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Don't have the budget or an IT department to build a mobile app for you? AppInstitute's App Builder is a SaaS solution that requires no programming.

Mobile device application-building solutions can often seem like they're most readily tailored to medium- or large-sized businesses. However, the ubiquity of mobile devices and their use is putting pressure on even the smallest businesses to find a way to use this platform as a way of not simply generating buzz, but actually doing business. Trouble is, what do you do if you're an entrepreneurial type who's got a mere handful or less of total staff and who's never written a line of code? Well, you turn to someone like AppInstitute.

AppInstitute's App Builder is a cloud-based, do-it-yourself mobile app solution offered on a Software as a Service (SaaS) basis. Aimed at SMBs and usable by even the smallest enterprises, it uses drag-and-drop technology, standard templates for various business types, and a library of modularized functions to build Android and iOS apps without any coding at all.

Easier Than Ikea

Using App Builder is pretty simple. Assuming you don't have the 70 seconds it takes to review AppInstitute's YouTube video on the topic, here's a rundown.

After establishing an account with the company, you log in to the App Builder platform to access the App Maker Wizard. You enter your business Facebook page or website URL, from which App Maker will automatically draw contact information, business hours, online photographs, and color schemes already in use there. The wizard then suggests a business-type template from its library, or you can override this selection and pick your own.

AppInstitute's online library includes custom templates designed specifically for many service-related enterprises, including hair and beauty salons, restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, gyms and fitness centers, nightclubs, nurseries, golf courses, radio stations, and nurseries. It also provides templates customized for potentially self-employed types such as musicians, lawyers, service tradespeople, driving instructors, and real-estate agents. In addition, it has templates for car dealers and other retail outlets, medical centers, and even churches. (Can't get too many of those wedding gigs unless they know you're out there, right?)

After you've chosen a template, the wizard presents four color schemes to use and manually edit, taken from your other online venues if you entered any. If you don't have any, you can pick some from a color wheel. Choose, crop, or resize images the wizard has taken from your other online presences for inclusion in your new mobile app, or upload some new ones. Design and upload your splash screen, add tabs and functions (guided by examples), edit and alter tabs if needed, and choose themes, navigation style, and settings. Select or design an app icon (of up to 1024x1024 pixels) and upload it. Using menu selections and your mouse, tweak features included in your business-type template to tailor it to your personal enterprise. Then enter your mobile phone number and preview the app on your own smartphone. If you're happy with it, AppInstitute gives you step-by-step instructions and links to publish your app to an Apple Store account or Google Play. And guess what: you didn't code a thing.

Once your app is live, you can also create a promotional landing page for your app, link your app to social media posts promoting the app, and establish optional Quick Response (QR) codes. Smartphones can scan QR codes to take users directly to a relevant app store depending on what device is in use.

Put It on My Tab

But maybe you need some other functionality in this app. You can select from an array of built-in modules, customer-accessible by tabs, that includes social media integration, product shopping, accepting online payments, messaging, push notifications, content showcases, location-based services, events calendars with booking options, loyalty programs, coupons, capturing customer information requests, and geo-marketing. For example, if you include the Message Centre tab, you can answer questions and use instant messaging to have conversations directly with individual customers.

Geo-marketing offers the possibility of sending messages to users entering or leaving a particular location or area, such as notifying passersby with mobile devices that there's a sale or special going on.

AppInstitute apps also support rich media—for example, videos, streamed audio, image galleries, and blog connections.

Trials of App Builder are available for free just by signing up with AppInstitute. However, if you decide you like what you see, AppInstitute offers three plans for long-term use of App Builder, with varying levels of services and support for a monthly fee billed annually. The basic AppBuilder plan ($28) provides iPhone and Android app building, Google Analytics integration, reporting, email, and live-chat support. The AppBuilder Pro plan ($40) adds advanced app building for iPads and tablets that includes push notifications, secure messaging, geofencing, and customer relationship management (CRM) features. The AppSmart plan ($96) offers audience segmentation, access to APIs, integration support, priority support, one-on-one training, and a $1,179 enterprise setup service. The Reseller plan (from $120) adds selling support and sales tools for your app, access to a special White Label app-builder platform, a 90-day success plan, brand control, and a dedicated account manager.

The AppBuilder Pro and higher plans include application analytics services, such as download dates, user locations, platforms used, forms submissions, and order reports. They also include CRM features that let you log all user actions under their account, store contact information for each customer, view loyalty and financial information for each customer, and message individual customers via a messaging center.

In addition, AppInstitute can optionally host your apps, and even build your apps for you, for a fee. AppInstitute also allows you to take advantage of its arrangements with business partners, such as online booking capabilities for your app via Appointedd. AppInstitute is collaborating with other partners as well, for example, a mobile-marketing training program via Santander UK.

Getting Pushy About It

Using push messages is starting to become an art form, and App Builder gives you more choices for your palette. There are several types of push messaging available for apps under the premium and pro subscriptions.

Simple push messages simply make an announcement, like "We're having a sale!" Scheduled or recurring push messages can tout specific events, or geofence messages let you create and send messages to users entering or leaving a particular location. Targeted push messages (only available with the professional or reseller plans) reach users you have grouped by tags based on their app behavior or preferences ("Hey, Coffee Lover!").

No Company Too Big or Too Small

A SaaS solution like AppInstitute's AppBuilder shows that no matter how small your business might be, getting in on application building for mobile devices is within anyone's reach.

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. You can reach him at ghrist@comcast.net.

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