Drag, Drop, and De-geekify

One emerging trend in the mobile application business is the arrival of drag-and-drop app-builder platforms, which allow their users to develop apps without actually writing a single line of code. My (hopefully) adequately educated guess is that they will do for app development more or less what blogging platforms and Facebook have done for web content - in other words, drastically lower the needed human barriers to entry.

I met some time ago with one of the most recent app-builder entrants, Application Craft, and our discussion made me think that while we are set to witness some interesting consumer-facing apps thanks to these vendors, their true impact might well be seen in the enterprise mobility space. In particular, they're likely to flourish within the creative corners of the shadow IT, as a quick way to initiate prototypes, proofs of concepts and and in general app-ify any stuff that was a couple of days ago loosely brainstormed over beer, coffee or a water cooler. Application Craft's case study on Coca-Cola's app project for the 2012 Summer Olympics is a good example of what such web-based, builder-enabled applications can achieve in the enterprise sector. 

In our context, there are two points that should be borne in mind. First, the vast majority of internal, employee-facing apps are built around the notion of "put up or shut up." They're developed to get the job done, and in getting the job done the user experience is a secondary concern. Granted, secondary doesn't mean irrelevant. The user experience still needs to be satisfying, or the productivity of the users will suffer, but the point is that in app development the bar for "satisfying" tends to be a good deal lower than the one for "impressive." 

Second, not all apps are created to be ageless and eternal, but many are distinctly project-like by their nature, meant to be used only for a certain task that lasts a certain amount of time. Unless that task is to woo and impress customers, the native route is often unrealistically expensive and laborious, given that few enterprises have the right skillsets ready in-house.

This dynamic can make the native development pretty wasteful in the enterprise environment, since any improvement to the outcome would not only be under-appreciated, but of a very temporary nature as well. This doesn't imply that internal enterprise apps would be by any means a home run for HTML5, as they do entail many use cases where going native is an advisable course of action. Still, if a designated application shares a lot of elements with what I described above, I would be strongly inclined to argue that it's likely to hit one of the mobile web's sweet spots. And that then, as far as I see it, represents the key opportunity for the app-builder vendors that are trying to take advantage of the modern-day mobile web.