As a small-business owner, if you decide there's good reason to develop your own mobile app, there are several ways to do it.
But before you dive into the deep end of the app development pool, familiarize yourself with a number of the more advanced mobile development options. Here's some background on each platform:
Android: You can create apps using Java for Android by downloading its free software development kit. The kit comes with samples, source code, developer tools and emulators for testing your app. Android even provides how-to videos, technical articles and instructions on how to develop apps, just in case you're feeling overwhelmed. A one-time $25 developer registration fee is needed to distribute apps in the Android marketplace, now known as Google Play.
Apple iOS: If you want to create an iPhone app using the iOS platform, you'll need to shell out about $99, which isn't much considering the elegance and functionality of the program. The iOS Developer Center has a wide selection of tools, tips, debugging tests and guides for creating apps for just about any purpose.
BlackBerry: The BlackBerry platform supports several ways to develop applications, mobile websites, themes and even widgets. To distribute apps on BlackBerry's App World, you have to pay a fee for every 10 apps you submit for approval. BlackBerry often offers promotions to waive this fee.
Windows: The Windows platform may not be the world's largest, but its user interface is easy to use. The Windows Phone development program provides valuable documentation on the best practices for marketing your app. Plus, you don't have to worry about your app or game idea getting rejected after you've spent time creating it. Windows provides clear documentation on what will fly and what won't with its approval process.
Now that you have a better sense of the platform options, you'll want to start considering which tools will help you create your mobile app. But what if you're not a programming junkie? What if you don't necessarily like to speak in code? There is good news: There are plenty of app development tools for ordinary humans, too.
Here's a look at nine that you might find useful:
The tool is free to use, but a $79 monthly fee per app subscription gets you access to more advanced features. AppMakr works on the iOS, Android and Windows operating systems.
This tablet and smartphone publishing platform allows you to create and manage your presence on all popular mobile devices, including iPad, iPhone, Android and HTML5 apps. It delivers rich graphics, photos, video, audio and other forms of interactivity.
GENWI also enables you to revise your apps as often as you like. What's more, apps can include various revenue-generating capabilities for businesses, like ads, coupons and in-app subscriptions. After a three-month trial, pricing varies by features included.
One of the greatest strengths of the London-based Mippin platform is its ease of use. It allows you to create apps for Android, iOS and Windows, and provides flexibility in designing the app. You can even have Mippin distribute your app for you to the iTunes, Android, Windows and Amazon stores. Native apps can cost as much as $999 per year.
Related: App Development Methods Decoded
Are you a singer or in a band? If so, then MobBase is for you. This app builder allows you to use an RSS feed to keep your fans up to date on band news and events, lets you upload tracks for fans to listen to while browsing the apps and makes it easy for fans to find information on upcoming shows, buy tickets and get directions.
Activation of an iOS app requires a one-time fee of $250 (includes $99 to set up an iOS developer account). Android activations run $20. Hosting fees range from $15 to $65 a month. Additional fees for support services are not included.
Do you have an e-commerce store that you'd like to take into the mobile sphere? Then MobiCart might be what you're looking for. It links up with PayPal to allow any business or consumer with an e-mail address to securely, conveniently and cost-effectively send and receive payments online.
Basic plans cost $15 per month. "Pro" plans will cost $49 per month.
For just $29 a month, MyAppBuilder will create an iPhone or Android app for you. All you have to do is provide content (videos, books, etc.) and their pros will take it from there. You don't need a technical background to develop an app with MyAppBuilder. They'll even take care of the hassle of uploading it to the app store for you.
MyAppBuilder says can create two apps per month once you register and pay a $29 monthly membership fee.
You can use RunRev's LiveCode to develop your app, which is an English-like language for developing iPhone and Android apps.
With this cross-device platform, you can build live prototypes that use the full capabilities of iOS and Android devices and deploy to whatever platform your customers need. The site is also packed with plenty of tutorials to help you along the way.
Pricing for RunRev's commercial-level LiveCode packages range from $299 to $1,499.
Another easy-to-use platform is available via ShoutEm, which is set up for bloggers, students, sports fans, news portals and local publishers. You don't have to have knowledge of coding to set up your app, and ShoutEm will even take care of the iTunes and Android Marketplace submission process.
ShoutEm offers basic, advanced, pro and enterprise-level packages that start at about $30 per month.
Here is a simple, inexpensive way to build, track and update a native mobile app for your business. You create your iPhone and/or Android app online. Once it is available for download via the iTunes Store or Android Marketplace you can update content in real time through SwebApps.
The basic package, which includes one app for one platform, requires a one-time $399 development fee. Hosting costs an extra $29 per month.
Building your own app can be an effective way to differentiate your brand, to open up new revenue channels and deepen your relationship with your customers. These tools can help you come up with the app that's best suited for your business.
This article is an edited excerpt from Go Mobile: Location-Based Marketing, Apps, Mobile Optimized Ad Campaigns, 2D Codes and Other Mobile Strategies to Grow Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012) by Jeanne Hopkins and Jamie Turner.
Corrections & Amplifications: A previous version of this excerpt misstated the operating systems on which AppMakr runs. It works on the iOS, Android and Windows operating systems.