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Buzztouch: Android app maker review
Buzztouch is a popular online app maker for Android and iOS. Tools like this are made to enable people to make a mobile app without the use of programming skills. To start building an app, you must register an account. The basic account type is free: there are some limitations such as the maximum number of apps allowed in your control panel (3), the maximum number of screens per app (30) and the maximum number of monthly views per app (3,000). Upgrades are based on monthly fees and prices are reasonable with the top package (unlimited apps, screens and views) costing USD 29.99 / month.
Overview of the Buzztouch concept
Creating an app in Buzztouch is similar to most online app makers. The app is made of predefined app components which you select, here they’re called “plugins”. Interestingly, paying Buzztouch users can develop their own plugins and submit them to the system. Where Buzztouch differs from most app creators is the way the app is compiled: after you create your app in the online control panel, you download the Java sourcecode and compile it yourself using Eclipse with the Android SDK and ADT plugin. iOs developers go through a similar process, using Xcode. This means that windows PC users will not be able to compile iOS apps on their machines. However, having to compile the app themselves gives users more control than automatic compiling done online: for instance, you can view and hack the source code.
Another interesting feature is app hosting. Although you compile and publish apps yourself, its resources and a configuration file are maintained on the Buzztouch servers. When a user starts the app, it “phones home” to check for updates. This removes the need to recompile the app after every small update. Instead of Buzztouch hosting the app, you can also choose to host the app on your own server, again giving you more control than other app makers do.
The Buzztouch team seems to be more committed to flexibility than most other online app builders. As always, there’s a trade-off between ease of use and flexibility: features such as compiling and hosting the app yourself require a basic understanding of these topics.
After registering with the website, the user is prompted to take some lessons teaching how to develop Android apps before starting with building their first app… this approach differs from products like AppMkr and Appsbar. The training program has several “learning paths” consisting of online videos. Each video is followed by quiz questions.
The videos give a useful overview of the Buzztouch system and the quiz questions make sure that you “get” the info in the videos. Because you will have to use Eclipse to compile your Android apps, the videos in the “Android Learning Path” give a fairly thorough introduction to Eclipse, the Android SDK, ADT and the Android OS. This is really a great introduction to Android app development and these videos would be useful for anyone getting into Android app development, whether they intend to use Buzztouch or not! In any case, knowing the basics of Android and Java will always serve you well, even if you do not want to code everything yourself (and that’s why you’d use a tool like Buzztouch in the first place).
Making my first app
On to the meat of this review: what is it like to build an app with Buzztouch? You start with selecting the version of the Buzztouch system. The latest version is recommended. The next screen is where you input the app’s name.
Next up is the app’s control panel. From here you can navigate to several pages and add or edit different aspects of your app: the app’s icon, several “core properties” (view screenshot below), the layout of screens, themes, files and media, etc.
The pages in the control panel have several nice features that set it apart from many other online Android app creators. For instance, you can choose a tabbed layout with up to five tabs. You can make several screens and choose which plugins to use in each screen. Each screen can then be used its own tab in a tabbed layout.
The app is quite flexible with regards to the design of app’s the interface. You can choose background colors and images for separate screens or you can use a global theme that affects the whole app. Unfortunately, Buzztouch does not have a preview function that lets you assess your work like AppMkr or Appsbar. You won’t see what the app looks like until after you’ve compiled it!
The selection of plugins that you can use in the app’s screens is worth mentioning: there are plugins to deliver several kinds of content (HTML, PDF, PowerPoint, location maps) and actions such as emailing, text messaging, calling and launching a native app. One impressive feature is the built in HTML editor, this gives a lot of freedom to design the screen layout and its functionality.
There is also a “plugin market” with a several free and paid plugins. As of yet the number of plugins is quite limited (around 25) but this may well grow as more Buzztouch users get into plugin development.
Compiling the app
When you are done building the app in the control panel, it’s time to download the source code. You get a .zip folder with several sub-folders and a PDF file explaining how to import the code into Eclipse. This involves first starting a new Android project in Eclipse. It’s imperative that you use the correct build target: Google APIs 2.2 / level 8, not to be confused with Android 2.2!
I followed the instructions: after importing the source code in the new Android project, the console showed three error messages related to the project.properties file, falsely claiming that there was no such file present in the root folder. Another problem were the error notifications jumping at me from the Package Explorer window. All of the files in the src directory had “X cannot be resolved to a type” notifications. I tried several ways to solve this and finally it became apparent that the wrong build target had been selected when importing. Because I presumably have a different version of Eclipse than the one referenced in the instructions, the import process is slightly different. In the instructions, a build target is selected when importing files but not so on my system. Changing it from Android 2.2 to Google APIs 2.2 solved the problem. In the end I was able to build a single screen app with three tabs for my blog, my Facebook page and my Twitter page in a very short amount of time.
Buzztouch offers more flexibility than most other online app makers: this is great but it does come at a price. The user must invest some time and effort into learning to work with this unique approach. You will have to know your way around Eclipse and the Android SDK well enough to compile the app. And only then will you find out what your creation looks like and whether it works the way you intended it to. Some will find this approach too technical and convoluted whilst others will enjoy its added flexibility. I see Buzztouch as a compromise between coding yourself and using a simple template-based app builder. This makes it a great choice for people with (some) coding experience and those who are willing to learn a few things about software development. The basic account type is free so why not give Buzztouch a spin?