Can just about anyone develop a capable mobile app without any programming skills?. That is the question–or in pitch-speak, the real-world problem to solve–that several startups are currently exploring. Joining ShoutEm, EachScape, Mobile Roadie, and a few others, there’s now a service, currently in beta, called Infinite Monkeys. The name alone should suggest the level of thought you’ll need to use this app generator. Do these lower primates deliver?
I have a fondness for the archetype of oompa loompas and other small clever creatures who can take on Chocolate Factory-sized tasks that would overwhelm humans. Even if you decide not to use the Infinite Monkeys’ magical code-free application “Machine”, please take a minute to view the video explanation of the origins of the Infinite Monkeys–done in 1930’s news reel style. It is quite funny in a transmedia-ish way.
The only nit I would pick in their simian marketing is that the Infinite Monkeys metaphor is more about the magic of randomness and large numbers of typing chimps. In their make-believe explanation, explorers discover a finite number of clever programming chimps in darkest Borneo, which sounds awfully similar to another origin myth involving the making of incredible chocolate.
Back to this app generator. Infinite Monkeys does deliver a credible mobile app without any coding. However, by an app, I mean a content distributor with limited interactivity and control over fonts and menus–which is not unusual in this genre. You will be able to add RSS feeds from a blog or incorporate Twitter streams, and you can upload images–logos, and other suitable pics–to customize and brand your apps. There’s even an editor to help you craft HTML pages, which, ahem, in some circles counts as web design, not coding.
Besides the feed gatherers, there is also a widget integration with WuFoo, a cloud-based form service, which could let, say, your restaurant customers submit a reservation to a database. Nice touch.
All of the above features were used in the sample foodie app I came up with (to your right).
The app creation environment–which may be too strong of a word–has more the feel of a children’s game. You merely move your play-piece widgets directly into the device emulator and then configure a few options.
Basically, if a service like ShoutEm or say OnePager scares you away with their slightly technical chrome, then Infinite Monkeys is the app generation vendor for you. For a lot of small and medium businesses, IM will strike just the right approach and make sense in their mobility plans.
There are a few differentiators that are worth mentioning. IM will produce device-independent HTML 5, storing the pages in their own monkey domain (http://monk.ee). This cost zero bananas–i.e., it’s free. Of course, there’s no free lunch, in the sense that it helps to know how graphics and customized web content, using their editor, will render on a given device. To get the best results, you’ll probably need help from a web-savvy human teenager. And in purely economic terms, Infinite Monkeys pays the bills by inserting an advertisement in the footer of your web page.
If you’re willing to splurge on a one-time fee of $49, you can start the process of getting your app submitted and approved in bigger marketplaces–Android or the Apple App Store. But I think for a small business, this may not be a significant value prop. I don’t see SMBs using this option but instead would more likely market their mobile app the old fashioned way through a sign in the store window, or a link on their bare bones web site, if they have one.
However, if you want to get rid of the ads completely, you’ll need to pony up $499. I found the ads distracting in my own experiment, so if you’re serious in your branding, you’ll want this option.
In conclusion, if you’re a small business owner not blessed with an iPhone or Android programming gene, Infinite Monkeys is good low-cost way to get a foothold in the mobile space.
FYI: There are additional widgets besides content grabbers, including some location-based ones. But at this point in their beta cycle, these didn’t seem to be working.