Prototyping Mobile Apps Without Having to Learn How to Code


I recently gave a presentation on building mobile app prototypes without coding. This came from my own experience of fully prototyping the SpotOn mobile app without writing a line of code. The benefit of it was immediately apparent when all the stakeholders could touch and play with what seemed to be the real app. Having something that could run on the phone is so much better than looking at screenshots on the computer or looking at wireframes or documentation.

Why is this a better approach? For one this brings a whole new meaning to rapid prototyping. Being able to eliminate what used to be a key player in the iteration loop (the developer) made developing the app so much faster. I would screen the screens, load them up in a prototyping tool, start clicking around, find problems, immediately fix them and retouch the screenshots, rinse and repeat.

Another benefit is that there are so many people who have skills and ideas who cannot code. Now they too can start building their ideas and proving their concepts rather than just talking about it. Having something that is clickable on the phone is priceless compared to having sketches on a napkin or even a powerpoint presentation.

What do you need to do this? My current favorite tool of choice is this brand new app called FieldTest. Load this URL on your phone. You can click around some of the buttons to get an idea of how the app works. Keep in mind no code was actually written. I uploaded a bunch of screenshots to the tool and wired it all together using their user interface. I can then send people this link and have them open it on their phones. They can click around and get a sense of how the app will work.

I strongly encourage designers to try this approach as it will really improve their workflow.

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Monetizing Mobile Presentation Slides

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I recently gave a presentation at a conference for mobile on Monetizing Mobile. Here are my slides.

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Thoughts on iPad Killers

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It seems that every week there is some article on yet another iPad Killer. Whenever I hear this, two things happen: I groan, and I vomit a little in my mouth. I get that these articles capitalize on the popularity of the iPad, and other companies are jumping on the bandwagon also because of the popularity of the iPad. Companies just don’t get it.

The iPad is a beautiful device. I’ve had it for 6 months now and find that indeed it has a place between my mobile phone and my laptop. However it’s going to take much more than just a super awesome touch based tablet to take down the iPad.

The beauty of the iPad is that it’s much more than just the iPad. The iPad is really just a gateway to Apple’s money making machine. Through the iPad I have access to Apple’s immense library of music and movies through iTunes, Apple’s massive collection of apps in the App Store, and now Apple’s growing library of books in iBooks. It’s a whole ecosystem. If I went with another device, say a Windows tablet or Android tablet, currently I would need an account to buy music (Amazon mp3), a separate account to buy books (like Kobo etc), and another account to buy apps (Google). With Apple, it’s all tied to my iTunes account and it just works. They make it really easy and sweet to buy content. That is why the iPad is optimized for consumption and not for production. Any tablet device seriously thinking about toppling the iPad better have all these things. And this is not something easily done since it took even Apple over a decade to build all this up and build a brand and mindshare.

Another thing Apple has done better than any other device manufacturer is to embrace designers. This was a fortunate side effect from designers adopting the Adobe software + Apple hardware combo. This is why there are so many gorgeous apps in the Apple App Store. For example Microsoft has never been able to crack that egg. Even though the Microsoft stack has been adopted in the enterprise, they’ve never embraced designers until lately. Their attempt at that with the Microsoft Expression Engine is not likely to turn over any designers any time soon. Designers have been using the Adobe suite of graphic tools for over a decade. I myself have been using PhotoShop for over that long and don’t foresee switching anytime soon. I’m not the only one.

Why are designers important? For one thing – gorgeous apps. Consumers will buy well designed applications. You only need to look at the Apple App Store’s top sellers and compare it to the Droid Marketplace. The App Store’s top sellers list is filled with beautifully designed apps whereas the Marketplace list various game emulators. It’s pretty clear to me that the demographic of the Android platform is mostly developers, engineers and tech geeks. I think it reflects the culture of the two companies pretty well. Apple is about design and Google is mostly an engineering company. Google has been described as antidesign if anything. That’s fine but at the end of the day ugly apps just won’t sell.

All that aside, there’s really no way to tell who’s going to win in the long run. The Androis OS is quickly gaining marketshare and will continue to do so as more and more phone manufacturers and tablet manufacturers adopt it. Who’s to say that other companies might not be able to address the issues I’ve mentioned and eat into Apple’s marketshare.

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DIYtraffic Realtime Traffic Alerts Via SMS

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Here’s a project that my friend Dan Greenblatt has been working on. DIYtraffic is a free community based traffic alert system. Traffic updates via mobile phones have been around a while, but some of the cost money and there hasn’t been any unified platform.

DIYtraffic is an easy-to-configure application that alerts you to traffic problems in a local area as they occur. The app, which is set up to pull from Yahoo’s traffic API and send to Twitter (but can be configured to pull/push from/to any service), will send SMS messages to your phone about traffic jams from accidents, street closures, etc, for the city you configure it for.

Here’s the twitter feed for Chicago.

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