Building apps for a mobile audience? Here are a few tools you can try

Posted on Jan 16 2014 - 10:06pm by J. Angelo Racoma

Android with wrench

Mobile strategy is gaining prominence among businesses, regardless of whether one does business online or offline. According to Google’s own executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt, if you don’t have a mobile strategy, then you don’t have a future strategy at all.

This is the reasoning at Facebook, for instance. The social network is reportedly planning to launch several unbundled apps this year, meant for various platforms like iOS and Android. After the success of its cross-platform Messenger app (which is not even branded as “Facebook” if you would notice), the company is reportedly planning to release a what would possibly be calendar, personalized news reader and mobile Graph Search applications.

It took Facebook several years before it could get its act right, in terms of mobile strategy. Facebook actually had a few failures, including ephemeral messaging service Poke and Facebook Camera. Even Facebook Home is not much of a success. But with mobile devices increasingly replacing notebook and desktop computers as the preferred tools for communication for billions of users, then having a good mobile strategy is necessary to be able to reach out to as wide an audience as possible.

Not everyone has the resources and capabilities to write code, do back-end development, design, test and market, however. For many publishers and business owners, the usual recourse is usually to turn to a mobile-optimized theme. At least if you cannot create a mobile app from scratch, then you can at least ensure your mobile users have the best experience on their small-screen devices.

Here are a few tools you might want to look into when building apps, services and content for a mobile audience.

Native and hybrid applications

The easiest way to convert your website or content into an application is through tools and services meant to build native apps from existing content. These can come in the form of fully native or hybrid applications. Hybrids are a mix of native app shell with dynamic, HTML5 content inside. A few tools will even enable you to publish to Google Play straight from within their interface.

Starting your app from a blank slate with Appery.io

Starting your app from a blank slate with Appery.io

Services like iBuildApp will parse the content of your website into a mobile-friendly format, and the service actually has pre-built templates that can cater to various business types. Another tool that automatically parses content into mobile application is Conduit, which also comes with pre-set themes and templates for various usage scenarios. This means you can use the tool to build your app, whether you run an e-commerce shop, a retail store, restaurant or a web publication.

Kinvey and Appery.io are meant for more technical users — actually targeted at developers and enterprises — and will actually require knowledge in coding and in interfacing via APIs. What Kinvey addresses is the need for back-end development, which might otherwise require big effort on the part of the developer. Appery.io, meanwhile, enables developers to either use the service’s suite of back-end services, or interface with others via API as necessary. If you do have the resources and technical know-how, these would be more flexible tools to use.

Adaptive and responsive themes

Another possible solution is the use of adaptive or responsive design in one’s website. This means displaying content differently when accessed on different devices, such as a mobile browser (or a small-screened device), such that it will be easier for clients to access your services or content, rather than have to go through cumbersome navigation of a desktop-oriented website.

Responsive

Responsive design actually differs from adaptive design, in terms of where the dynamic aspect lies. In responsive design, the website will serve different versions of the stylesheet and content, depending on the device used by the client (e.g., whether it’s a desktop browser, smartphone or tablet). With adaptive design, the adjustment is on the client-side. The design elements will adjust according to screen size.

Some resources that offer such themes include the Responsive WordPress theme, Impreza and Adaptivethemes for Drupal, among others.

Platform tools and security

Recently, there has been a rise in so-called cross-platform tools (CPT), which enable developers to publish their apps for multiple platforms (Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and even desktop platforms) all from a single code base. These include PhoneGap (more formally known as Apache Cordova), Appcelerator Titanium, Adobe Air and the Qt framework.

These phones are undergoing testing at Apkudo's labs.

These phones are undergoing testing at Apkudo’s labs.

More advanced developers can use both free and commercial tools like FindBugs and Checkmarx to check code for potential vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, Apkudo tries to address issues that arise from fragmentation by testing applications and app updates on thousands of Android devices and accessories, so developers can release these with confidence.

Some of these tools are free, while some would require either a license or subscription fee, depending on the level of usage or functionality of the tool. Do you have a favorite tool or resource for building apps for Android? For more developer news and tools, you can check out TheDroidGuy’s development archive.

Featured image credit: Geekrescue

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About the Author

A technology and automotive journalist with an interest in emerging standards, J. Angelo Racoma has written extensively about mobile, social media, enterprise apps and startups. Angelo has been active in online media since the early blogging and social networking days, and is co-founder at WorkSmartr, a small outsourcing platform for freelancers.