Software dev by day, story teller by night. Programmer for Ford. University of Michigan alum.
In the growing world of low-code and no-code, dozens of app building platforms claim to offer the best solution for building native mobile apps.
And for freelance mobile developers, finding the right tool can be a game-changer.
That’s because knowing when to code and when to use an app building platform can greatly impact a client’s budget and schedule.
There are times when coding is the only option, and times when an app can be knocked out in a few hours with the right tool.
As a mobile developer for hire, I’ve spent hours weighing the different pros and cons for different app building platforms. Here are my top three recommendations for 2020:
Overall, Thunkable is the best platform if you want an industry grade no-code development tool.
Where other platforms lack flexibility and customization, Thunkable has a robust offering of features and functionality. This includes the ability to connect your apps to AirTable, Firebase, One Signal and other APIs.
Thunkable is also a cross-platform mobile app builder, so every app you build works for both Android and iOS devices with no environment setup or fiddling with boilerplates. They also have a nifty live-testing feature so you can test apps in real time.
These powerful features make Thunkable the industry leader in my mind. But Thunkable isn’t perfect.
For instance, Thunkable sometimes produces applications that are much more oversized than they need to be. Of course this issue isn’t unique to Thunkable. Practically every drag and drop tool suffers from this issue.
Additionally I believe Thunkable could really benefit from a feature that translates apps built on their platform into Swift and Java code. This would add a lot more flexibility to build 95% of an app with drag and drop, and then code the last 5%.
Pros: Cross-platform, live-testing, feature rich, Firebase and Airtable API support.
Cons: Can produce oversized apps. No code generation feature yet.
Gamesalad is an educational and gaming platform. But don’t let the education label fool you, many developers have still used this tool to launch apps on the iOS store that reached #1!
I loved using Gamesalad for many years. It has many amazing built-in game engine features. The simple design and intuitive IDE allows developers to program many different types of apps.
The main criticism with Gamesalad is that it does lack many external features.
With only minimal database and multiplayer support, it’s difficult to allow apps to communicate with each other. This means Gamesalad is great for single player games or black-box apps.
That said, because Gamesalad markets itself as an educational tool, there are plenty of great discounts for students!
Pros: Great for making games. Simple IDE. Cross-platform. Discounts available. Educational for young children.
Cons: Minimal online connectivity. No external API support. Limited features.
I first got hooked on Ionic as a wrapper framework to export web apps to both the iOS store and Google Play Store. So needless to say, extensibility is one of their top priorities.
That said, Ionic does have a considerable lack of features.
I found that when I needed things as simple as local storage, Ionic didn’t support this natively. They actually don’t provide much logic-based programming at all.
Overall, Ionic is simple and sleek, but lacks a lot of basic no-code functionality. The tool does have awesome UI/UX features, which is great for wire-framing apps and testing MVPs, but you will quickly have to get into the code if you want to build out real functionality.
Pros: Export app to code. Cross platform. Great front-end programming tool.
Cons: Limited back-end functionality. Complex to use. May require some traditional coding.
Okay, admittedly I cheated a little bit by throwing Airtable on the list. This application can’t really be used to build mobile applications as a stand-a-lone tool. However, Airtable can be integrated with many low code and no code applications to enhance a mobile application.
Airtable is essentially a google sheets style database. Not only can your mobile application interact with your data, but Airtable also provides a strong UI that enables your clients to be able to interact as well.
I would highly recommend Airtable to any mobile application that wants to store and manipulate data externally.
There is a little bit of a learning curve to use Airtable. Especially if you want to utilize more advanced features. But I never found the site challenging at all to pick up.
Airtable isn’t free for industry grade applications, but they do come with free trial accounts that allow users to support up to 1200 rows of data!
Pros: Integratable with other no-code tools. Free trial membership. Powerful data manipulation and storage.
Cons: Can have a learning curve. Pricey for enterprise apps.
Like Airtable, Zapier can’t make mobile applications on its own.
Instead Zapier is a one stop shop for all of your no-code backend functionality. Need to send a text every time your database is updated? Done. Need to send an invoice to a customer after they’ve purchased your product on your mobile app? Done.
I can not brag enough about Zapier. It’s sped up my development time 10-fold because it makes integrating several APIs incredibly easy without any code. The power behind this sort of tool is unrivaled.
Of course Zapier is not free for enterprise-grade apps. It sometimes isn’t directly compatible with other no-code tools too like Thunkable or Gamesalad.
That said, if you need a no-code MVP solution, I highly recommend looking at Zapier. There’s always going to be an application for it.
Pros: Backend made easy. Integrates with dozens of powerful apis. Highly useful
Cons: Can be pricey. Can’t integrate with many other no-code apps at the moment.
In 2020, we shouldn't fret about building an awesome MVP mobile application. With all these amazing drag and drop tools, you don't even need a computer science degree or YouTube course to launch your next amazing app!