Can anyone make an app?

On Wednesday 11th May 2011, BBC One broadcast an edition of business reality show The Apprentice with a new task subject matter: mobile apps. In the second task for the latest series, Lord Sugar asked his two teams of potential business partner candidates to create a mobile phone app in 24 hours and release it “on the internet” – whichever team’s free app was downloaded the most in the following 24 hours would be declared the winner. Candidates on The Apprentice have never been known for their tremendous creativity, so it was no great surprise that the ideas they came up with weren’t going to put the likes of Rovio Mobile, Tapbots and Electronic Arts out of business. However, that’s not to say that the episode didn’t offer up a few surprises – a prime example being that more than 10,000 people downloaded the absolute tosh that was the “Ampi Apps” app in just 24 hours. What’s even more surprising is that the app was made for BlackBerry, Nokia and Android devices and not the market-leading Apple iPhone*, due to the restrictions of Apple’s App Store approval process. How many more copies would have been downloaded if it was also released on the App Store?

I suspect a large number of the downloaders (if not all), wouldn’t have looked twice at the app if it hadn’t been free or hadn’t made a prominent appearance on Wired magazine, TechCrunch or Pocket-lint websites. However, if it wasn’t clear before, it is certain now that there is a very large worldwide audience for downloading apps on a variety of mobile platforms. As demand for these apps increase, so must the supply and everyone wants their slice of the market.

Apple has announced there’s now a whopping 500,000 apps in their App Store. Google’s Android Market is rapidly expanding with over 250,000 apps, and while lagging behind, the still quite-new Windows Marketplace contains 20,000 apps for Windows Phone 7. There are thousands of developers already creating mobile apps and many more (including me) are joining the ranks. But do you have to be a developer to make an app? Can anyone make an app? After all, the candidates on the Apprentice managed to release two apps without learning to program or write a single line of code.

The truth is that anyone can make an app. If you have an idea for an app, you need to find the right approach for the subject matter, your skills and your experience.

If you’re already a programmer or you’d like to try programming apps yourself, you could learn the programming languages you need to know for your target platforms, install the developer toolsets and get to work. For Apple iOS and Mac OS, that means working in Xcode and learning Objective-C and the Cocoa frameworks. For Android, it’s Java, the Android SDK and Eclipse (or Intelli-J). For Windows Phone 7, it’s C#, Silverlight and Microsoft Visual Studio. There are even third party cross-platform developer tools available that enable you to make use of the tools and languages that you’re already familiar with, such as using C# with the Mono framework or Unity.

Of course, not everyone is a programmer nor will everyone find the prospect of learning programming appealing. If this describes you, but you still want to try making apps yourself, there are options available to you. If you want to make a quick simple app that displays content from RSS and media feeds or web pages, take a look at AppMakr, which is free to use and does not require any programming experience. If you want to make a template-based app and release it on the App Store, AppMakr could be your best option. I have tried AppMakr and it works quite well for displaying feeds, although the app it created was a little slow in responding to touches compared to other apps on my iPhone 4 and it simply crashed on launch on an iPhone 3G.

If you have experience with designing or developing websites, you could give the free PhoneGap SDK a try. With this toolkit, you can convert HTML/CSS/Javascript/jQuery webpages into apps for several platforms. Of course, you should not expect to go beyond limited functionality (displaying content, lists, multimedia, etc) unless you really know your Javascript and use programming skills to take advantage of PhoneGap’s Javascript libraries for deep native integration (using the camera, photo library, using data etc). If you want to make an app with web technologies and you’re good with Javascript, PhoneGap could be your best option. Also, if you’re familiar with web technologies, why not just make a web app (accessible via the web browser) that works with all platforms anyway?

If you find none of the above options appealing, it’s pretty obvious that the do-it-yourself approach isn’t going to work for you. Just like most people wouldn’t do the plumbing, build an extension or fit double glazing themselves, it’s absolutely fine, you can still get that great app idea made and released in the app stores. You just need to find the right developer that can help you execute your idea. That’s the approach that the Apprentice candidates took.

That’s hopefully where we can help you. If you have an idea for an app and would like to release it in the App Store, why not hire Cellcode to make it for you? You can get in touch with us on our Contact page or mention @Cellcode on Twitter and we’ll see your tweets.

Thanks for reading and please check back soon for further coverage on the app development process. You can subscribe to our blog here.

* iPhone apps called Slangatang and Ampi Apps have appeared on the App Store since the show was broadcast, but don’t be fooled, they are enterprising homages rather than the apps you saw being created on The Apprentice.