn into an app. Otherwise, you might do better finding a developer for hire. You are definitely not going to be building Shazam or Twitter with it.