10 simple tools for building mobile apps fast

No-code and low-code mobile programming tools give business users and developers a fast track to mobile app success

low-code mobile tools

No-code and low-code mobile dev tools

While the great debate rages on between the various mobile development camps -- the pure HTML5/JavaScript/CSS3 mobile Web faction, the native code purists, and the hybrid mobile app fans -- businesses still have to create and maintain mobile applications for their employees, business partners, and customers. The one conclusion that everyone seems to reach, eventually, is that there is no single panacea in this space. Each approach and toolset has its advantages and drawbacks.

The difficulty and cost of mobile app development have not escaped the notice of innovative companies. We present here 10 low-code or no-code builders for mobile applications. Some of them target more than one mobile platform; some target Web applications as well. All are aimed at getting your mobile application development project up and running quickly.

For an in-depth comparison of some of these tools, see “Review: 7 excellent mobile app builders.”

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alpha anywhere

Alpha Anywhere

Alpha Anywhere is a database-oriented, rapid app development tool that shines at creating Web and hybrid mobile apps that work offline. It allows developers to build good apps quickly, with surprisingly solid performance and nativelike look and feel.

Alpha Anywhere’s SQL database support is especially strong because it allows you to use the native SQL dialects of each database if you wish, or you can go with Alpha’s Portable SQL facility, which will emit the appropriate native SQL for the current database connection. Alpha’s support for offline mobile operation is also quite complete. It reduces the development of data conflict resolution logic to a few clicks.

Recently, Alpha added mobile file system access in hybrid mobile apps for large amounts (gigabytes) of data, with compression. This has advantages both for viewing cached media offline, and for creating large numbers of photos, audio files, and video, even when you don’t have connectivity.

Mobile Optimized Forms were released in the spring of 2016. Alpha built this capability around a FormView, with specialized controls for the likes of ink annotations and audio capture (with pausing).

Read my full-length review of Alpha Anywhere 3.0.

Alpha Anywhere, Alpha Software, from $1,499 per year

app press

App Press

App Press is a Web-based, no-code app creator that targets iPhone, iPad, and Android applications. Aimed at designers, App Press uses a Photoshop-like user interface for assembling screens from visual assets, via layers. On the back end, App Press is an Amazon cloud-based service and platform. The company claims that designers can produce their first app in one day, that with experience designers can create five apps per day, and that experienced designers can train new designers on the platform.

App Press, $30 to $460 per month

eachscape

EachScape

EachScape is a unified, cloud-based, drag-and-drop editor for native iOS and Android apps, as well as HTML5 Web apps. That might seem like an odd combination, but it works well. In addition, EachScape includes mobile back-end services for apps you build with its platform, Web preview for all apps, and an online build service.

The architecture that allows EachScape to build iOS, Android, and HTML5 apps from a drag-and-drop editor (the Cloud Studio) depends on blocks and modules, as well as layouts and actions. Under the hood, EachScape has implemented a set of classes in Objective-C for iOS, Java for Android, and CoffeeScript for Web apps that correspond to ads, buttons, containers, controls, data connectors, data input, HTML, images, maps, media, navigation, placeholders, RESTful remote queries, social networks, and text. Advanced developers can build new blocks and modules for EachScape to extend its capabilities, using its SDKs.

Read my full-length review of EachScape v5.0.

EachScape, free to start, pay when you are ready to publish

form builder inspection

Form.com

Form.com is a Web-based enterprise platform for creating Web and mobile forms, combining a drag-and-drop forms builder and flexible back-end technology. The builder can create new forms or replicate existing paper forms, set up process-specific workflow and API integration, embed logical transitions, allow the capture of images within the forms, capture digital signatures, and enable form field autofill. Finished mobile forms can collect information when disconnected and transfer the collected information when the connection has been restored.

Form.com, $412 per month and up, depending on project scope and requirements

ibuildapp

iBuildApp

iBuildApp is a Web builder that offers customizable templates for iPhone, iPad, and Android apps and promises that you can create an app in five minutes. For common app types, template-based systems such as iBuildApp can sometimes produce usable results, as long as the selection of widgets includes the functionality you need.

iBuildApp, $5.99 to $895 per month

quickbase

QuickBase

QuickBase is an online builder and platform for Web database and mobile Web database applications, with limited support for integrations outside its own database. QuickBase offers more than 800 customizable application templates, including the Complete Project Manager shown above. Users can also build QuickBase applications “from scratch” starting with a data design.

All QuickBase websites can be viewed as mobile websites. While mobile QuickBase is not currently available in native app form, the mobile website is eminently usable. In the future, QuickBase Web apps will use a responsive design that is said to work better on a range of devices from phones and tablets to desktop browsers.

QuickBase, $15 to $40 per user per month

salesforce1 lightning

Salesforce1 and Lightning

Salesforce developers at all skill levels can find good options for building mobile apps based on their Salesforce site. At the most basic level, you can configure compact layouts and both global and field-specific actions for the Salesforce1 mobile app from Force.com setup pages.

At a much more advanced level, Salesforce Mobile SDKs make it possible to access Salesforce data from native and hybrid apps, and Mobile Design Templates enable developers to create decent-looking mobile app pages. In between these options, Salesforce’s new Lightning App Builder, Components, and Design System allows for easy creation of modern enterprise apps for desktops, tablets, and mobile devices.

The push from Salesforce is for developers to create a "Lightning experience," but they haven’t taken away any of the older technologies. Existing Salesforce apps will continue to function.

If you already work with Salesforce in your company, running Lightning or one of the other mobile Salesforce options for no additional cost to expose your data to users on their devices is a no-brainer. On the other hand, if you don’t have Salesforce, the per-user pricing model will likely make little financial sense.

Read my full-length review of Salesforce1 Platform.

Salesforce1, from $25 per user per app per month

viziapps

ViziApps

ViziApps combines an online visual designer and a number of customizable sample apps with code generation for mobile Web and both iOS and Android native apps. The ViziApps designer has form fields and charts, many user actions, 60 backgrounds, 4,000 stock images, a navigation bar, and a navigation panel. It also supports lots of customizations and JavaScript extensions, as well as more than 50 data sources. Template apps show how fields, actions, and data interfaces are used.

ViziApps, free trial for build and test, then $33 to $129 per app per month plus support

appcelerator

Appcelerator

Appcelerator combines an IDE, an SDK, multiple frameworks, and back-end cloud services into an enterprise-level system for mobile development. The Titanium SDK lets you develop native, hybrid, and mobile Web applications from a single codebase.

Titanium Studio is an extensible, Eclipse-based IDE for building Titanium applications and Web applications. Appcelerator Cloud Services provide a wide array of automatically scaled network features and data objects for your app. Alloy is an Appcelerator framework designed for the rapid development of high-quality Titanium applications; it’s based on the model-view-controller architecture and contains built-in support for Backbone.js and Underscore.js. Arrow combines a framework for building mobile APIs with an elastically scalable cloud service for running them.

While Appcelerator is not a no-code solution by any means, it provides JavaScript-based tooling for iOS, Android, Tizen, BlackBerry, and mobile Web applications in one place.

Read my full-length review of Appcelerator Platform 2.

Appcelerator, free to develop, Appcelerator Platform priced at enterprise levels

appgyver

AppGyver

AppGyver Composer 2 is a Web-based builder and hosting service for hybrid iOS and Android multipage apps. Based on the Supersonic UI framework, AppGyver offers native UI elements -- page transitions, modals, navigation bars, tab bars, drawers, and more -- to achieve a native look and feel in a hybrid app. You can create apps starting with one of a half-dozen templates, or from scratch using modules and components. If you want to write code, you can create custom modules. Your app can receive numeric and text data from a variety of sources.

When you are ready to publish your app, you can build and deploy it in the AppGyver cloud. A companion app can be used for previewing and testing your work on an iOS or Android device. When the app is ready for prime time, you can submit your builds to Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store.

AppGyver, free for developers, $199 per year for Steroids Add-ins, $11,000 per year (for 10 apps) and up for small businesses, negotiated annual contracts for enterprises