I have a class app. Just writing that makes me feel cool. The image is the icon on your device and, if you click it, you can see the whole thing. Fair warning, it’s slow to load the first time.
The inspiration was from a student last semester, attempting to navigate through the websites, “Why don’t you just have an app?!” I liked the idea, but was clueless about how to go about doing it; so, I shelved it.
Then, last week I started looking into building my own app. A quick Google search for ‘free app maker,’ provided TheAppBuilder and AppsBar. Both were supposed to be easy and flexible.
There were a few things I needed to accomplish with my app. My first goal: simplify navigation to the websites. The second: have one-click take them to a particular page, like the flipped notes or UT homework. Lastly, include basics like contact information for the school and Google Voice.
This service provides a wizard to walk you through each step of the build process. There are several app types to choose from, like general business, education, family, etc., pre-loaded with different ‘pages.’ This doesn’t really matter because you can change them to completely customize the app to your needs, but it’s a nice place to start for a newbie.
Menu & Preview
You can choose a different color icon for each page from the library. Though there are several icons to choose from, you can easily upload an image from your computer, too. As you add a page, it is presented on the main screen as a preview: see it before you publish it.
The other big plus with this service, when you publish it, they check it over, make sure it works, immediately give you the HTML5 for android and iOS devices and publish it in Google Play for free. (An aside: once you start an app or publish an app, there’s no ‘delete’ button. Your management page shows all your trial runs in perpetuity, until you email them asking for help deleting. Then all those trial runs disappear.)
The downside to this app builder is the inability to layer or create a hierarchy or list of pages. Every page is right there on the screen or in the opening navigation; this felt…clunky. There are list options with predetermined functions: discography for music/album promotion, menu for real estate/restaurant, social links for Facebook/Twitter. But that’s the issue – they’re predetermined and cannot be altered. I could not use any, save the social network, for links to multiple websites. Additionally, image customization did not extend into the pages, except for discography, which did not really produce the look/feel I wanted. Therefore, everything I wanted students to access, each website, each webpage, had to be on the home screen, producing a jumble of icons.
Trial one was a semi-success – I built an app and put the link on my website, I just wasn’t that crazy about it.
[Note: the above picture was taken after I attempted to duplicate my success in TheAppBuilder by embedding websites in lists, etc. Could not duplicate what I figured out I wanted.]
In the beginning, it didn’t seem that different from AppsBar. You have several examples to choose from, again with pre-loaded sections, or you can choose build your own, clicking on a couple of the sections (webpage, youtube, event) to use as a starting point. The next screen requires you to register and then you’re in to the menu to modify/customize your app.
Adding sections, choosing icons (only grayscale), modifying the menu order, all pretty straightforward and not too different from the previous tool. Adding items is intuitive, the control panel is self-explanatory, and you get to preview each section below the work area.
However, this is where the first major difference arises, not in what is shown (it shows the pages and lets you click through them just like appsbar), but in the aesthetics of the final product — it’s sleek, not clunky.
I had to play for a while: manipulating the sections, looking at what I could do, deleting, adding; deleting and adding the same sections. Through this trial and error, I discovered the next major difference. A welcome surprise — the ability to modify either the ‘news’ or ‘list’ sections.
I had the option of
- add item – like a post with an image, title, date (optional, unlike appsbar), and description
- add subsection – add a webpage, youtube, event, all the possible sections, within the overall list (gold!)
This flexibility allowed the one-click option to get students to the three websites and specific pages (flipped notes by course, UT homework for all Chemistry sections) by allowing me to group them into a list; minimizing the number of buttons to navigate. It also allowed me to do more than an About/Welcome section, i.e., wasted space. I could, instead, create a list/news section explaining the class and the tools and the goals of each; my Footprint section.
Publishing the final product gave me an HTML5 code immediately, but TheAppBuilder does not publish anything to any App Store for free. You also have to pay if you want to remove the only ad in the app, the “Try It” button. This is not a big deal to me, first I’m cheap (I looked for free app makers for goodness sakes); and, second, it’s a great tool, why shouldn’t someone ‘try it’ and make their own?
The biggest diffulgity I had was adding an image to the splashscreen for the different Apple devices (one of the options under the customization option in the menu bar). The images had to be the exact size for each screen. I tried using the crop tool in Preview (the Mac version of a PDF reader), but it wasn’t good enough. Enter GIMP (freeware Photoshop-like tool). After a bit of playing, crop the image then scale it to a specific size, and viewing the results, I was able to produce the correct size for each. I was done. Finished is best.
The only thing left was to get it readily available to students — a QR code. The first tool I used was Kaywa: free QR generator, nothing fancy; you do have to pay for analytics, but not something I need.
Then, I stumbled upon QRphoria. Not your standard QR code. You can change the colors, make it look like water or paneling or whatever, use text (as I did in this one), change the encoding redundancy, then save it as a jpg or png file.
Now, does this help my cool factor or just prove I’m a geek?
I do know the answer & I’m sure my students will remind me should I forget…