Buyer's Guideby Craig Borowski,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 21, 2018
Research has conclusively shown that just because you build an application doesn’t mean your customers or your employees are actually going to use it.
The mantra in digital business these days is “fail fast.” So, if you choose to build an app, you need to get it out there in the world ASAP. App development software makes development easy, so you can get your app to the sink/swim phase and hopefully give it a few nudges to help it swim.
We’ll cover the following basics about app development software so you can make an informed purchase. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Reviewers' Choice Products
Our Reviewers’ Choice list shows the five highest user-rated software solutions for App Development when adjusted for total number of reviews and recency of reviews.
If a software solution has more reviews, and more recent reviews, we value those ratings more highly than a product with fewer, older reviews. This is because is it much harder to get 100 five-star reviews than it is to get 10.
We also know that software vendors continually tweak and update their product, so we believe that more recent reviews tend to be more accurate.
To determine which products made the final cut, we looked at how users rated each solution's:
- Overall performance,
- Ease of use, and
- Customer support
A solution can make the Reviewers' Choice top five in all three categories, or just one or two. All software solutions in the Reviewers' Choice have at least 10 reviews from real software users. The final products are listed in alphabetical order from left to right.
For more details on how we selected our Reviewers' Choice, read the full methodology.
What is App Development Software?
App development software has existed for decades. Software environments like .NET allow for interoperability of programming languages across diverse OS ecosystems and application stacks, while integrated development environments (IDEs) speed the work of software development by providing a single graphical user interface (GUI) for various development tasks: editing code, compiling code, deploying applications etc. Finally, bug tracking software allows developers to manage and resolve issues with apps.
Applications can be deployed on desktops, mobile devices or via web browser. Many app development platforms facilitate the development of all three types of apps, but some cater exclusively to one or another. You’ll want to make sure the products you evaluate support your type of app development.
The term “app development software” is somewhat vague. In fact, businesses often use an app development platform, which is a whole suite of interrelated tools for creating apps. You can buy some of these tools separately, but smaller businesses will typically settle on just a single vendor for the platform.
App development platforms cover all the phases of development: design, coding, backend integrations, usability/bug testing, delivery (e.g., to online app marketplaces/storefronts) and post-deployment analytics. Additionally, mobile app development platforms support the delivery of app upgrades as well as paid licensing models for apps.
App analytics platforms, while central to the mobile app development process, are a healthy market unto themselves. That said, analytical capabilities are found in many app development platforms, and these should be robust enough for many standard use cases. Trickier use cases involve considerations such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which present beastly data integration issues.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the most important features app development software offers in these areas.
Common Functionality of App Development Software
The follow functions can be found in app development platforms and tools:
|Integrated development environment (IDE)||A graphical user interface for source code editing, compiling, and debugging.|
|Code-free development||Especially useful for mobile app designers; features drag-and-drop interfaces, wizards and other visual interfaces for app development that allow non-technical users to build apps without writing code.|
|Prebuilt, templated apps||Typically, mobile app development software features templates for common app use cases (banking, field service, employee facing etc.)|
|Hardware compatibility testing||Allows you to preview how the app will display on multiple device types and operating systems, either via software simulation or pushing the app preview to actual hardware devices.|
|API||Mobile app development platforms sport RESTful APIs that allow developers to integrate the functionality of the platform with back-end services and databases.|
|Data synchronization||App development software enables the synchronization of data created by apps when they’re offline with online services.|
|Mobile app analytics||Gathers data about how users are engaging with the app after it’s deployed to spot bugs and opportunities for improvement.|
Benefits of App Development Software
App development software offers a number of benefits, including:
- Faster development time. This is of course the major reason to invest in an app development platform. Complex apps will still require some custom development work, but by automating or eliminating much of the code-writing process, app development platforms allow businesses to bring apps to storefronts more quickly.
- Backend data integration. Connecting apps with backend services and databases can be tricky, but app development software makes integrations easier by providing user-friendly APIs for this purpose.
- Visual development environment. Without an app development platform, business users with no programming skills can’t build apps. App development platforms feature templates and visual development environments to enable any business user to create apps.
- Hardware compatibility. Typically, app development platforms integrate with native SDKs (software development kits) for iOS, Android etc. This means that developers have access to the hardware features of various smartphone platforms without going through the native SDK. Additionally, the usability testing that app development platforms enable allow developers to spot potential design problems before the app is launched.
- UI/workflow design assistance. The various features that app development platforms offer for automating development enable developers to focus on the user interface and the workflows/user experiences it supports.
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Typically, app development software buyers fall into two categories:
- DevOps buyers. These buyers need to focus on the customizability of the code that app development software generates, since developers will typically need to expand and edit pre-generated code. DevOps buyers should also focus on the backend integration services supported by the app development platform.
- Line of business buyers/“citizen” developers. These buyers should focus on the visual interfaces that app development software offers for app development. They should also examine the number of templated apps that app development vendors offer for common business use cases and industry verticals (entertainment, healthcare, banking etc.).
Market Trends to Understand
Rapid App Development. This technology refers to the coding-free technologies for app development that we’ve discovered throughout this buyer’s guide - visual wizards, prebuilt app templates, drag-and-drop interfaces etc. The goal of platforms specializing in rapid app development is to enable normal business users to design and deploy apps with minimal IT involvement. These platforms are particularly aimed at digital businesses in which marketing departments, customer service departments etc. need to launch apps quickly in response to emerging opportunities.
Integration Platform as a Service. Integration Platform as a Service refers to the emerging market for cloud platforms for data integration, including backend data integration for apps. While many app development platform vendors offer backend data integration services, a separate integration as a service may be required for more complex deployments.
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