Ever want to build an app for yourself?
It's actually not hard. There are a number of companies that offer the ability to create your own app for a minimal fee, which is great for small businesses looking to stay relevant in this increasingly mobile world. Or if you just have a lot of time on your hands.
Take Conduit. The company made its money creating branded toolbars found on your browser. But over the past few months, it has been expanding into the mobile world with a free service that allows you to build an app and mobile Web site in minutes. It's part of a planned shift by the company to build its consumer awareness after spending years serving other businesses in a white label capacity.
"We're trying to give companies a tool to really go mobile," said Ori Lavie, vice president of product strategy at Conduit Mobile. "It's sometimes a difficult struggle."
I've tried the service, and it's pretty simple to use. The best part: it's completely free. Conduit has a team set up that will take you through the submission process and it will even pay your fee to get the app up in the various mobile app stores. As with everything in life, there are some catches, and Conduit's offer is a limited-time promotion.
For the purposes of testing, I decided to build a mobile application out of my personal Tumblr blog, Annoying PR. Conduit's browser-based tool allowed me to select from a set template for how the app would look--including different appearances for each platform.
To add content to the app, I typed in the address for my blog, which drew in the feed. I also added my Twitter and Facebook accounts.
In terms of the look, I was able to change up the color scheme. I also chose a background, splash page, screenshots, and a logo for the app. You can pick images from a provided library of upload your own images.
There's also an option to run mobile ads on the app, in which Conduit and the customer would split any potential revenue. I opted not to run ads on my app.
The tool worked very much like Wordpress, Tumblr, or any other Web site or blog creation service, and is fairly intuitive.
Within minutes I had an HTML5 mobile Web site built. The site worked a lot like an app, especially after I chose to put it on my iPhone's home screen. The address, which uses a Conduit-hosted URL, isn't exactly the catchiest.
Of course, I care more about getting it into app form, which is where there are complications. Yes, Conduit will offer to take your app through the submission process--all while covering your fees--but only after its compliance team deems the app ready. It can kick back the app if it lacks content or uses copyrighted or offensive material.
Once the app is ready, an option comes up that allows you to take advantage of this promotion.
In my case, the app wasn't ready for primetime. I got a message from a Conduit team member saying my app had insufficient content and suggested I add more categories and images. I added more content from CNET's YouTube page and a contact tab and resubmitted it. I'm hoping for more luck the next time around.
Lavie said the review process by Conduit may take a few days and getting approval from iTunes and Samsung's Bada may take a few weeks. Beyond iOS, Android, and Bada, a separate Nokia app is created as well. It also creates a Web app for Microsoft's Windows Phone and BlackBerry, although the site says native apps were coming soon.
Its simple format means this is a better option for businesses without a lot of technical resources to pursue their own app. Large companies and major brands with money behind them are better off building an app from scratch, since it'll likely be able to take more advantage of the device. There's a reason why major companies are pouring money into building apps--they want to be a permanent fixture on a device you stare at dozens of times a day.
It's not just businesses; ambitious individuals are also getting into the app game. Lavie said opera singer Andrea Bocelli will have a personal app up through Conduit, as well as two NFL players who haven't launched their programs yet. He added he expects bands and DJs to be interested in the capability.
It doesn't have to be small business or celebrities. Conduit's offer removes any barriers and complications, meaning anyone with something meaningful to share could conceivably build an app. So this is my challenge to readers: use Conduit to build your own app. If I get enough responses, I'll highlight them in an upcoming Inside Apps column.