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Mon, Nov 12 2012 12:13:12 UTC

If you produce content, you should have a mobile app

The old saying used to be that if you produce content, you need a web presence. This was one of the large moves of the beginning of this century, with artists and designers starting to look at the web to publish their works cheaply and easily. Now, if you produce content, especially digital art, then you would be crazy not to have a web site, or at least some type of web presence. But for the past couple of years, it's become clear that the mobile space is where innovation is going, from smartphones to tablets. So is the saying still applicable now? I believe it is, and because of several reasons, if you produce content, you may want to look at building your own mobile app.

The promise of the mobile web is that whatever your web presence is, it should be just as usable on a mobile platform. Unfortunately, that just isn't the case quite yet. HTML5 is starting to change this in a big way, but for now, even web sites designed for mobiles can be harder to use than their desktop versions. Also, because of the App Store and Android Marketplace, people have become used to getting apps for everything they do on their phones, for good or for bad. Ideally, you shouldn't need to rely on having a dedicated app, especially if you just want to reach new markets for your content. But the good news is that there are a lot of services that have appeared and now make it really easy to make such apps.

One service which offers people with no coding experience a way to make mobile apps is called Andromo, and is the one I used to make the Official TideArt App, without touching a line of code. This is just one of many such services however, and they all work in the same exact way. Basically, as an artist, designer, or content creator of some sort, you have digital content that you want to get into people's hands, and you don't want to learn Java or C# to create an app. What those sites offer is a back-end service that will create the app for you, based on templates that they offer, and the data you input into their web site. Then, usually for a fee, they will produce the needed file for you to publish your app.

The step by step process is fairly straight forward. First you register for an account, then you create a new project on their site with the name of your app, description, icon, and so on. You then get to pick the style with colors and font sizes. Some of these services provide a live preview on the site, but not all. Once you're done building the app through their system, you can build it, which simply means their back-end system will create the code and compile it into a format that mobile devices will understand, an APK file for Android and a Package file for iOS. It's best if you have a phone to test it yourself, or you can use an emulator.

Some of the features offered will vary. Usually, you have to follow a basic template, and the content you can put in the app can include things like web pages, RSS feeds, Twitter or Facebook integration, image galleries, information pages, and so on. Then, you either have to pay for the app to be created, which usually runs around $25 to $45, or some services will do it for free but place ads in the app. Some sites will create apps for Android, others for iOS, and the great thing is that inside of an hour, without ever learning to code, you can have an app that phone users will be able to find and download in order to see your content.

There are a few caveats to keep in mind. First, some of these services will publish your app for you. This can be a problem, because if they publish it, you need to keep paying them, since the app will be in their name. It's best if their system can send you the built app and you publish it yourself. If you do however, remember that both Google and Apple require you to register as a developer in order to publish apps, which involves a small fee, currently $25 for Google and $99 for Apple. Apple also requires you to own a Mac in order to process these files.

Overall, some of these services make it very easy to create simple, content-oriented apps. Don't expect to make games or involved software, but for a content creator, it can be a great way to add yet another distribution channel to your portfolio.

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