App, app and away: Building your own and a Life in maker culture

Posted on October 28, 2013



Ever wanted to build your own mobile app, but wondered how to take the first step? Well, thanks to a growing number of online and mobile apps you don’t have to spend thousands or outsource to an agency to dip your toe in the water. There are a number of online development sites, tutorials and guides to help you try out your app ideas first for free.

I went to a mobile programming workshop at Newcastle’s Centre For Life last week and it was a great way to gain some insight into developing a first app. This was part of a series of ‘make and hack’ workshops that have followed the Maker Faire 2013 event earlier this year. Maker culture is interesting because it encourages everyone to have a go at creating their own software or hardware, and it encompasses everything from coding to 3D printing or synthetic biology.

Web apps
The first thing to say about mobile programming is there are lots of online development websites where you can create an account and start building HTML5 apps, that are compatible with most smartphones. Appshed was the site we used to put together our first app. You can register for free, test your app and publish it with little or no hassle.

Extra features, such as making money from your app, registering it with the app store and keeping it up to date, are priced depending on which mobile platform you are developing it for (iOS, Android, Windows 8 or Blackberry).

There is a separate price for an educational licence, so anyone interested in creating an app development module for their students can benefit from lower costs.

Appy Pie

Appshed is fairly intuitive and allows you to insert videos from Youtube, web links, maps, images, galleries, audio and a host of other content. You can build up menus and sub-menus and create quite a slick experience in a short time. Its real power is probably in allowing people to play around with design and there is no knowledge of programming required to create your app, which makes it really accessible.

There are a lot of others out there and just a few of those include:

If you are not sure which are the best – and there are quite a few – take a look at Business News Daily’s ’10 Best App Makers of 2013′ for some guidance. Creative Bloq’s ‘36 great app tutorials‘ also offers excellent insights into what’s out there to get you coding and the fine details of design.

Appery cloud sells itself as a ‘cloud-based rapid development environment’. Yes, it’s an online app builder, but it distinguishes itself by offering an array of API plug-ins. APIs are application programming interfaces and they allow your app to interact with other websites and net-based software, for example Twitter, Facebook or Google Maps. also allows you to create and edit your own app database and to collaborate and share your mobile project with developers and users in real time. It is a much more powerful tool than ‘quickie’ app services like Appshed, but it does require a lot more expertise.

Android development
If you really want to get involved with the nuts and bolts of programming then take a look at this in-depth online tutorial for Android development. It starts from scratch and then guides you through modules including content sharing, animation, user experience and security, plus how to register with Google Play and start making money from your app.

Smartphone builder
For anyone who wants to try their hand at creating an app with professional features on their smartphone, then try AppMachine. Anyone can build in activities, social media, videos, music, contact information, analytics and more. Advanced features include an online store and custom coding to enhance the look and performance. AppMachine is available on iTunes and Google Play.