Results from a study announced earlier this year indicated that 49% of smartphone and tablet owners are using apps to find local information. So if better communicating with customers would bolster your business, you might consider creating an app for it.
Not only do people love apps, but they're good for business: A well-designed business app can let you push customers promotions and deals (forget about Groupon or other middlemen).
Creating one used to be a big, expensive deal, but those days are long gone. Now there are many development platforms you can use to create a mobile app quickly and cheaply. Here are seven. Know of other good ones? Sound off in the comments.
Tiggzi is a cloud-based HTML5 app builder that generates iOS, Android, and mobile Web apps (soon Windows Phone and BlackBerry, as well). A drag-and-drop platform, Tiggzi provides interactive online tutorials on how to create an app, as well as customer service support and blogs for additional resources, and in these ways is good for nondeveloper types. However, expert coders can also use advanced options and features to create custom apps. You upload your apps on various stores through the Tiggzi platform itself.
Cost: The first app you build on Tiggzi is free. After that it's $15 a month for three projects and $50 a month for unlimited projects.
With a strong community of users in which seasoned developers help newer coders (and vice versa), the Buzztouch platform is designed to let users stay independent if they so choose; the Web-based software lets them host their apps using Buzztouch, their own site, or a cloud storage service such as Dropbox. Developers can use the platform to create simple or complex apps, but some Objective C or Java knowledge helps speed up the application creation process. A healthy ecosystem of third-party sites, podcasts, blogs, and other Buzztouch hosting sites are cropping up, which can be informative for users.
Cost: Free, $9.99, $19.99, or $29.99 a month, depending on how many apps you want to build or what features you need, and if you self-host. Buzztouch does not submit apps to any app stores or markets--you'll need to do that yourself.
Titanium by Appcelerator
Cost: A free version of Titanium can be downloaded at www.appcelerator.com. Additional functionality and support are available in various premium packages.
EachScape is a drag-and-drop platform that nondevelopers can use to build and manage high-quality, custom apps for iOS, Android, and HTML5. EachScape clients include top companies, brands, and agencies including NBC, CBS, E!, Nivea, and Kellogg's. The platform works with a ton of third parties and lets you include things such as video overlay, social sharing, augmented reality, location, ads, and analytics. A full-service solution in that you can also hire the company to build the app for you, EachScape will help you get your app into the app stores as well as let you white label the platform to bring in-house or resell to clients.
Cost: Enterprise versions starts at $2,500 a month, although a cheaper "lite" version will be coming soon.
Anyone can use this simple tool to quickly create a mobile Web app or native app for iOS, Android, or Windows Phone. TheAppBuilder provides templates for various kinds of apps, depending on what kind of business or organization you run. You simply click on the features you'd like your app to include, add content, and integrate social media feeds, and in just a few minutes you can publish a Web app, which is essentially one that runs within browsers, as opposed to being installed on a device. If you want to publish to the app stores, TheAppBuilder can generate the code files you'll need to provide them.
Cost: Free to create and update an HTML5 Web app. To publish to the app stores, it's $499 for the code files, although each app store has its own application fees. If you want to be able to make updates to the content of your app in the stores, it's $29 a month.
No programming or coding skills are required to use App Express, which lets you select modules to build a customizable app in a few minutes and publish it in weeks. Designed with small businesses in mind, App Express helps you build apps that your customers can use to schedule appointments, pay their invoices, get deals from you, and more. Businesses particularly like the in-app messaging that lets them send messages to specific customers or everyone on a list. Users and vendors can also send messages with attachments. For example, a user could attach a photo and annotate or draw on it, so someone like an arborist could receive photos from customers who have circled specific trees or branches.
Corona Labs's Corona SDK lets developers--ranging from programming newbies to seasoned indies to major game studios--create high-quality apps, games, and e-books for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Nook devices. Corona SDK uses the Lua language, which is easy to learn and great for creating interactive graphical content. With an active community of over 150,000 developers worldwide who support one another in forums, Corona Labs also posts an in-depth tutorial each week on the company's site.
Cost: Available as a free and unlimited trial, you pay for a subscription once you're ready to publish your work to an app store. The Corona SDK Indie Subscription is a yearlong license that lets you build for, and publish to, either the Apple App Store or the Google Play store for $199. The Corona SDK Pro Subscription is a yearlong license that lets you publish to all the major app stores for $349.