Is it possible to develop apps and software using only your iPad?

by Sean Michael Kerner

January 23 2012

From code editors to prototyping, TabTimes tests six of the most effective development tools on the market today.

If you're looking to develop software on an iPad, there is no shortage of useful business applications to help you out. As always, choosing the right app depends on what you want to accomplish, however. Software development has never been a one-size-fits-all kind of activity.
 
There are two primary categories of apps that TabTimes considered as part of this roundup: code editors and mockup/prototyping tools. Both categories aid in the development of mobile as well as traditional applications.

koder

Price: $5.99
Pros: Slick tabbed interface, syntax highlighting
Cons: Not a pure iOS app development tool


 
Koder is an interesting tool if you've already got a project that you're looking to edit and expand.

It's not a replacement for Xcode (Apple's development tool for iOS) and there is no integration with Apple's iOS SDK. In this respect, koder is more geared for traditional web development projects, although just like HTML it handles PHP, JSON, JavaScript and more.

One area that is lacking out of the gate is a more robust set of snippets for development (CSS, HTML, PHP or otherwise); by default, the basic code snippets that are included are helpful, though minimal. That said, you can build your own set of snippets for whatever coding project you're working on.

The tabbed viewing interface is also a plus, enabling you to make the most of the tablet screen. It does have several must-have features that are needed to share and access web development code, including SFTP access), but in limited testing, we found that that lack of verbose detail screens meant that it was difficult to troubleshoot connection issues. 

Codea

Price: $7.99
Pros: Innovative programming interface
Cons: No export capability

Codea (formerly known as Codify) generated a bunch of excitement when it was first released as a visual coding tool. This app has an innovative interface that lets developers build interactive apps or even games. The reference material and in-line context is superb as well, making this an interesting starting point for new programmers.

The only problem is that this tool doesn't yet have an export capability, meaning this app (while interesting) is just an education tool and is not currently suited for production business use.

The AppBuilder

Price: Free, monthly hosting is $29 a month
Pros: Builds a full app
Cons: Limited interface options

The AppBuilder sounds exciting because it promises to be more than just a basic mockup tool. It can also actually build apps too.

Unfortunately, this promise isn't quite fulfilled on the iPad itself. Not entirely at least. While it does enables users to build a basic news kind of application, pulling in RSS feeds, YouTube or other web content, the interface is quite clunky. And it costs $29 a month for the full service, which is a bit hefty considering the limitations of the platform.

iMockups

Price: $6.99
Pros: Solid layout options, export options
Cons: Limited widget, button choices

The iMockups app provides a grab bag of interface items and widgets to help developers and designers figure out how an app or web site could potentially look.

Sharing is easily done via email in pdf or jpg formats. Please note that this is a monochrome app for the default widgets and buttons, and the result is that everything looks pretty bland initially. This is consistent with iMockups' emphasis of layout versus color design. (Thankfully, you can add color after that fact.)

Blueprint

Price: Lite version Free; Full version: $19.99
Pros: App screen flow chart, large inventory of buttons and widgets
Cons: Doesn't build code; is just for blueprinting

Blueprint is one of our favorites. It's a superior mockup prototyping tool that provides a full array of items that a developer or designer might want.

The app provides controls, tables, bars and views which align with how an iPad app should be developed. There is also an app hierarchy flow chart which can help you to visualize how a user would walk through the app in a potential use-case.

Finally, there is also a standalone app called the Blueprint Viewer that enables anyone to interact with the prototype app. 

App Cooker

Price: $19.99
Pros: Extensive widget and tool inventory, App financial forecasting
Cons: Again, not an actual code tool, even though the final results look slick

Building an app isn't just about crunching code, or mocking up prototypes. It's also about business planning, app approval/submission, and more.

These additional categories are where App Cooker goes beyond other apps. It has tools that will help developers with the process submitting their apps and modeling various business scenarios and forecasts.

App Cooker's set of widgets and graphics are also impressive, making it real easy to mockup whatever kind of app you want. App Cooker also has a companion free app called App Taster that lets anyone try out the mocked up App.

The only real problem is that this isn't an actual coded app, so even though it might look decent, it's still just a mockup.

The Winner(s)?

Unfortunately none of the apps that we tested in this particular roundup actually enabled us to easily build and deploy a live app to the App Store. The AppBuilder offers that promise, but the results are lacking.

For hard coding and the backend, koder is an excellent tool and likely the standard against which all other iOS text coding app should be judged.
 
On the mockup prototyping side, picking a winner is a tough call.

Both App Cooker and Blueprint are excellent apps that fundamentally make it easier to design whatever app you want. With their companion viewer tools, they've both also made it easy to view those app mockups, but they are still just that – mockups.

As of January 2012, there is no iPad replacement for Xcode and the iOS SDK, which is required in order to submit to the App Store, does not run on the iPad either (yet).

Until that day comes, editing web code on koder and building mockups with Blueprint or App Cooker will have to suffice.

Sean Michael Kerner is a veteran technology journalist who covers a broad spectrum of technologies including networking, application development, servers, security and, of course, tablets
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