Test Drive: A free (sort of) app builder

By on February 3, 2012

At this point, most major news organizations have dedicated resources to create an app in the Apple Store or for the Android market. But what about smaller outlets that may not have $60,000 to properly develop an application?

I came across a new low-cost option in AppMakr, a web-based app builder that makes claims like “no coding required” and “built for free by people like you.” If it’s that easy, it’s worth a shot, right?

AppMakr does try to make the process as easy as possible. The general build is an RSS application, basically a souped-up version of a basic feed reader. While most users expect a bit more from an app, if you want to just play around with the possibilities, this is an inexpensive way to do it. AppMakr provides users with seven quick menus to plan out their apps: “Art,” “Tabs,” “Customize,” “Notifications,” “App Info,” “Monetize,” “Publish.” “Art” allows you to choose the images associated with your application. “Tabs” configures your RSS feed as well as photo albums, messages and a geolocation setting. “Customize” allows you to upload your own header, change the colors and determine the sharing settings. The “notifications” tab is pretty cool — it allows you to publish messages directly to an end-user’s phone, without the app being open.

However, “notification” is where some of the hidden costs start to creep in. The first 100 “push” messages are free, but additional credits start at 50 bucks. “App Info” is essentially a registration form for the App store. “Monetize” is the next tab that hits you up for money — the free version of AppMakr serves up its own ads on your app, but you can still charge for the final product. But for $79 a month, you can serve your own ads on the app, have advanced access to rebuilds and modifications and publish under your own branding. I asked a developer friend of mine if it was worth the money to serve your own ads, and he just looked puzzled.

The last sock to your wallet is on the final tab, “Publish.” After going through the entire process, it’s revealed that you will need an Apple Developer account in order to actually publish your app. That will run $99 a year.

So, while the app is free to build on a limited basis, let’s look at the actual cost.

Bare Bones Model: $99 per year.
Fully Loaded Model (assuming no additional push notifications): $1,047 per year.

AppMakr also allows you to avoid going through Apple’s Development Process. You can also publish through them for an additional $999. (To their credit, they do say that self-publishing is faster and cheaper.)

While I like the idea of AppMakr, the rising cost of the end result means I’d like to investigate some more options. For organizations that just wanted to publish the feed, partnering with an aggregator like Pulse or recommending visitors download the Google Reader app would be more cost-effective options. While the AppMakr interface is easy and intuitive, I’m not sure the end result justifies the means.