Create apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 without coding.
The biggest issue facing Windows and Windows Phone is the relative scarcity of apps compared to Android and iOS. Microsoft faces an uphill battle in attempting to sway companies and mobile developers into building apps for Windows Phone.
One of the offerings created to help close this gap is called App Studio. App Studio was first released last year along with Windows Phone 8. Earlier this year App Studio received an update in conjunction with the announcement of Windows Phone 8.1. Windows Phone 8.1 allows developers to target both Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 with what Microsoft calls “Universal Apps”. App Studio’s recent update allows for the creation of informational apps for both Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1.
Who is it for?
App Studio is most useful for informational apps. Companies, event organizers, conventions and bloggers can use App Studio to create a Windows and Windows Phone app to supplement their web site. As long as the app sticks to informational content think of App Studio as similar to a basic web site builder, but for mobile apps. For developers App Studio could be a good starting point for a more complex app. Generating the app provides the source code which can be inspected, learned from and built upon.
App Studio offers several templates to start with, hinting at what types of apps are possible:
Create up to 6 sections of main content. Content can consist of Rss feeds, Html, a Youtube search or channel, a Flickr user's photostream or search, a Bing search, a Facebook page feed, an Instagram tag, a collection or a menu.
The collection section allows you to create a list of items. You can create custom fields for the list. Product catalogs, company listings and event schedules are some examples of what a list might be used for. Collections can be stored in the app or in the cloud. If stored in the app they will be available even when the device has no internet connection, however they cannot be updated unless the app is updated on the user’s device. If stored in the cloud the information can be updated without an app update, but won’t be available without an internet connection.
The menu allows for additional sections if 6 main sections are not enough.
Themes, Tiles and your Publish Info.
Using the Themes management the app's theme can be updated. Background, Foreground and Application bar color can be modified. A background image may also be uploaded. Unfortunately only a single background image can be uploaded for the entire app.
The Tiles configuration controls what the app’s tiles look like (small, medium and large versions). The Icon tile selection simply shows a static image or icon for the app. The Flip tile displays 2 tile states (front and back). Most interesting is the Cycle template. This allows the app to use a collection section that contains images and display those images on the Windows/Windows Phone Start screen.
Also in the Tiles management a splash screen and lock background can be set. The splash screen appears when the app starts up and the lock screen appears if the app is selected as the lock screen image on Windows Phone.
The final section in creating an app is the Publish Info section. Publish info includes the app's title, description and language. It allows linking the app to the Windows Store for publishing and sets other information about the app that is displayed in the Windows Store. It also allows enabling of ads.
Once the app content and design is done a final product can be generated. Upon generation App Studio provides 3 things:
A download package that you can use to install on your device. This is only used for testing as you need a dev certificate to install the app.
A publish package. The publish package can be used to submit the app to the Windows Store.
The source code. Complete source code for the generated app is provided and can be used by a developer to build more complex features into the app.
While limited I think App Studio is implemented well and it is simple enough for almost anyone to get into and build a simple informational app. Because it restricts the user to certain layouts and features there isn't much danger in messing things up too badly. On the other hand those restrictions probably result in apps made with App Studio looking very similar to each other.
A couple of features I would like to see in App Studio would be a way to add form input to an app. At the moment there is no way for users of an app to communicate with the app’s creator without leaving the app via a web or email action link. I would also like to see App Studio be able to submit apps directly to the Windows Store instead of just providing the publish package. I think App Studio has great potential if Microsoft chooses to develop it further.
App Studio can be used now for Windows Phone 8. I ran into some issues attempting to generate a Windows Phone 8.1 app, but this may be because Windows Phone 8.1 has not yet been officially released.