FEATURE: Should we democratise app creation?

FEATURE: Should we democratise app creation?

By Softtalkmobile

October 19th 2011 at 11:50AM

[Feature sponsored by Intel]

I remember the first time I saw a WIMP (windows, icons, mouse, pointer) interface at university, I complained because it was much slower to use than a simple command line interface.

If you want to delete a file, it’s much quicker to type in the deletion command, including the folder path, than it is to keep clicking on folders, find the file, and then drag it across the screen.

This sounds like an odd viewpoint now, but back in the days of DOS, it made perfect sense.

A friend accused me of being elitist, though: he argued that command line interfaces could never be adopted by the masses, and so many people would be locked out of using computers if we stuck with them.

Over time, it’s been proven true: there’s a good level of computer literacy in the UK now, and most of the credit for that must go to the Windows and Mac operating systems that mean you don’t need to be an expert to operate a computer any more.

There are faster ways to operate a computer, but there probably aren’t many more inclusive ways. And we all benefit from the huge rise in computer use across society.

So, this made me think about app stores. At the moment, you need to have a huge amount of technical knowledge to create apps. You need to know how to program, which isn’t an easy skill to learn.

There are lots of people with great ideas for apps or great content, who can’t create an app because their technical skills let them down. Is this right? Isn’t it time to democratise app creation?

One way to do that is to adopt a simple tool for designing basic apps. Intel has released a beta version of the Intel AppUp Creator, which is designed to enable non-technical people to create apps. They can create ebook apps, based on an ePub file of an ebook, or web apps, designed by combining different widgets together.

The widgets provide an easy interface to web services, including Youtube and Twitter, and enable users to make apps that update themselves regularly with web-based content. This kind of tool is ideal for content creators, writers, film makers, photographers and others who generate new content for the web.

Using the Intel AppUp Creator, they can develop an app for their fans to keep in touch with their latest work. This style of app is also ideal for curators, those people who help to filter and organise the content online.

There is a drawback, some will say: By taking away the technical barrier to entry, you run the risk of a flood of low-quality content streaming in to the store. There will always be bad apps, but some argue that if you have to be able to code before you can even begin, there’s a natural filter built-in to the app ecosystem.

The problem is that the filter works on the technical expertise of the app’s creator, and not on the basis of the quality of the content. There are many talented content creators who can’t program, and many programmers who can’t make a high quality end-product. It doesn’t necessarily follow that shutting out the non-techies is a guarantee of higher quality.

The other drawback is that you end up with a lot of apps that look broadly similar and have broadly similar functionality. At first glance, that seems to be quite a limitation. But then think about what you do online most days. You probably frequent the same ten websites.

Most of the communication with your friends probably takes place within Facebook, with fairly limited options for posting content and commenting. When it’s the content that counts, it doesn’t matter too much if the delivery mechanism is limited. In fact, having a familiar feature set and interface makes it easier to use.

We’ve been here before, of course. Remember the internet before the blog was invented? If you wanted to publish content online, you had to learn HTML.

The introduction of simple blogging software democratised the web and gave everyone a voice. Do we need to do the same for our app stores?

Now that they are the primary conduit for software, should we be ensuring that everyone has equal access to them? Or should we stay elitist, and insist on every app being built on its own original code?

This blog post is written by Softtalkmobile, and is sponsored by the Intel AppUp developer program, a single channel for distributing apps to multiple devices, multiple operating systems, and multiple app stores.