What is the Best App Builder?

by Mark Benvegnu
What is the Best App Builder?

As an entrepreneur or business manager, you may frequently encounter business problems – or opportunities – and think, “if only I had an app for that.” But identifying a need or opportunity doesn’t mean bringing your new app on line is easy.

Maybe there’s too much IT red tape or your company doesn’t even have IT. Perhaps you are under the impression that developing your new app will require coding skills that you don’t have. Regardless of your particular circumstances, the chances of developing your app may seem pretty slim.

But if you can imagine it, you can build it. Low-code/no-code App Builders are now widely available and enable simple app development even if you have no coding skills.

App Builders are not the right development tool for every app, and a custom software project is a better fit for complex and specialized apps. But for citizen developers looking to craft a basic app, they can be just the ticket.

Read on for details on App Builders, including their pros and cons, and a list of some of the best App Builders by type and use case.

App Builders explained

In a nutshell, App builders are software tools that enable you to design an app, including the UI and the backend processes without writing code — or with low-code tools — minimal code. You drag and drop pre-fab elements to assemble your desired processes or functions, and the app builder does the rest, generating the underlying code and creating the app according to your design.

The popularity of App Builders has boomed with the rise of citizen developers. This new class of developers typically exists outside of IT and consists primarily of business managers or analysts rather than programmers. They know business processes and can envision required app functionality but the lack coding expertise needed to make it happen.  

While relatively easy to use, App builders are best suited to building simple, standardized apps. For complex or specialized applications, a custom-developed Progressive Web App (PWA), web, or desktop application is often the better choice.

Types of App Builders

There are several classes of he App Builders including no-code, low-code, and visual. The term “drag and drop” is also commonly associated with App Builders and accurately reflects how they generally work.

Understanding the differences in capabilities between App Builder types is essential to making the best choice for your business.

  • No-code – These App Builders require no code (literally) to build an app and typically use pre-defined templates. They are best used for simple, well-defined processes.
  • Low-code – Low-code tools are a step up from no-code in functionality and difficulty. Some developer skills and understanding of technical concepts are typically required, but more complexity is possible than with no-code tools.
  • Visual development – Visual development uses icons and graphics from a tool palette to represent pre-defined processes, tasks, and other elements. These are assembled in an app generator to create the app.

Recommended App Builders

There are a ton of App Builders available and they vary widely in capabilities and design — low-code vs. no-code, for instance. We’ve put together a list of recommended App Builders of various types and specialties for you to explore:

  • Retool – This is a low-code tool designed for professional developers. Its key feature enables programmers to write JavaScript within its platform. Retool offers 20+ pre-built templates and drag-and-drop blocks to easily connect to APIs and databases.
  • AppSmith – Appsmith is an open-source alternative to Retool. Also a low-code platform, its primary purpose is to build internal tools. It comes with a large selection of widgets and makes it easy to connect to databases and APIs.
  • Appian – This low-code platform excels in building automated workflows and Business Process Management (BPM) applications. Appian has an enterprise focus and is intended for relatively complex development.
  • Airtable – This is a no-code App Builder based on spreadsheets and also has similarities with project management programs. It comes with 50+ pre-built apps plus workflow automations and integrations. It has a reputation for being easy to use, even for those with minimal technical skills.
  • Zoho Creator – Zoho Creator is a low-code tool for developing multi-platform business apps. It includes a library of prebuilt templates, code editors, and visual editors.
  • AppyPie– Known mainly as a beginner-friendly, no-code mobile app development platform, AppyPie has millions of users worldwide. Simple mobile apps can be created in only a few steps.
  • Bubble – This no-code app builder is great for prototyping and will host and deploy a finished app. Bubble includes numerous integrations and both static and dynamic content elements.

App Builder pros and cons

While each tool has advantages and disadvantages, App Builders generally share some common pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Simple app creation with little or no coding – Depending on the App Builder and your requirements, some apps can be developed without a single line of code.
  • Speed – Apps can be created and deployed quickly, often by a single person or small team. 
  • Usable by citizen developers and other non-programmers – Programmers are expensive and often have time constraints. An App Builder sidesteps those issues.

Cons:

  • Too underpowered to create complex apps – App Builders are limited in what they can do. Most complex apps demand advanced programming skills and methods to meet complicated specifications.
  • May result in two development cycles – It’s not uncommon to start with an App Builder and then find your new app isn’t cutting it.  So you may have to start over and develop a custom solution to get what you need.
  • No IP ownership – Unlike custom solutions, apps created using an App Builder do not result in owned IP. IP ownership is a valuable asset for you and your business and gives you more control over your technology operations.

In Summary

App Builders can be great tools for rapidly developing simple, standardized apps. They may eliminate the need to marshal programming resources, obtain management buy-in, or get a budget approved. And in particular use cases, the resulting app meets requirements quickly and inexpensively.

But for complex or specialized use cases, a custom-developed app is often the better choice. And it’s not uncommon for a citizen developer to launch an App Builder-created app only to find it can’t meet the need for which it was developed. 

While App Builders can be a great resource, it’s essential to know their shortcomings and to understand your development alternatives. An expert custom software developer can assess your use case and explain your options.

Pell Software can help you choose the right development strategy for your business

Pell Software is a premier custom software developer with years of experience in application design and development. We help businesses like yours choose the best development strategy to implement your vision. And we can build your company a custom solution that meets or exceeds your expectations.

We’ve worked with companies of all sizes and types, ranging from startups to national companies in a wide range of industries. So we know how to help you take back control and tune your focus on meeting your business objectives while driving growth and increasing profitability.

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