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Make your own Angry Birds July 19, 2012Last year Eddie the pig took Chile by storm. The iPhone game “ePig Dash”, featuring Eddie, dislodged “Angry Birds” to become the number-one paid game on the Chilean App Store. By itself, the story of a cute, if flatulent, pig pushing a bunch of irate birds off the top spot is nothing unusual. What is odd is that the creator of “ePig Dash”, a conjuror and economics teacher, knew little or nothing about programming. Instead he used GameSalad, a do-it-yourself tool for app-makers.
DIY is hot. In May Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry, unveiled a kit that allows people with no programming skills to create a working app within minutes. Apple, too, has applied for a patent indicating it is also building a DIY tool for iOS, its mobile operating system. And in March the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a beta version of App Inventor, which allows even simpletons to make apps for Android phones.
Several start-ups already offer DIY app services. Conduit, a firm which was valued at $1.3 billion after J.P. Morgan acquired a 7% stake for $100m earlier this year, allows people to build mobile apps themselves with a simple graphical interface. AppMakr, a similar service, has helped to create some 10,000 apps. Users include individuals, small businesses and the Harvard Business Review. AppMakr also offers its users help in bringing apps up to standard before submitting them to Apple’s picky App Store. Other services publish to Android and Windows, or bypass Apple altogether by creating web apps.
Custom-made apps can cost $10,000 or more. By contrast, DIY apps are free to create, with a subscription for continued support. Prices vary, typically from about $30 to $80 a month. Magmito, an app-building service that targets small and medium businesses, has a plan that costs as little as $50 a year. AppMakr offers a free, ad-supported service.
Small businesses and tech-savvy amateurs have been the most enthusiastic early creators of DIY apps. But they can also be a profitable business. GameSalad allows users to make 2D games for smartphones, which some choose to sell. According to Steve Felter, GameSalad’s boss, some developers even make a living designing apps on its platform.
The democratisation of technology is not without drawbacks. Apple’s App Store already has some 550,000 apps. Google offers 450,000 for download on its Android operating system. The coming deluge of apps made by amateurs will see those numbers swell.
Not all will shine. “There’s a lot of garbage on YouTube. But once in a while you find a gem and everybody passes it around,” says Ted Iannuzzi of Magmito. Professional app-makers may not be shaking in their boots just yet. But the clever ones, like AppMakr, are moving from creating stuff for mobile phones to creating the stuff that creates the stuff for mobile phones. App-creating software could be the machine tools of the mobile world.