FRAMINGHAM, 2 MARCH 2011 - Five start-ups unveiled services for building mobile applications and Web services this week at DEMO Spring 2011, bringing application development capabilities to the masses - or, at least, to people who lack traditional programming and mobile development skills.
The start-ups promised less expensive and more convenient ways for businesses and even individuals to create their very own iPhone and Android apps, or to create sites for desktop Web browsers. Let's take a look at what each one has to offer.
MobileNation gave what may have been the most visually striking demonstration among the five vendors we'll talk about in this article, but it's not necessarily the best tool for building apps. CEO Tod Pedler and his team actually built a whole application in front of the audience's eyes, using drag-and-drop tools to build a simple app for golf enthusiasts that offered locations of local golf courses pinned on top of a Google (GOOG) Maps widget, along with an RSS feed of PGA Tour news.
"MobileNation allows anyone to build apps for Android and iPhone. Anyone - you, me, even my mom," Pedler said. "MobileNation is all browser-based. We don't use any plug-in technology. Everything is point-and-click, drag-and-drop. There is no programming required."
It took three or four minutes to build the app, which then could be located by users with a smartphone's barcode scanner. The limitation is that the app is not published on the iPhone App Store or Android Market. Instead, the user downloads the app through the phone's Web browser and runs the app in the browser itself.
When I tried downloading the golf app with my Motorola (MOT) Droid, it took well over a minute to load the first time, and 20 or 30 seconds the second time, much longer than it takes to start up a normal Android app. But it was pretty amazing to watch someone build an app on-stage and then be able to download it myself before the presentation was even over.
The basic MobileNation service is free, but the company will release an enterprise version in June.
This vendor's "Small Business iPhone and Android Apps" service helps customers build apps in 20 minutes and manage them for $40 a month. It also gives businesses the ability to publish those apps to the official iPhone and Android app stores.
"Our vision is to take every small business in this country mobile," said founder Andrew Gazdecki.
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