Pieceable puts working iOS apps in your browser

A new venture is trying to give mobile-app developers a way to show off full, working versions of their iOS software to users through the browser.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

You're itching to test drive an iOS application, but the lack of a free trial, the limited screenshots, and no demo videos are holding you back from pulling the trigger on a purchase. Such hurdles could soon be toppled with a new service called the Pieceable Viewer.

Parent company Pieceable, which is working on a tool to let people create mobile applications with a visual editor as opposed to writing lines of code, has come up with a viewer that can demo iOS applications on the Web, sans iOS device. Developers send their finished .app file to Pieceable, where it's hosted to the Web letting people use it just like they would on their phone, except with a mouse.

The company is pitching it as a way for sharing applications that are still in development, as well as getting around Apple's device ID-driven system, which places limits on side-loading unpublished applications outside of the company's App Store. Ironically enough, the application also makes use of Adobe's Flash to demo apps, a technology Apple does not allow on its iOS devices.

For now the service works with iPhone apps, but the company says it will add support for iPad apps in a future iteration. According to TechCrunch, Android apps are next on the list.

In an e-mail to CNET, Pieceable Software co-founder Fred Potter said that the company had attempted to get in touch with Apple about the product, but had not heard back. As far as security goes, Potter said that the company isn't collecting anything sensitive from developers. "They only upload their compiled binary and never raw source code," he said.

Hipmunk's flight search application running in Pieceable's iOS app viewer.
Hipmunk's flight search application running in Pieceable's iOS app viewer.

The service itself is offered to app makers at three levels. The free version lets only one person view one app at a time, with application links expiring after one hour. The basic plan, which runs for $30 a month, brings the viewership up to three people at a time, with up to five different applications with links that never expire. The $60-a-month "pro" plan takes it up to 10 simultaneous viewers, with an unlimited number of applications.

The idea of full-functionality versions of applications with an expiration date brings up a very interesting potential for App Store publishers who want to give users an interactive taste of their creation without offering their wares free of charge. Apple has set up a system where free apps can be upgraded to include paid features via in-app purchase, though many developers still opt to create "lite" versions of their applications that exist separately. With the inclusion of expiring working copies, this also opens up a way for developers to offer a full version of the software that can be made available for only a limited amount of time.

One obvious question that remains is how well the system holds up with games, something Potter said the company is still working on. "OpenGL content (which is most graphics-intensive games) doesn't currently show up in the viewer. We also need to figure out a workable solution for doing multitouch and sound," he said.

Even so, Potter says the company has been pleased with the overall speed of the technology for pushing regular applications. "When we were first working on the prototype, we actually assumed everything would be much slower and we'd have to put disclaimers all over the place about how 'it's much faster on the device,' etc.," Potter said. "But, we're very happy with how it's worked out."

Pieceable joins the ranks of still-in-stealth BlueStacks, a company that's working on a solution for letting Windows users run Android applications and the Android OS itself natively on the desktop. There have also been a wealth of companies that have sprung up over the past few years that let people build and publish iOS applications without having to know how to code.

Pieceable Viewer is rolling out with demos from six companies, including Yelp, travel service Hipmunk, Loopt, Foodspotting, Convore, and Airbnb. You can give all six a spin over on Pieceable's viewer demo page.

Update at 4:23 p.m. PT: Here's an embedded version of the Hipmunk app (pictured above) that you can use: