App.cat – iPhone app maker?

I’m a fairly regular user of Twitter. I’ve recently started following someone who tweets about curry recipes. Anyway, yesterday, he tweeted that:

Let me say right here that I have nothing against Mr Curry Guy. I’ve yet to try any of his tips/recipes but the pictures he tweets look delicious. The link he provided, really is free to download – so the full link to get it is http://app.cat/apps/81ae387e3a10c3044d0a6de441ca4d58

If anything, I was intrigued. Has he paid someone to code him an app? From his other tweets, it seems his son made it for him, but maybe his son is an app developer?

After looking into it in a bit more depth, I’ve discovered that app.cat is an iPhone app creator. It’s not entirely as it seems though, so I thought I’d write this blog post about it.

There’s essentially two versions of app.cat to help you make your app. One is an iPhone app that lets you make an iPhone app. The other is a more full-featured piece of software for Windows/Mac, that also creates an iPhone app. That’s the theory, and what is claimed on their website.

Back to the curry guy, I was instantly distracted by the fact that to download this curry app, it doesn’t go through iTunes. Upon signing up for the “app” from the link above, I’m texted, which when I click the link, takes me to a web page in Safari on my phone, where I have to add a kind-of web page to my home screen. It’s obviously not a proper app, because unless you’ve jailbroken your phone, the only way to get a proper app onto an iPhone is by going through iTunes and the App store. It’s the “walled garden” affair, also known as one of the biggest complaints Android (and other non-Apple users) have about the iPhone.

I didn’t download this until I’d had time to think about how many other companies app.cat might share my number with (I know – I’m a cynical bastard sometimes).

App.cat say on their own help page:

This isn’t quite true. Shall I show you what happens?

You enter your mobile number on the app.cat website for the app you want, into a box like this:

0-7-7-7…..

And they send you a text message:

*pokes at screen*

Not sure why it misses out the name, but never mind about that. You click the link. It opens Safari and takes you to a web page:

…where you add the “app”, to your home screen. So far, this is looking a lot like the way you add a link to a web page, to your home screen. Hmm.

You get your app on the home screen.

Pictured here, with other web links I’ve added

*Jabs at screen*

Now I’m not going to knock the functionality.

It includes photos, and other options include “share” where you can tweet about it, etc. Again, I’m not knocking The Curry Guy These “photos”, “share”, “about”, etc. are standard options on most of app.cat’s apps. They are a tiny bit misleading though.

Take the recipes for example. It takes the RSS feed of Mr Curry Guy’s blog:

…but when you click to read one, it opens the “more” information, in Safari. It doesn’t even do it cleverly, like when you are in a Twitter app and click a web link, and it opens a faux Safari browser window within the app.

You can click to share this app via Twitter. Which also opens Safari, and takes you to Twitter’s website. Its not an inbuilt Twitter-share system.

There is functionality in this system The Curry Guy isn’t using – for example the option to have a phone number listed, which when clicked, the phone dials. This isn’t really part of the app.cat system at all. This is part of the iPhone system. The phone recognises what a phone number looks like. I can open the notes application, type a phone number, and the iPhone will recognise it as such and give me the option to call it. It’ll also do the same on any website, mobile-friendly or otherwise.

So we’ve got the app “downloaded”, and opened from home screen. It’s all loaded, right? So let’s say I’m.. I dunno…in a bunker? or…on a plane…and switch off all cellular data, 3g, and wifi on the phone, and try and open it again.

Success!

So there were several warnings like above (I got the same message twice for some reason), but after you click through them, the app still works. I’m mildly impressed.

And because this is a real app which stores its own information, and definitely isn’t some kind of webpage-hybrid masquerading as a sorta-app, let’s go ahead and clear Safari’s browser cache.

I’m sure that won’t stop this real app from working, as it’s already installed and is definitely a real app. *jabs at screen*

Close quits the app, not just the message.

Ah. Oh dear. That is rather unfortunate.

In summary

This isn’t a terrible product. It’s not bad, for the money (£27.49 for lite version, or whatever the current UK conversion of $69.95 is for the full version (£44.43 at time of writing this)). You wouldn’t get many hours with a professional web designer for that money, certainly.

There are a lot of organisations who can’t, or won’t have mobile versions made, that run properly in the browser. PC World (the UK electronics retailer – not the US magazine) have a website which is cumbersome and fiddly on a mobile. There are many other high profile organisations the same – it isn’t just a problem for the small/niche guys. And this does have a good clear easy-to-use interface.

But this isn’t really what I’d call an app. When you click to read an article from what I’ve been presuming is an RSS feed (recipe section, in this case), it opens Safari. When you click to share with Twitter, it opens Safari. When you click to share with Facebook, it opens Safari. In the case of this specific one, it caches an “About” page, some photos, and a bit of an RSS feed. Everything else resorts to opening Safari.

Even the RSS feed, while cached, isn’t complete. You can’t sit there and read it, because it’s not caching the full information – just the first parts of each item.

Also, from what I can see, after you’re sent to Safari, when you go back to the “app”, it comes up with a message saying it’s updating, and caches all the information again. This sometimes takes quite a long time. I’ve been back and forth seeing what it does when you click share with Twitter, etc. and even after 3-4 loads of it within 10-15minutes, I still have to wait while it updates again.

I think it would be better as a HTML5 web site design service where most sections of it, ran obviously in Safari (except the bits which can’t happen within the browser like texting, or dialling a phone number). It could work well as the Moonfruit of the click-to-change style of mobile website builds. Also, you could then have it detect the browser device when the user visits your main website address and give people the option to see this version. As it stands, if your customer/reader was on your website on their phone already (maybe they’d found it via a Google search), they still can’t just click to see the mobile version. They have to go through the bother of adding it to the home screen and quitting Safari, just to open this hybrid-webpage-app, and come back to Safari again when they click something. And what they come back to, still isn’t mobile friendly – unless the owner of the website has made it so.

I also think the current method requires too much user interaction. Having got a user who is interested in your product/service/blog, etc. you need to convince them to enter their mobile number – not on your site – but on that of a third party they’ve never heard of. Then they need to accept a text, click a link from it, and add something to their home screen. And because it doesn’t go through the App store, your customers can’t see the glowing reviews from other users of how useful this is to them, or how well it works. (If they’re browsing and already on their phone, they don’t have to go through the mobile phone number + text message system. They start from the ‘add to home screen’ bit).

I’ll give them 8/10 for the user interface, 4/10 for speed (updating.. again? Really? I was only looking at this page 8 seconds ago!), but 1/10 for telling-it-like-it-is. App.cat is only really the solution if the question is “how can I get something that *looks* like an app on the home screen of someone who already trusts our organisation/company/me?” or possibly “I want an app. I don’t really need an app, but how can I have one?” or maybe even “what’s the most convoluted business card I could make?”

Update May 2014

Since I wrote this blog post in February 2012, I have been contacted a few times by people unhappy with the service/product they have received after paying app.cat.

I’m not going to offer any opinion on this, but please see the complaints at http://appcatscam.wordpress.com/ and https://twitter.com/appcat_app_SCAM before you consider parting with any money.

4 thoughts on “App.cat – iPhone app maker?”

    1. It seems to cache some bits, somehow, but ultimately if you use it with an RSS feed, it then needs to use the web browser and internet access, in order to read the posts. It’s more complex than a web-app, but it’s not a proper all-encompassing no-internet-needed app.

  1. Enjojed the read Dan; made me chuckle.

    The thing is, a native app is one that is installed directly onto the smart phone and can work, in most cases, with no internet connectivity depending on the nature of the app – but it still needs web access 😉
    A web app however (app.cat) works both i.e. name, address, number etc from your phone; no point creating a dialing pad within the app as your phone already has one right? It also works via web browser on the smartphone but of course to do this, it requires either a cell signal or wi-fi to function.
    Unlike a ‘native’ app, a web app is ‘current’ in that any changes made are instant, as opposed to a native app which requires updating from time to time to see any additional changes or functionality.
    HTH – P.S Nice Curry (Web) App 😉

    1. First off, I do like the curry guy’s concept, recipe ideas, and have bought one of his books.

      Now – app.cat. I’d argue that it’s neither a native app nor a web app. It’s a hybrid of the two. A web app runs in a web browser. App.cat looks like it doesn’t in order to tout itself as a separate faux-native product but it’s still storing information in Safari’s web cache.
      Native or web I’ve no issue with. But app.cat is basically just a mobile web theme. You could recreate all the live functionality of app.cat in a mobile web theme using WordPress, for free. You might as well just ask web visitors to add your website to their home screen.

      The cached-offline functionality of address and phone number is surely of limited use, because if you need the web to download the app in the first place, you’d probably just call the business at the time (so the number would be in your recent calls or contact list anyway).
      And who doesn’t have web access on a smartphone? Unless you’re roaming, in which case most wouldn’t dream of making an international call on their mobile unless it was urgent.

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