East Greenbush’s Adventures in App Building Using Appsbar
By Karrie McLellan
Head of Digital Services, East Greenbush Community Library
When the East Greenbush Community Library began considering mobile solutions, it was clear we needed a mobile website, but what about an app? I could create a mobile website, but app development requires a different skillset. Without access to staff or volunteers with app coding skills, or funds to hire a firm, the app was put on indefinite hold.
I’d almost given up when I heard about Appsbar – a free service with templates and a WYSIWYG editor to help amateurs build apps. Appsbar even submitted completed apps to all major app stores, eliminating the headache/expense of registering as a developer in each. I expected bugs and changes along the way, because Appsbar was in beta, but gave it a try.
The initial stages were as easy as they claimed. The interface was clean and intuitive; within a day, the app was mostly complete. Some features were limited, like the icons for populating the home page, template and background choices, and connections to social media outlets. I also had difficulty getting the RSS feeds from our blogs to work. While the app couldn’t be downloaded during the build, there was a simulator that approximated how it would appear. For a free service, I was willing to compromise.
After fixing the initial bugs, I submitted the app. To my delight, the Google Play [Android] version was available within a week! Unfortunately, weeks went by with no word from Apple. It turned out Apple balked at the sudden influx of free apps from Appsbar and rejected all of their submissions. Unable to negotiate with Apple, Appsbar converted the app to an HTML5 compliant mobile website that works on non-Android devices. The “download” process deposits a link on the device, giving the feel of an app.
Then the real challenges began. Once the app/site was available to download/view, I did real-world testing. I first noticed the background; though it worked in the simulator, it only appeared on Android devices. On iPhones, there was a plain black background that rendered text unreadable and text was cut off along the tops of pages. Another disturbing discovery was the number of permissions – most unnecessary – required at installation (Android). My pleas to Appsbar to change permissions went unanswered. Concerned about the data they might collect from patrons, I included a caveat where our website links to Google Play.
After a few months, I received notification that Google Play wouldn’t list Appsbar as a single developer for thousands of apps – meaning each Appsbar user needed to pay to register as a developer and reload the app to continue distribution. This process could have been ugly, but Appsbar made the transition simple by providing all necessary files and detailed instructions for uploading/configuring them in Google Play.
After many hours of work, the library has an app with limited marketability due to some of the issues we have experienced. Therefore, it was never truly embraced by our patrons. Like with open source software, “Free” is not necessarily “Free”, and there was a lot to learn in the process.