When delivering content digitally, there are a wealth of options. You can  

  • develop and code the app in-house using native tools and programming languages for your chosen app marketplaces
  • use an outside developer that specializes in app development
  • take advantage of “Build Your Own App” WYSIWYG software that don’t require coding skills to use.  

The up-front costs of these options vary greatly, with estimates on external developers ranging from a few thousand dollars into the mid-six figures, depending on the developer’s rate and the size and complexity of the app. Depending on your in-house capabilities and tools, you can also take on the design and programming yourself, either developing using the native OS or via a framework that leverages other sources, such as web codebases or Adobe DPS files.  

Finding an External Developer  

Should you choose to hire an external developer to create your app, there is an abundance of advice and information available about selecting the right vendor. The key points boil down to the following:  

  • Opt for experience. Though inexperienced app developers are often cheaper, the more experienced the developer, the higher quality the product is likely to be.
  • Do your homework. Check out a developer’s Web site, portfolio, and any apps they have currently deployed in the various markets. If you don’t like what you see, you’re not likely to be satisfied with your app.
  • Get plenty of bids. Give yourself several options to choose from, and don’t simply opt for the lowest bidder. Though the up-front costs may be lower, the product quality is likely to be as well. 

Other things to keep in mind when hiring an external vendor are its stability and time in business. If you need to update the app in a year will the vendor still be around to help? Also, when you factor in tools, training, opportunity costs, and staff hours you’d need to develop the app in-house, does the vendor’s pricing compare?  

Frameworks that Leverage Web Technologies 

Another option for mobile app development is to leverage frameworks that allow apps programmed using standard web technologies, such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, to function on a mobile device as though they were coded using the native platform of the device. These frameworks are an excellent option in some cases, as they let developers with Web coding experience, rather than native mobile OS programming expertise, create sophisticated apps using a range of inexpensive to free and open-source software tools.  

One such option is PhoneGap, a solution that can be used to take an existing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code base and transform it into an app that can be deployed for any of the major mobile platforms. Some limitations exist because it is free and open-source. PhoneGap support exists primarily in the form of web forums and developer groups on Twitter and Facebook,  and some common web technologies, like PHP, are not supported. Despite these issues, PhoneGap is likely one of the best and most cost-effective options for developing mobile apps for those with existing Web development experience.  

Other popular tools, such as Titanium Mobile from Appcelerator and Sencha Touch, operate on a free-to-download system, with paid support in the case of Sencha Touch and subscription-based features and support from Appcelerator.  

Another alternative is to use software or services such as Woodwing and Rovingbird that convert Adobe-native files—for example, PDFs or InDesign formats—into iOS or Android mobile apps. This method has the most in common with, and is perhaps best suited to, graphically intensive but minimally interactive apps, such as digital editions of magazines and electronic newsletters.

Build Your Own or Easy App Makers 

Perhaps the simplest solution, and less costly than many others, is to employ one of the many Build Your Own App solutions that have been released recently. These options are typically browser-based and require no coding knowledge whatsoever. Some, such as SeattleClouds, offer subscriptions ranging from less than $100 to $600 for the full enterprise solution. Other providers charge a one-time fee of a few hundred dollars.  

For speed and simplicity Build Your Own App solutions can’t be beat, with some providers bragging that their solution is as fast and easy as creating a blog post. However, there are significant limitations to these companies’ offerings. Build Your Own Apps are geared largely toward content producers that will have a high volume of updating content and lean heavily toward RSS-scentric features, and are not necessarily geared toward revenue generation (some only provide support for free apps, and others do not provide support for in-app purchases). In addition, the ready-made nature of these solutions doesn’t lend itself well to innovative apps that offer users a rich feature set.  

Conclusions

With the variety of options available for producing an app, it is particularly important to identify your needs and what type of content you will be delivering before selecting a method. For highly complex and feature-rich apps, choosing an external developer or developing internally (where the expertise is available) is ideal. For delivering existing Web-based content, choosing a tool like PhoneGap that converts web code into the native mobile format is the most cost-effective option.

Though "Build-Your-Own App" solutions can be relatively inexpensive, they are suitable primarily for those who wish to get a large volume of content out quickly and cheaply without offering any unique or complex features.   

This article is excerpted from a Monarch Media, Inc., Business White Paper “Mobile App Development: Methods, Marketplaces, and Monetization.”