AppMachine: the £350 off-the-shelf ‘build your own’ mobile app

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“Build your own app, no programming knowledge necessary.”

Eight ordinary words, but what sweet poetry. Well, poetic at least to me as I reel like a drunk man through HTML, CSS, PHP and quell horreur, Ruby (on rails, with skates on, on steroids, whatever), dreaming sweet little dreams of coding my own blog better than the usual WordPress suspects, or an all-singing, all-dancing mobile app to self-publish multimedia journalism or academic writing.

If the pundits are right, tomorrow’s today’s successful journalist has to be a Bruce Lee of journalism skills, packing story-getting guile and code-crunching geekery in equal measure. Witness the emergence of people who call themselves ‘news developers’ (true story) and the boast of the Quartz crew, who believe ‘the future of news will be written in code’, among others.

But do we? Do we really? Surely this tech revolution should also deliver more efficient ways for journalists to engage with the new set of tools, ways that don’t require learning several new programming languages that like any language, have to be used regularly to be worthwhile. I struggle to see how the journalist whose most important skill should be speaking to people is using his time most wisely by busting his (or her) balls learning to code properly. Yes, data journalism is an important addition to news, and yes, it’s handy if you can build a cunning programme to say, scrape Twitter et al for those citizen journalism videos that can get one’s cretacious old newspaper a nose in front of the swarm of online ‘social news’ mosquitoes. But here is where some ‘value-addition’ needs to happen – by developers delivering a set of readymade tools that allow journalists to get on with the job of being journalists.

Well praise be. That is the very type of value addition on offer from AppMachine, a Dutch startup presenting at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. They’ve launched the beta of their off-the-shelf ‘build your own mobile app’ product that offers three levels of app, starting at €399 (£350/$529) for the ‘Gorgeous’ version, going up to €699 ($927) for the more customisable ‘Design’. The ‘Developer’ will be released later, pricing tbc.

This video gives an overview, while The Next Web gives good copy as to how AppMachine is disrupting the market for ‘build your own apps’.

That comes down to being fully native, packed with features, and competitively priced (one-off €399 feels a lot easier to swallow than more common monthly payments).

That’s an appealing package, and it seems they went down a storm at the MWC, with their stand inundated and winning a Laptop magazine award for Best mobile product of MWC 2013.

This issue of native vs web app is one that keeps simmering. While a fully native app has the advantages of smooth functionality, a new piece of research is backing HTML5 in a big way. There seems to be a sea change in developers attitude as the challenge of mastering responsive design becomes more pressing. Another compelling point for non-native apps, such as FT for example, is that they appear to be able to control all their data, rather than yielding power to Apple’s Appstore as intermediary.

So while I wait for the off-the-shelf HTML5 app builder to emerge, it’s off to play with my new AppMachine mobile app. I’ll be reporting back on my progress soon.

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