Building Native Mobile Apps for iOS and Android Without Code

Most businesses have had websites for years if not decades. Designs and content changes all the time. Web Standards, Accessibility, foreign languages or multi-lingual sites. The work never stops. For last decade, mobile apps have added yet another channel by which to serve your customers.

Apple’s App Store started that movement in 2007 with the first iPhone and iOS apps are known to find a loyal following of customers. Google’s Play Store for Android apps have quickly become the leading (in numbers) platform but not for revenue generation. The fragmented Android landscape (the different versions that co-exist for customers and phone makers) makes it very difficult for developers to create stable apps that work for most if not all users and their mobile phones.

App generation, machine coded native iOS and Android apps, from a visual creator platform have existed as long as smartphones have. Capabilities vary but the power you get without ever touching a line of code is astonishing! That said, these generators are not suitable for all. A real developer is still needed for interfacing with remote systems, back-office servers or a diversity of applications that may exist in your enterprise.

That said, for 80% of the small business out there, these platforms for building mobile native iOS and Android apps serve a real purpose for an owner or general manager who’s tech-savvy enough not to require an administrator or developer and still reach his customer base.

User Interface in AppMachine
Creating an app in AppMachine

I have recently played around with 2 apps for some local customers here in Sint Maarten that each have unique needs and goals. I was impressed with the tools offered by AppMachine to scan an existing website. It creates a set of artifacts or “portfolio” of content that you can include in the default app or edit out (or adapt to suit your needs). Social media links, YouTube channels, contact information, these things are already crawled into the App for nothing right from the start.

Add a Product block with the top 10 selling items from a store or restaurant, a default delivery fee, include a CheckOut block with PayPal integration, et voila… you have an app that lets customers order your best selling products without a need for a phone call, order form or menu and payment integration means the order is already paid before it even leaves your venue.

Next, I’ll see how some other platforms for building mobile apps compare top AppMachine. I found a great description of the best platforms for building mobile apps on Mashable.

ChrisTonite demo AppMachine app

Buffalo Wings SXM

buffalo wings sxm

It was a pleasure creating the website for the best place on St Maarten to get Buffalo Wings. Talking with Victor gave a lot of energy to help set-up a website where people can find menus, see photos of the dishes, get to know the product line that Buffalo Wings SXM has to offer and find a clear location and opening hours of the restaurant. This is a rare thing on St Maarten and something that more venues should do for their prospective visitors and guests.

Buffalo Wings
Restaurant | Bar | Sports

After having established himself as the go-to place for buffalo wings and creating 24 homemade sauces to match any style, flavor or texture you might be in the mood for, Victor is expanding his product line with delicious burgers, wraps, arepas and Venezuelan parilla. But he also wants to let people make their own famous buffalo wings by selling deep frozen, marinated, ready to cook wings and ribs for backyard or poolside birthday BBQs, family gatherings, company cookouts or beach picnics.

buffalo wings sxm
Buffalo Wings St Maarten

The website was set-up on WordPress.com for reliable hosting with high uptimes, automatic WordPress software upgrades, great security features, free SSL certificates with each domain and best-in-class antispam functions to fool contact form spammers.

I integrated Google My Business and Search Console, so that Victor has a good understanding of how people end up on the website or what they searched for to get there. This will help him create better focused social media ads and which promotions were successful and which not.

Kalliopie Designs

kalliopie designs

When a friend needs your help, you go and help. So when my friend told me about her passion and hobby to make high-end custom hand and clutch bags for friends, family and customers but didn’t know how to update her website, I jumped in.

kalliopie designs
Kalliopie Designs

Kalli studied Arts and Design in Philly and started making bags right away. First for herself, you know how that goes, but soon all her friends wanted one too. Her trademark – signature – is the “Evil Eye” which is a Greek symbol.

TheĀ evil eye is a curse or legend believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to a person when they are unaware. Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury. Talismans created to protect against the evil eye are also frequently called “evil eyes”

Wikipedia

She also has a cool “skull” design, which reminded me a lot of the Mexican symbol used for “Dia de las Muertos“, the day of the dead. Both are really well done and the quality of her products is superb. Too bad you can only make so many bags by yourself, but she’s looking to increase production. When that happens, the site is easily expanded to include a little shop.

Best thing about this site is that Kalli already had professional photos done with her bags and dresses by St Maarten’s celebrity fashion and art photographer Yotam Sandak using her gorgeous friend Natascha as a model. It is easy to take pictures, harder to take good photos but it’s very hard to make beautiful great photos of models and products. I recognized the level of skills immediately and making the portfolio section for the sites was a joy!

https://kalliopiedesigns.com/

Green Learning Academy

young girl holding a globe

St Maarten needs her children to be more environment aware and that’s exactly what the Green Learning Academy is going to do!

With the Green Learning Academy, another preschool is opened after Ideal Preschool and this location is better suited for French families as well, right in the heart of Cole Bay. Also convenient for boat visitors who are mooring for longer periods in the Simpson Bay lagoon and need to educate their children for a while.

The school’s motto has the environment and recycling our waste as important learning points to teach the children and that is very valuable for the future generation on this island.

The work involved setting up a basic site quickly, so she could take in new customers and showcase the professional photographs she had made. A Facebook page to match and use closed groups on Facebook to involve parents in an easy way while protecting the privacy of everyone.

greenlearningacademy.com

Cruise Ships Schedules of St Maarten

The Port of St Maarten has made their Microsoft SQL database of the arrival times of cruise ships in Point Blanche publicly available. That is really great! Lots of businesses, shops and operators depend on knowing if and when a cruise ship arrives. Planning, scheduling, supplies, stock and personnel are all influenced by the presence of a cruise ship or two. High season, which is approaching fast, even brings three, four or occasionally even seven (!) cruise ship to the port of Sint Maarten.

cruise ships in dock
St Maarten Cruise Ship Schedules from Port of St Maarten

Interestingly though, they did not create an easy to remember hostname for their web server (just an IP address) and they forgot to configure the IIS web server properly, so that visitors are automatically forwarded to the proper web page. (The root page shows the default IIS 8.0 landing page instead of the schedule picker page.)

Though I can live with it, I find it a bit sloppy and I decided to create a subdomain on my domain that points to their server using an easy to remember name:

http://sxmcruiseships.christianpeper.com/sxm

Sadly, I have to add the /sxm because the server won’t auto-forward you from the root of the web server.

BY AMI: new restaurant, new website

by ami rotterdam

My old friend and sous-chef from my days working at strandclub Doen! in Scheveningen, Ahmed, has his own restaurant BY AMI in Rotterdam. On the Kop van Zuid, of all places. Fantastic! Because so many friends are helping him out with the restaurant, I decided to build him a brand new website. He’d already parked the domain so it was easily linked to WordPress.com for reliable hosting and protection.

by ami rotterdam

Ahmed is a new-age chef, using many Internet and online services for his restaurant, so WordPress was a no-brainer rather than hosting your own wordpress.org package somewhere. It will also be trivial integrating Lightspeed HQ POS services into the site and making scheduling for employees an easy online activity.

Seaside Nature Park St Maarten has a new website

Complete overhaul of an outdated Drupal website. Tracked down the host (TCOhost in UK) through whois and contacted them. Hosting packaged was paid up for three years, so they assisted me promptly.

Created a new site online in WordPress.com and reorganized the site in accordance to the in-take discussion with the client. Main activities are horse riding tours for cruise ship day tourists, riding lessons for locals, inhabitants and expats and the pet farm for children of all ages.

seaside nature park activities
3 main activities at Seaside Nature Park St Maarten

Main improvement is the streamlining of the order process. All pages are linked to a central booking for where the customer fills out the activity he or she is interested in and the request gets sent to booking office at Seaside Nature Park where it can be followed up.

booking form
Seaside Nature Park central booking form

Should a PayPal for Business be added, this setup can be easily extended to include payments and reservations.

Future improvements are daily or weekly blogging by the staff to showcase their passion for the park and their jobs and improved sales funnel to help guide potential visitors towards their purchase.

https://seasidenaturepark.com/

New St Maarten Nature Foundation site live

st maarten nature foundation

I’m very proud to show you the new website for the Nature Foundation of St Maarten!

st maarten nature foundation
Nature Foundation St Maarten

The old self-hosted WordPress.org site is still live and used but totally reworked. I made an export and imported it into a staging site on WordPress.com. Once satisfied, I exported that, cleaned up the self-hosted site by deleting all pages and importing the export file. Once the same theme was set, all that was left to do was customization.

Three focus areas are highlighted:

  1. Preservation,
  2. Research and
  3. Education.

Pages were put into one of these areas and (blog) posts also categorized into the same. This way, their work is visibly contribution to at least one of their focus areas. By going in and manually tagging blog posts, search engines and AI can (in the future) gain a lot of semantic information from the posts and pages, hopefully resulting in more organic traffic.

Divi theme was removed in favor of a free lightweight theme. Plugins were optimized or removed to make the site load faster. Backups are scheduled weekly and security increased, for self hosted WordPress sites are a common target for automated scans and hijacking. Eventually, I recommend the Nature Foundation move to WordPress.com and avoid having to do maintenance on software at a slightly higher cost. But it saves them from having to find a webmaster and either pay him or ask to do it “pro bono”.

Planned Overhaul for ENIAC Alumni

The alumni association ENIAC of my (Dutch) Alma Mater, University of Twente, wants to redesign its website and focus on its primary services. Many aspects have changed I first moved the website from flexible but labor-intensive WordPress.org over to a hosted (but somewhat restricted) WordPress.com platform. Facebook has become ubiquitous and mobile (smart)phones make it easier for alumni to stay in touch, check content and sign up for events, update their data in the alumni database and post pictures during events.

While the static content, such as official documents for annual member meetings, statutes and the monthly glossy, are still important to maintain, events, sign-up forms, social media and calendars will likely be the center focus of the new site.

Exact requirements and desires are still being discussed by the board, but here is heads-up. The main complication is how to cater to 3 vastly different groups of alumni: < 30, 30-50, > 50

If you are a member of ENIAC and are reading this, feel free to share your ideas for the new site and give your input to me or the board.