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TECHNOLOGY

Apple to Launch App Tools for Non-Geeks

If Apple lives up to its promise, you'll be able to build apps yourself--no coding required.

Let's face it. Most of us aren't terribly technical–present company included. I may know my way around a computer and an iPhone, but coding? I've met people who can code better with one hand than I can with two.

Good thing one need not hold a degree in computer science to do some pretty cool and "techie" things. The power of user-friendly tools to create websites, original content, and apps is only growing. And Apple is about to launch a tool that may only increase it.

Let's talk about apps.

App Evolution

Early app development required at least some degree of technical sophistication. While useful, the average Joe Six-Pack could not effectively use software development kits (SDKs) provided by Apple and Google. In 2010 when I launched an app for my third book, The New Small, I had plenty of help. (I worked with Marisa Smith of The Whole Brain Group.) In the words of William Hurley, co-founder of mobile development company Chaotic Moon:

SDKs have come a long way in general. For example in the early days of app development, there was no SDK for the iPhone. Apple simply said that "no software developer kit is required for the iPhone." As a developer, you were limited to developing Web applications. The lack of an SDK not only made it hard to develop for the iPhone, it also severely limited what could be done in general; leaving many to say that the iPhone would never be a killer device. Apple however soon saw the error of its ways and started to make SDKs that gave the company a tremendous market advantage in the app game.

It should be no surprise that Apple is continuing to push the envelope here. According to recent reports, it's working on "a new digital content authoring tool [that] could make it simple for people without a background in programming to build their own iOS applications for the iPhone and iPad."

For the "non-techie" small business owner, this could be huge. Strike the app development costs from the budget!

It turns out that Google has already beaten Apple to the punch here by releasing a similar "non-developer" toolkit. Google App Inventor (originally released in 2010 and now maintained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) "allows anyone, including people unfamiliar with computer programming, to create software applications for the Android operating system (OS)."

Surprising? Hardly. The search giant has for years been diversifying its platform to include different planks: Think YouTube, Blogger, Gmail, Android, etc.

Parallels to Previous Times

There are a few interesting parallels here. First, back in the mid-1990s, one essentially needed to be a programmer to create reports and databases. Tools like Microsoft Access changed all that with more visually oriented programs that obviated the need to properly code. The notion of WYSIWYG allowed many people to do things previously not possible without months of studying.

Ten years ago, website design was much more arduous and not for the faint of heart. That has changed. For years, robust content management systems like WordPress allow non-Web designers to create relatively inexpensive, powerful, and visually compelling websites.

And a similar shift is taking place in the app world. While not quite the same as Web design (yet), there are already apps and services that let you create your own apps (metaapps, if you will). Case in point: AppCooker claims on its website that it lets you create you own iOS app "whether you are a pro or an amateur."

Ultimately, whether Apple's DIY app tools will have similar impacts to database development and Web design is anyone's guess. Perhaps Apple will democratize and facilitate app development for the masses. It might take a few tries to get it right, but Apple's track record these days is hard to bet against.

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Last updated: Apr 18, 2012

PHIL SIMON | Columnist | Author and tech consultant

Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of six management books, including The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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