With the current tech talent shortage and pressure to get new products to market quickly, many organizations are eyeing low-code/no-code development as a possible solution. Instead of writing code from scratch, employees with limited tech experience can use “plug-and-play” platforms to build products.
Low-code/no-code isn’t right for every application, however. If you’re a mobile app developer, here’s what you need to know:
Advantages of low-code mobile development
Low-code mobile development platforms, also known as mobile app creators, let you create app experiences for Android and iOS mobile devices based on templates and drag-and-drop experiences. Users without coding experience or with little knowledge can build and publish apps on the app stores, which, compared with creating custom apps for both platforms, is faster and up to 50 times cheaper. These systems let you launch in the market in a matter of days, compared to months when using the standard app development mechanism.
That’s excellent news for users looking for quick-turnaround solutions. But, how much faster is low-code mobile development compared to alternatives? Well, the answer depends on supposition.
If we suppose the app's behavior matches the templates provided by the platform, then we can compare a couple of hours of customization versus two months of development involving designers and developers for both iOS and Android.
For example, if you want to publish an app for ordering meals in a restaurant and use a low-code mobile development platform with that use case already developed, then customization is minimal. You may need to set your theme colors, upload your logo and the restaurant menu, but your app is complete and ready for publication in app stores in a matter of hours.
It's not too much of a hassle, and the time dedicated to customizing the app may be well worth the ROI.
However, when the app you want to develop includes use cases not covered by the templates in the engine you are using, the cost to customize can be high—a disadvantage for sure.
But is that the only disadvantage to low-code mobile development?
In short, no.
Disadvantages of low-code mobile development
The first disadvantage is that most apps will still look similar even with all the platform's possible customization. Also, most of the time, your organization will be attached to the platform provider for a long time as they don't typically give you the source code to continue the development on your own later. If you want to change the provider or move to a custom app, you will need to start from scratch. Sometimes, that also involves changing the app's design because some templates will have a copyright.
But the main disadvantage is complexity when you need to cover many custom use cases in the app. In these cases, there may be limits on the platform that won't let you do what you need. The complexity of patching the platform may reduce the app's user experience, performance and maintainability.
Compared with WordPress's popularity in web development, these platforms are not popular within the mobile development community. They are more common among small businesses as they can quickly and inexpensively create apps without hiring developers or a development agency, which can be expensive and difficult to find.
While in some eyes, the disadvantages of low-code mobile development outweigh its benefits, many organizations are keeping an eye on low-code platforms due to their many advantages. The decision comes down to the cost, complexity of customization and time-to-market.
Maximiliano Firtman is a DevelopIntelligence instructor. He has authored many books, including Programming the Mobile Web and High-Performance Mobile Web published by O'Reilly Media, and many online courses at Lynda, LinkedIn Learning, Pluralsight, O'Reilly Learning, Udemy and more publishers. He is a frequent speaker at conferences worldwide, and he teaches mobile (Android & iOS) App Development, PWA and web performance workshops for top companies around the world.
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