The online "wizards" for creating native mobile apps are well known, sites like iBuildApp, AppMakr and many others have existed for many years. They are a solution for those who are not able to program and require a simple native app.
Let's try iBuildApp.com, because it is the most famous site of this type. Searching at Google, i didn't found any review of the site. Well, I'll do it myself :-)
iBuildApp promises to generate native applications for iPhone, iPad, Android and HTML5 for free, and without programming skills at all.
As soon as we login in the site, they show us an assistant to do our first app. To do this, we need to choose among several templates, like "Small Business", "Musicians", "Business", "E-book" and some others. They're all basically "presets" that include graphics and certain functions, but we can completely change later. We select the type "Custom App".
Then we enterin the app creation wizard. I give the name of the app "barbecue" :-), and select that I am creating an app for iOS (iPhone) and Android. Then select the background image and logo, which will be seen in the home screen of the app. The template "custom app" allows you to have a menu with 6 icons. Now i will define the function of each menu item.
The list of things you can put in each menu (see image) includes: HTML, audio stream, Google Map, contacts, video stream, Google Calendar, RSS, gallery, phone call, video list, ebook, send mail, events, Twitter, web browsing, news, Facebook and E-commerce.
Most of them are pretty obvious, I will test 7 which may have some crumb: E-commerce, ebook, events, Google Map, contacts, audio stream and video list
E-Commerce: Allows you to upload products, each product consists of ID, Name, Price and Photo. Items are shown on a list in which each element has the photo thumbnail, name, price, and two buttons "info" and "add to cart". In the wizard you can see how they work.
E-Book: Allows you to create a book, you have to write the content of each page in a rich-media TinyMCE like editor.
Events: We take a list of events, which may come from an RSS feed or you can write them manually. Each event are composed of Date, Name and Description.
Google Map: A map where you can place markers. Each marker has name, longitude, latitude, and URL details.
Contact: A page for you to put some contact information. Name, Phone, Address, Email and URL. No relation with the iPhone address book. Each item is clickable (the phone to dialer, the Google Maps addresses, etc...)
Audio Stream: Lets to make a list of audio streams based URLs (not files are uploaded, obviously).
Video List: Allows you to upload videos to the application, displayed in a list.
Once defined the functions of the application, we proceed to finish it. Then we can define the splash screen (home screen), and the data for publication in the Appstore: name, category, description, keywords, web of the app and icon.
Now we enter in the posting screen. As we selected to make the app for iPhone and Android, there are two different screens for publication. On the iPhone one, you can choose to publish under our iPhone developer account, for which we need to generate certificates. But if we have no iPhone developer account, they make our developer account on our behalf for $199 + $99 for annual Apple charges, and they published it for us.
The publication for Android is free. We just have to sign it, and if the app has Google Maps, write our Maps API Key (the publishing wizard does it all).
Once published, the app does not goes directly to Appstore or the Android Market, it goes to a section of your account on iBuildApp called "My Applications". From there you can publish it on Appstore or the Android Market, or download the binaries for your personal use.
Now I'll check the Android version of the app I created. I get the apk file, and I load it on my Nexus One with Android 2.3.3.
The first impression is good, looks like it looked in the wizard. I try the menu options: The e-book is as planned, listing pages - content. We test the e-commerce now, and when we select the option in the menu, the app freezes. The same happens if I go to the events option. The Google Map does not work. Total, only works the e-book, all other options hang the app, or not open.
Seeing the disaster of the Android app version, I'll try now the iPhone version. After the usual mess with certificates, I complete it with an ad-hoc certificate (I will not publish this test in the Appstore obviously). But where is my "ipa"? It takes a while, but ends up appearing in "My Applications".
I downloaded it and installed on my iPhone 4 with iOS 4.3.3. Like in the Android version, the ebook option works well. Let's try the e-commerce option, and opens right, but the product we configured is not in the list. The events section seems to be going well, the Google Map shows right but there's no description in the marks view. Contact goes well, and in Video List the list is empty (i had added a video record, but not uploaded the file).
Creating an app with iBuildApp only applies if you need an app that can be done with the "presets" they have, and there is no guarantee that it will run properly. Yet we must acknowledge that the online wizard is very well designed. What's the business of iBuildApp if everything is free (except the publication in Appstore)? It's a hook to make more complex apps. It's like Wordpress or Joomla CMS type website, everyone without programming skills can make a website with a CMS, but they have their limitations, like iBuildApp, we could call it a "mobile online CMS"