Want a piece of the mobile app pie, but don't know where to begin? We're here to help. Here’s how to break into the world of apps…
If you’ve been following our monthly roundups of the best new apps out there, your phone is no doubt absolutely brimming with apps by now, and you probably have a set few that you use multiple times a day. But have you ever wanted to know how apps get made? And, more importantly, if it’s something you’d be able to do yourself?
Keen to find out where to start when it comes to developing a mobile app, what you need to know, and what you need to keep in mind? We’ve got the answers, courtesy of Kevin Gillard, co-founder of app-making studio Really Quite Something…
Getting your hands dirty
Really Quite Something is the brainchild of Kevin and his co-founder Toby Uffindell-Phillips. Together, they make websites and apps professionally for a raft of different clients – including British podcasting royalty Adam Buxton, among many others – so they know their stuff when it comes to digital development.
“Toby started making apps about eight years ago, and I got involved shortly after that,” Kevin says. “It’s a natural progression for a web developer to move into app development, and if you want to learn new skills then app development is an obvious step.”
But what if you’re not already web developer? What if you want to get in at the ground floor? Kevin’s got some sound advice which, interestingly, doesn’t require any coding knowledge from the off:
“Firstly, just have a go,” he says. If that sounds daunting, don’t panic: Kevin and Toby use the ‘Ionic’ framework to make their apps, which is a user-friendly online tool that lets people make ‘hybrid’ apps that work on both iOS and Android – all from the same code. That’s a lot easier than in the early days of apps, when you’d need to build separate versions for each mobile operating system. And, crucially, Ionic boasts a simple drag-and-drop interface to help newbies get going:
“You can easily install the Ionic starter app and do some experimentation; there’s a really quick startup guide on the Ionic site and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can get a simple app running on your phone.”
“Thankfully there are lots of tutorials out there; if you get stuck, someone else has probably been there before, so head to Stackexchange – the web’s biggest developer community – to find the answer. The learning curve is steep,” he says, “but worth it.”
All set to knuckle down? “Everyone has their own preferred way of learning,” Kevin explains, “but I like to read books, as it lets me learn while I’m away from my desk. E-learning has improved massively though, and there are loads of great (usually paid), resources out there. Both Toby and I started our Angular development [one of the programming technologies that the Ionic platform suports] on codeschool.com, for instance, which is now called Pluralsight.
The changing face of app development
With hybrid tools like Ionic, the way people make apps – and the things they’re capable of doing – are changing rapidly. But what does that mean for the people behind the tech?
“It feels like everything has changed several times over!” Kevin says of the last few years. “When we moved to hybrid app development, and started using Ionic, it was still in Beta, and now it’s on version 4. But there are so many technologies and choices when it comes to how to build apps – we’re pretty happy with the route the Ionic platform has taken so we’ll stick with it, but we also have an eye on other alternatives.”
“Technologies, libraries and frameworks often become unsupported and abandoned over time though,” he explains, “which can be a big problem. What works one day becomes obsolete pretty quickly, so you need to consider how you’re going to support any app you might build in both the short term and the long term.
“It’ll be interesting to see if one technology dominates the space in the coming years. For example, all the current talk is about PWAs (Progressive Web Apps), which behave like normal apps but without the need to install them via an app store, lowering the barrier to entry. That’s the direction everyone is expecting things to go, but it’s a fast-changing world.”
Ready to get learning, coding, and making? Kevin’s got one last bit of advice for when it comes to actually making your dream app: “The problem we’ve had in the past is finding a client with a genuine need for an app to be built,” he says. “So try to identify an app that not only has a useful purpose, but which needs to be an app rather than a website.”
You can follow the guys over at Really Quite Something on Twitter here.
Want to get into game making? Check out our talk with the team at Game Maker Studio about how it’s never been easier to make the next Super Mario.