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How to make an app for your small business

Robert Strohmeyer | Sept. 5, 2013
Creating your own custom apps has never been easier than it is today but getting started can be daunting for a would-be coder.

Creating your own custom apps has never been easier than it is today. Thanks to an abundance of smart frameworks for Web, desktop, and mobile development, anyone with the right mindset, focus, and determination can build cool, data-driven apps for almost any platform. But getting started can be daunting for a would-be coder. In this article, we'll explore how to get started in app development.

First, a few caveats: Programming isn't for everyone. Although it's now relatively easy to get started, it's unrealistic to expect to produce world-class, professional-quality apps right out of the gate. So set your ambitions accordingly, and expect to spend a few months learning a language and framework before producing anything remotely useful.

And be prepared for the fact that your first apps aren't likely to be quite as sophisticated, efficient, and polished as those created by experienced developers. But with some planning and dedication, you can create very useful apps for yourself, your business, and your customers. As we'll discuss further below, development is an iterative process, and you'll have ample opportunity to refine and improve your apps as you go along.

What to expect when you're expecting to code
Software development is all about process, and the process of learning to code and creating an app looks like this:

1. Choose a language and framework.

2. Get some training.

3. Plan your app.

4. Make an MVP (minimum viable product).

5. Iterate!

Simple, right? Well, as simple as it can be, anyway. Let's move on to Step 1.

Pick a programming language
Possibly the most baffling decision a new coder can make is the selection of a programming language and accompanying framework. Every language has its advantages and disadvantages, and—to make matters more confusing—old concepts about the proper role of a given language are breaking down, so it's no longer all that easy to pigeonhole a language into a narrow purpose. For example, JavaScript, typically known as a front-end language for browser-side effects, is now widely used on the back end.

Fully exploring the range of languages and frameworks is an undertaking that falls outside the scope of this article, but here's a quick rundown of some good options:

  • JavaScript — Essential scripting language for front-end/UI development, but also growing in popularity as a back-end language
  • Python — Versatile language for desktop and Web apps that's also great for scripting
  • PHP — Popular server-side language for Web apps, essential for tinkering in blog platforms like WordPress
  • Ruby —Easy-to-learn language commonly used for Web apps
  • Java —Versatile language commonly used for Android apps
  • Objective-C — General-purpose language based on C, the core language for iOS apps

It's worth pointing out that the commonly accepted or intended uses for a given language are by no means written in stone. Thanks to a growing body of available multi-platform frameworks, you can build iPhone or Android mobile apps from code written in just about any popular language. A good example is PhoneGap, which compiles your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript into native apps for iOS, Android, or Windows Phone.


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