It will cost you a minimum of $10,000 to have even the simplest of iPhone apps built for you properly. Even then, it will most likely be pretty terrible.
The cost of building a decent app was one of the reasons that Chris Stewart and Fred Potter started working on Pieceable, a modular app building service that will allow small business or agencies to craft decent apps at a fraction of the cost of having one custom built.
Pieceable is a project that Chris and Fred have been trying to get published through Apple’s App Store for some time. Unfortunately, they kept running aground during the always rocky App Store approval process. Too much code bouncing around between Pieceable’s servers and the app itself was the major cause and even Chris says that “There’s no hard feelings,” largely because the rejection led to the building of the Pieceable Viewer.
The builder will let user build their app using preset modules right in a browser using drag and drop. Then they can adjust visual styling cues like colors and fonts before being able to look at their app in the Piecable Viewer, a web based utility that will allow users to preview apps built with Pieceable right in their browser.
The Viewer isn’t just for Pieceable apps however, as you can see in the screenshot below. Click here to visit the Pieceable site for a preview of how the Viewer will look once it’s embeddable on clients sites.
There are some issues with the viewer that limit what features of the app that you can use properly. OpenGL for instance, which many games use to display 3D graphics, does not display properly yet. Chris says that they’re working on getting as many features of the apps that they preview working as possible so that the experience is accurate.
“We wanted to give [users] the same experience on-device on the web that way [they] have a really good judge of how it’s going to be once it’s on the App Store.”
You may notice that in a somewhat ironic move, the viewer above uses Adobe’s Flash Player instead of pure HTML. I asked Chris about this choice and he said that they actually started building the viewer in HTML5 but, after they had difficulty implementing access to functions that the viewer would need to simulate a native iOS environment, they decided on the Flash wrapper as the most practical solution.
“We’re hoping that will make it easier to take advantage of hardware features,” said Chris, “It made more sense to do it this way and get it out the door now rather than wait weeks and weeks to do it in HTML5.”
The goal is to make Pieceable simple enough to use that small business owners who have put up a blog or have done some simple web publishing can probably build their own app. Then the staff at Pieceable submit the app to the App Store directly or compile the app and deliver it, allowing the user to submit themselves.
Chris said that agencies creating white label apps to distribute to their clients are also something that they’ve been in discussions about. One of their early partners is Chompon, a group buying network that publishers can use to create their own web and mobile apps.
Both Chris and Fred have been working on Pieceable for some time now but he credits their current home at i/o Ventures, an early stage startup incubator based in San Francisco that Pieceable has been with for about a month, with helping them to finally get the Viewer out there in the public and to work towards launching the Pieceable builder soon.
“We’re so excited that we picked their offer over another one. It’s part cafe, part co-working space, there are always cute girls coming in and out… and almost around the clock mentorship,” Chris said. “There have been times where I’ve pinged Paul [Bragiel, a partner at i/o Ventures] at 4am and he shot back right away. It’s been phenomenal.”
The Pieceable Viewer is live now and they’re selling subscriptions that allow three viewers at a time to look at up to 5 different hosted apps for $30 a month or ten people at a time to see unlimited hosted applications for $60. There’s also a free option if you just want to send one person your app to check out.
The Pieceable app builder is still in the works but Chris and Fred are hoping to launch it soon and for a monthly fee that is just a fraction of the cost of a custom-built app.