We’ve been following the website builder market for more than five years now and creating a simple website is not really much of a problem these days.
But does the same hold true for mobile apps? Can it be possible to create a mobile app without having a clue about programming languages?
While my wife was toying with the idea of creating a mobile app for her museum website, we took the opportunity to try out some of the best app builders on the market. There really is no shortage of companies offering this kind of service; we easily found more than 30.
Mobile App Makers in 100 Seconds
App doesn’t equal App
Most of the app makers that we’ve tested offer two kinds of apps:
A Progressive Web App (PWA) is like a mobile-friendly version of a website. You can open it through your web browser on desktops, Smartphones and Tablet devices. They are designed to give you most of the features you get from native apps, such as ecommerce, user logins, article posting etc….
Speaking of Native Apps, these are the ones most people want. You can download them on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. A native app will also allow you to send those handy little push messages that hardly anybody knows how to deactivate.
While you can create your own PWA app for around $10-20 per month, creating a native app is not gonna be wallet-friendly. Most providers will require you to fork out around $40-60 per month to have it listed in the Android ecosystems, and it is often twice that for the Apple Store.
What we discovered here is an exciting market in its early stages; we expect a lot more to come in the future. For now, these mobile app builders are our favorites:
GoodBarber – Eye Candy
The app builder with the most interesting name comes from the French island of Corsica and impresses with beautiful themes. What’s more is that they offer some of the most advanced features such as social networking, chat, Geofencing and iBeacons.
Get an app that works on mobile and desktop browsers like a website for $25 a month. Add a native Android app for $48 per month. Add a native iOS app for iPad and iPhone for $96 per month (check out Goodbarber’s full pricing here). And that’s not all: there’s also the Shopping App product, which is a builder for ecommerce apps.
What we liked: their templates are beautiful and the user experience is one of the best around. It also offers a lot of flexibility and cutting-edge features like powerful push notifications. You can even add chat functionality through their add-ons and create a full shopping app/website. And, maybe most importantly, GoodBarber is very active and keeps adding new features. Something that can’t be said about many of the other app makers.
Where they should improve: Some of the additional features aren’t free and for Classic Apps there is an extra fee for iOS publishing (at $29 it’s not that high, though).
GoodBarber Video Review and Tutorial
Free Trial: www.goodbarber.com
Detailed Review: AppToolTester
Siberian CMS – Open Source App Building
Another app maker made in France, Siberian has two unique features: they give you the full source code of the app, but you must install their platform on your own domain. It’s a small price to pay because you can create an app completely free! Of course, if you are not that tech-savvy you can also ask them to install the platform for you (59€).
They also sell you loads of useful extra modules such as the Whatsapp-like chat function, an appointment add-on, their Uber-like taxi service and a classifieds feature that works similar to Craigslist.
Most of the fees are one-offs, which still makes them very cheap compared to monthly subscription plans. There is also a Multi App Edition that lets you create unlimited apps for 399€ and resellers can pay €799 for a white label offer.
The designs aren’t the most exciting to begin with, but you get tons of customization options and layouts. And the features are really impressive, including unlimited push notifications, m-commerce and more. This all comes at the price of technical effort, but if you understand basic web hosting, you’ll have no problem getting started with Siberian.
What we liked: you can go rather far with their free version and create a very professional app. Also, their add-ons are great and offer some features that can’t be found elsewhere, like the Pay in App module that provides paid access to certain sections of your app.
What they should improve: the editor is a bit clunky at times.
Siberian Video Review and Tutorial
Free trial: www.siberiancms.com
Detailed Review: AppToolTester
Shoutem – The Apple of App Builders
Founded in 2011, Shoutem offers a very polished product. They have completely updated their platform in the new V5 and it’s a pleasure to use. Their templates are sleek and offer loads of customization options, so you can get very good looking apps. The features are good too, making them a great choice for Event apps or communities thanks to their Social Wall, where users can share comment and photos.
While it’s not the most expensive provider, it’s not cheap either: pricing starts at $49 (Basic) per month. In order to be able to publish to Apple, you’ll have to at least pick their $79.00 Advanced plan.
They are also opening their code to developers and hope that people will build more extensions and features for them. A few of them are missing at the moment.
What we liked: designs, user experience and templates
What they should improve: hopefully you’ll get a lot more features in the future
ShoutEm Video Review and Tutorial
Free Trial: www.shoutem.com
Detailed Review: AppToolTester
Swiftic (formerly Como) – The Swiss Army Knife of App Creators
This app maker, which was founded in 2010 in Israel claims to power more than 1 million apps around the world, making it one of the biggest fishes in the app pond. They provide a wide selection of building blocks such as a loyalty card feature, appointment scheduling integrations, ecommerce, user reviews and events. Most of the examples on their app gallery are restaurants, bands and other kinds of organizations that run events.
Swiftic just released a new pricing structure: now there is only one tier with either a monthly ($57), yearly ($48) or bi-yearly ($41) payment option. Part of these updates is also a bold 6-Month Success Guarantee, meaning that Swiftic will give you six months for free if you don’t manage to achieve “any meaningful business results” with your app.
We found seven different templates that you can combine with six navigational styles. Colors, background images and icons can be adapted with your own artwork.
What we liked: the editor is very well laid out and easy to use. Their features range is one of the most extensive and the designs are a definite plus. The Success Guarantee is quite reassuring.
What they should improve: their marketing. After registering they will send you promotional emails every single day for about a week… Update: Swiftic told us that they are currently changing their email marketing. If you have any recent experience with Swiftic’s newsletters, please leave a comment and let us know!
Swiftic Video Review and Tutorial
Free Trial: www.swiftic.com
Detailed Review: AppToolTester
Looking for more information on app makers?
We now have a site dedicated to in-depth app maker software reviews with a ranking table. Find further resources and information to help you find the best app creation tool for your project or small business. We are also happy to answer any questions you may have.
AppInstitute – More Than Meets the Eye
AppInstitute are the largest app maker in the UK, and the winner of several startup awards. They have great ecommerce features, with highly customizable catalogue menus and loyalty options. You can also pay for everything without ever leaving the app.
They have a great booking feature, which is more powerful than it appears. Not only does it allow for appointment booking, but also creating rich events with video and other content.
Price-wise, you can get a PWA and Android app for $42 a month. It costs $66 a month to publish to iOS. This comes with basic push notifications and app analytics.
What we liked: Some of the features are surprisingly powerful when you scratch beneath the surface.
What they should improve: There’s a distinct lack of integration options within the backend.
AppInstitute Video Review and Tutorial
Free Trial: www.appinstitute.com
Detailed Review: AppToolTester
Appy Pie – A Feast of Features?
Appy Pie, based out of India, is another app maker that claims to be the fastest-growing app maker in the world. Although it’s difficult to test these claims, it does appear to be gaining popularity across certain parts of the globe.
With a relatively unique free plan option, this could be appealing to people just starting out. Although it’s worth noting it will only be a mobile website. You won’t get both a native iOS and Android app until you move up to a higher tier, roughly in line with the prices of other app creators.
The biggest thing Appy Pie has going for it are the unique features. They really do offer many of the things that other app makers don’t. For example you can add in-app purchases, connect databases, upload ebooks, and even create your own dating app! A lot of these features are often simply integrations, though, so be aware you may need to set up other accounts to get them working. This can sometimes be quite complex due to the lack of detailed tutorials.
What we liked: They have interesting niche features, as well as many integrations, and are fairly easy to use.
What they should improve: Their poorly designed icons and templates often mean apps appear amateur, and we also found the support to be unresponsive at times.
AppyPie Video Review
Free Trial: www.appypie.com
Full review: AppToolTester
Bizness Apps – That Lead Magnet
In the video on their website they make a bold statement: one in every 20 apps out there runs on Bizness Apps. The Californian company started out in 2010 and has so far helped to put out more than 300,000 apps.
In order to create native iOS or Android apps you’ll have to pick their Mobile Apps plan for $99 per month. The editor is clearly structured and overall made a solid impression on us.
What we liked: they sport plenty of 3rd party integrations including ways to capture leads.
What they should improve: It could be visually more rewarding; with other app building software we had quicker results.
Bizness Apps Video Review and Tutorial
Free Trial: www.biznessapps.com
Detailed Review: AppToolTester
AppYourself – Easy and Fun to Use
This company started in 2011, allowing their users to create apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and also pure HTML5 apps. Their promise doesn’t end with a mobile app: in contrast to other app maker software they also let you create a responsive website that automatically syncs your app content. Currently, this feature is in an open beta phase.
There are three pricing tiers, with varying limits on active users and push notification campaigns Starter (€20) is for PWAs and 200 users. Business (€40) is the same with 2000 users. Enterprise (€80) gives you unlimited users for iOS and Android apps. You can try out AppYourself for free, for as long as you want. In order to be able to actually submit your app to one of the app stores you need to be on, at least, their Basic plan.
Their features include ecommerce, table booking options via Open Table and Resmio, loyalty cards, photo galleries and of course, the usual news feed streams.
We like: Most of all, the interface is well structured and very easy to use. They feature their own online store module and support was quick to respond when we contacted them. Using their Connect App you can also update your app on the go.
Things they should improve: AppYourself is a German company and sometimes there are menu items that haven’t been fully translated. It’s not a big issue overall but it needs to be addressed.
Tip: Save 20% in your first year using the discount code “wtt20off”. Valid for all pricing tiers except for Business.
Free Trial: http://appyourself.net/
Where are all the apps? According to Statista, there are around 2.8m apps on the leading three app stores. According to just Swiftic and AppMakr, a total of 3m apps have been created with their tools alone. This can only mean that a significant number of all apps never make it into the major app stores.
Mobile Roadie – The Enterprise App Builder
As one of the bigger players Mobile Roadie proudly showcases their clients: Disney, TED.org and Universal have apps made on their platform.
Given the price point ranges from $149 (CORE) to a hefty $799 per month (PRO) this company clearly has its focus on larger companies. We particularly liked their design options which feature great templates and give you plenty of options to tweak them.
They have a couple of nice community features such as chats and a fan wall that can be particularly useful for artists and bands. Musicians will also like the smooth integration of its music player.
There are also some very advanced features such as geo-targeting for your content. Because of its wide feature range getting the hang of this app builder will take more time than most of the others..
We like: Their templates are very elegant and they offer plenty of options to tweak the designs. All in all their features are extremely advanced.
Where they should improve: pricing of course as it’s not affordable for smaller businesses. It also took us quite some time to get to grips with the editor – the UI could be more intuitive.
Free Trial: www.mobileroadie.com
AppMachine – The High Potential
This name seems to have a deeper meaning. AppMachine automates as many tedious processes as possible. Just give them your website’s URL and they will import everything they deem useful for your app. Twitter, Facebook, RSS and even images can be imported if you wish. Quite unique and pretty useful!
The editor of this Dutch company is visually quite impressive but at the same time not overwhelming. We like their idea of using Lego building blocks. It’s one of the best app creators we’ve seen and although not all of the user interface was intuitive right from the start, we think that they have the potential to be one of the top players in this space.
Currently they offer two plans: Plus for $49 and Pro for $69 per month.
What we liked: powerful editor, a comprehensive building block selection
What they should improve: they should make the user interface a little bit more logic and faster
Mobincube – Apps for Everyone
In contrast to Mobile Roadie, Mobincube positions itself as the website builder for everyone. Everyone can and should be able to build an app and also make some money using the Admob platform. Before you make money though you’ll have to spend some but don’t worry because Mobincube is very affordable: while they offer a free plan, their cheapest ad-free plan is priced at $9.99. Surprisingly, all of their plans allow you to ‘go native’, i.e. to upload your creation to one or all of the major app stores.
Update 3 June 2015: You can now add HTML modules into your app. Examples would be:
User account registration screens, embedded html5 games, advanced forms, access to different branches of the app depending on certain inputs (time, language, region, type of device, etc.) and animations.
What we liked: very competitive prices and plenty of templates to choose from. Also, some of the features seem quite innovative.
What they should improve: technical hiccups need to be taken care of, the templates can be a bit restrictive.
Free Plan: www.mobincube.com
MobAppCreator – New Kid on the Block
This relatively new company calls Argentina home and has its focus on native apps. They claim to have almost 41,000,000 app views and rising, but apart from that, they’re a little mysterious, without even an ‘About Us’ or Company Profile on their site.
With MobAppCreator, users don’t have as many templates available to them as other builders, yet the editor itself is very user-friendly, with different modules explained clearly and without too much technical jargon. It’s a nice touch having a pull-out iPhone on the side that keeps an updated, clickable representation of your app which is refreshed with each new change. We did find some issues in the layout design once we started to change some of the module elements, though, and had to begin again just to reset it.
You have fourteen days to trial the service, with full functionality, but then the cheapest option starts at $32.50 per month. This isn’t too dissimilar to some of the other app building software on the market, as you’ll see below, but perhaps they could offer a few more templates for that price.
What we liked: the editor is relatively easy to use, they have their own online store module available for the South American market.
What they should improve: there could be a wider range of template designs, perhaps offer a free version that isn’t time limited but offers fewer options.
Free Trial: www.mobappcreator.com
Further App Builders that we haven’t tested
Wix App Builder
You may already know Wix as a website builder. They now also offer an app maker that lets you convert your existing Wix website into an app. What’s great is that they sync it with your website automatically. It allows you to create an Android and iOS app. Note that in-app purchases for digital goods and services are not currently available on iOS.
Try it here: wix.com/app-builder
Although the featured templates on this website don’t look too exciting, IBuildApp has been used more than a million times. Basic ($9.99 per month), Business ($39) and Enterprise/Agency ($99) are their pricing tiers. Free Trial: http://ibuildapp.com
Their well-designed website doesn’t reveal a lot about the company other than 30,000 businesses have used the software in one way or the other. You can choose between the free plan and a Premium plan ($49 per month). Free Trial: http://buildfire.com
If you don’t mind technical lingo or even embrace it, the “industry’s leading cloud-based rapid app development environment for building mobile apps” might be your candidate of choice. It’s more of a technical infrastructure for apps than an app maker for end users. Free Trial: http://appery.io
Creating games is pretty much the ultimate challenge for programmers. For a mere $299 per year the Texan company provides a building block system for iOS and Android game creation. Free Trial: http://gamesalad.com
Can I make an app and sell it?
Yes – in fact app makers encourage it through their white label or reseller programs. They usually offer special deals when you create more than 3 apps with them, and they even remove all their branding (logo, brand name etc…). That way you can make it look like you created the whole app making platform with your own skills. You can even give your clients a login so they can edit the app themselves.
If you want more info about reseller programs or how to start your app reseller business, we have a dedicated blog post on the topic here.
What if my app idea is too complex for an app builder?
The app builders we list here are the most advanced ones we were able to find on the market. However, they do have their limitations. Hence they may not be the ideal solution for your most ambitious app ideas (e.g. larger social media apps or multilingual projects). SiberianCMS is a bit more flexible than the rest of the pack as you can download the source code and host it yourself. This might be worth a try.
If that’s not an option there are basically two ways to proceed: learn app development yourself or hire an app developer. To learn iOS or Android development, you could check out Udemy, where there are numerous app development courses available.
If you are short on time and want to hire an app developer who is able to start working on your app idea immediately, you can try a platform like Upwork to find a coder with the right skills. Make sure you compare several offers and check out the applicant’s ratings carefully.
To sum up
It’s true that there are absolutely no programming skills required to build an app, however, if you actually want to have a chance of it being published in one of the App Stores you’ll need at least some basic image editing skills.
High-quality visual components are key to creating an app that people will enjoy using. In addition, you really need to know how to provide a valuable app – an exact copy of your website usually doesn’t cut it. You need to offer app-specific functions or content.
As mentioned before, we think that there is a lot more to come in terms of functionality. Let us know what you think!
Have you tried any of them yourself? Which one do you like the most?
11 Nov 2021: Apps-Builder and AppMakr removed (now part of AppyPie), Wix App Builder added.
19 Nov 2019: Goodbarber section updated.
02 Nov 2018: Paragraph on courses and hiring added.
15 Oct 2018: Siberian now offers in-app purchases.
06 Feb 2018: Information for PWA’s added.
15 Aug 2017: Added new Goodbarber review video and pricing updates.
Image credit: DigiClack – Fotolia