Thursday, 16 February 2012

Making a Phone App (for Ignorami)

Webapp link
As I explained in my last post, I was asked if it were possible to make a phone app with a group of students. Given that I was a complete ignoramus about such things last week, the following post may seem a little naive to the serious geeks amongst you (so read no further O geeky one).
But  normal people like me may find the following useful to know.
There are several sites out there who offer to build you phone apps for free. I opted for Conduit Mobile thanks to a rave (probably sponsored) review. It was pretty good and reasonably straightforward. But before I discuss whys and wherefores two things need to be clear:
        1.   You ain’t building Angry Birds here… you’re making a convenient way to access some online content from your smartphone. This supposes that you have online content . I do – you’re looking at some now. I’ve also got other stuff out there including twitter account and a Facebook page. My app (which can be installed most easily using the information above on your phone) also has links to my video community, sites I’ve made and my page.  If you are  working in school and would like to create some content, I’d recommend Posterous as a relatively painless, free way of setting up a blog for student content.  I expect I’ll be doing this back at the ranch next week and be posting about it.
 2.   You will almost certainly want to build a web app rather a native app for your Android or iPhone that can be downloaded from the store or market. Why? Because in order to distribute your app through these places you will need developer licenses and current prices are $25 for an Android  and $99  for Apple and Windows. The honourable exception is bada - Samsung’s operating system, which is free. Conduit does not currently offer to create an app for the Blackberry. I didn’t realise all this and had dreamy visions of seeing my app appear in a search on my iPhone for cool free apps, hitting a million downloads etc. etc.  I got nasty once I got over the disappointment Why hadn’t someone told me this… So… Consider yourself told.
What I got in the end was a fairly pleasant, slightly home-made,  app that has an icon on my phone. Clicking the icon leads you, via a pretty picture, to a page of icons linked to my content looking like a phone-shaped version of the image below:

app menu

The Blog, Reader (, Twitter and Facebook all lead to a compact version of your content. The Sites and Movies pages were specially made rich-text pages with images that link to those places via the phone’s browser.
It took a few visits before the whole lot worked properly and, unsurprisingly, wi-fi is a deal quicker than 3G. It certainly isn’t as slick as a native app but it’s available on every platform and costs nothing apart from time to make.
So why would you wish to build an app apart from being a participant in Extreme ICT  (a wisely-avoided pastime) ?
Boring answer this: ease of communications. Large numbers of people now access the web via their phone. I suspect you may well get more visits to your school website from parents who have the app than those who don’t. It gathers together all your online material in a convenient form and allows parents and carers to access the information and celebrations many schools are putting online as well as being a neat way to provide contact facilities.
It really isn’t difficult for someone reasonably competent with IT. Whether a child can do it will be the subject of some posts and I’ll be posting, too, about our progress; with the intention of helping you to avoid the pitfalls.
Stay Tuned…