Over the last six months, I’ve been examining and testing a variety of mobile app builders and mobile back ends. In some cases, the app builders and back ends were part of a single product. In other cases, the app builders or back ends stood on their own.
In this roundup, I’ll summarize seven products that are at least partially a mobile app builder. Some have IDEs that run locally on your computer; others give you a Web IDE that lives in the cloud. Some are aimed at enterprise development, others at individual developers or even students.
As we’ll see, they can have almost any level of complexity for the developer, ranging from drag-and-drop simple like EachScape, NSB/AppStudio, and Salesforce1, to providing an API for the developer to code against in Xcode or Eclipse, which is the way Appcelerator supports native SDK developers.
They can target mobile Web, mobile hybrid, or native apps for Android, iOS, and occasionally some of the less popular mobile device platforms, such as Windows Phone. They may integrate with one or more mobile security products. For instance, AnyPresence makes it easy to secure your app with Apperian.
They may be tied to an MBaaS (mobile back end as a service) platform or not. They may or may not be able to consume and modify data from systems of record. If they can, they may require the developer to write a RESTful interface, or they may take care of the connection themselves.
They might reduce the work required to support offline mobile operation with offline/online data synchronization and conflict resolution to checking a few boxes on a form, like Alpha Anywhere, or hand you a box of parts and an assembly diagram with pictures and instructions in Swedish -- sorry, that’s Ikea, but you know what I mean. In between those extremes, they may supply a framework that does part of the work, but leave out the rest and expect you to fill it in with code and forms.
They may be priced anywhere from $99 per developer to “low six figures per company per year.” In most cases, I’ve found the prices to be appropriate and the value to be good for the right audience, but a student can’t benefit from an enterprise-level app builder and MBaaS any more than an enterprise developer could get by with a simple app builder with no integration capabilities.
In short, the scope and complexity of these seven products vary widely, and no single product is ideal for everyone. With that in mind, I’ll try to emphasize what sort of developers and designers are most likely to enjoy and be productive with each app builder. Different strokes ...
The Alpha Anywhere IDE runs on Windows. The tool targets iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and other mobile and desktop clients with HTML5-compliant Web browsers.
Alpha Five was a Web and desktop application development tool with an application and Web server, a PDF report generator, and strong support for dozens of SQL and desktop databases. Alpha Five in turn grew out of Alpha Four, which was an easy-to-use dBase clone.
Alpha Anywhere is an extension of Alpha Five that brings mobile Web and hybrid mobile app development to Alpha Five’s bag of tricks, including the recent addition of support for offline operation, offline-online data synchronization, and intelligent data conflict resolution. The folks at Alpha Software have thought through most of the cases a mobile device might encounter in the field -- trying to consume, modify, and generate server data with unreliable network connectivity -- and have reduced the choices you need to make as a developer to a matter of checking a few boxes.
On the downside, the Alpha IDE and application server currently run only on Windows; Alpha’s application server is proprietary; Alpha lacks a scalable cloud service; and Alpha lacks native mobile client support. Mitigating factors for the lack of native iOS and Android code generation are integration with PhoneGap, and the fact that the Alpha Anywhere mobile components and controls have been crafted to look and feel native.
Overall, I rate Alpha Anywhere very good as a Web, mobile Web, and mobile hybrid development system. The IDE is powerful and easy to use, although it has so many features that it’s easy to forget where to find the one you need. The capabilities and integrations are very good.
Companies that want to create mobile apps that use SQL and REST data sources will benefit from Alpha Anywhere, especially if ease of development and short time to market are important factors. Alpha’s strong support for offline mobile operation, offline-online data synchronization, and intelligent data conflict resolution helps it to stand out in a world where those important issues are too often ignored.
Both online mobile app builder and back-end service, AnyPresence combines broad client support, useful code generation, and a rich set of options for data storage and enterprise integration. While I originally rated AnyPresence using the criteria of the MBaaS category (with a 9.1 and an Editor’s Choice), it is also an excellent app builder.
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