5 Plugins To Turn WordPress Into A Mobile App
AppPresser has been causing a bit of a stir in the WordPress world recently.
Its unique approach, though, is clearly aimed at developers so what options exist for those WordPress users who want to deliver their WordPress content via a mobile app but don’t wish to get their hands dirty with PhoneGap?
In this article, I take a look at five other plugins that all deliver a mobile app and discover that if you are willing to compromise the process is surprisingly simple and cost effective.
As even AppPresser shows, creating an app for the mobile platforms is an involved, technical process that is not for the faint-hearted. Not surprisingly, then, services and their associated plugins have been created to smooth the process and make app publishing available to anyone who wants it.
Even though AppPresser is aimed at developers, the basic aim is to produce a mobile app and so it was a little surprising to see some commentators claim that AppPresser has no competition. Sure, there are significant differences between the newcomer and the existing plugins and services but they have a common goal: the creation of a mobile app.
Five plugins stood out in the WordPress Plugin Repository that promised to create a mobile app for at least the iOS and Android platforms: IdeaPress, UppSite, Mobiloud, Wiziapp and joemobi. I took each for a spin to find out if they delivered on their promise.
Note: All the observations in this article are based on each plugin and service to the point of publishing the app. The “final” app is based on the preview provided by the service.
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IdeaPress provides a reasonable app at a very reasonable price.
The simple, easy-to-follow, building process operates entirely on the IdeaPress website although you will need to install a plugin that provides a JSON API for accessing content for both the building process and the app itself
The customization options allow for basic color selection, selecting the format of the home page and deciding which categories (maximum of 10) and pages to include.
The app features a slick slide-out menu (automatically populated with links to Home and the selected categories and pages), a search function (disconcertingly, on the preview of the app it doesn’t search your site but the generic demo site) and a back button.
The preview app did not seem to recognise any formatting, so posts were displayed as a dump of text with no paragraphs. Whether this is restricted to just the preview, I’m not sure.
IdeaPress is easy to use and it takes a little more than five minutes to have an app up and running. The preview, though, is not that inspiring and left me wondering if this was really what my app would look like. Perhaps for $69, I’d be willing to risk it but if you are going to have a preview, and for these tools it’s pretty much essential, then it should be as close to the real thing as possible.
UPDATE: UppSite closed down on 1st July 2014. There is a short announcement on the plugin page on the WordPress repository.
Uppsite offers a very comprehensive wizard and configuration options, all from within the WordPress Admin interface.
That said, there are two issues with the app building process which make it an unsatisfying user experience.
Firstly, although there’s a large superfluous image of an iPhone on every page, it’s not a preview which you would reasonably expect.
Secondly, there’s no access to the many premium features, even just for previewing, without at least signing-up for the 7-day trial which involves providing payment details. Yes, you can cancel but this is an unnecessary hurdle.
The problem is caused by Uppsite offering a free plan that provides an HTML5 app. The premium features apply equally to that app as they do to the mobile app making it difficult for Uppsite to make the premium features previewable on the free account but at the same time preventing them from flowing through to the HTML5 app.
This needs to be addressed because it hinders what looks to be a very promising product.
Interested in UppSite?
Mobiloud’s plugin provides an easy-to-use, if limited, mobile app building experience.
On initialization, the plugin “builds” the app, allowing for some simple design modifications. Further configuration, such as adding items to the app menu, enabling push notifications and determining which items appear on the home page, is available via a second menu option.
Mobiloud uses App.io for a “live” app preview which certainly gives it a truer feel, even if it doesn’t always work first time and doesn’t seem to handle audio files.
There is no HTML5 app option.
The end result is clean enough, although the menu icon seems a little too hidden to me. At $960 a year, Mobiloud is one of the more expensive options and with its comparatively small set of configuration options whether it features in your possibles list will depend heavily on how much you like the application.
Wiziapp is a competitive product with the bonus of a decent HTML5 web app.
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On installing the Wiziapp plugin in your WordPress site, it immediately starts to “generate your app” which, depending on the size of your website, can take several minutes. Fortunately, a progress bar tracks the process.
The generation process actually creates an HTML5 app which can be immediately activated and shown to mobile users. Apps for the Android and iOS (specifically iPhone) platforms are created on request when signed up to the Pro plan.
Configuration options cover the splash screen, the metadata to be displayed on the post listings, the make-up of the tab bar menu, the sharing options and analytics.
There is an instant preview (this changes according to which options are being configured) as well as real preview. However, as the HTML5 is being constantly updated, the best preview is simply to browse the site on a mobile device or simulator.
Despite being less configurable than a premium-enabled UppSite, the Wiziapp app works well, there are no hidden premium features and seems highly suitable for a content site.
A $199 one-off payment for both Android and iOS (iPhone only) apps ($299 if you want iPad as well) means that Wiziapp is certainly worth serious consideration. You might even just install it for the HTML5 app.
Just one catch: from my testing, it seems that Wiziapp is not multisite compatible.
joemobi is too much of leap of faith to be considered an option.
I was very unsure as to whether to include joemobi in this list.
That the plugin hasn’t been updated for over two years was not my biggest concern. The app is built via the joemobi website with the plugin simply providing an API for content retrieval.
What did concern me was the lack of currency with joemobi’s website (last blog post June 12th 2013), Facebook page (last updated June 12th 2013) and Google+ page (last updated September 23rd 2012). Only Twitter seems to have been kept up to date.
But there’s more to knock the confidence.
The configuration options are sparse and there is no preview before you must submit the app for publishing, a process that can take an hour.
At the time of writing, four hours have now passed and still no notification and the spinner is still spinning in my application status.
The “purchase now” link is active though.
Here’s a summary of the costs and key features of the five plugins.
|UppSite||FREE||Yes||Yes||Yes||$99 / mth||N/A||Yes||Yes|
|Mobiloud||N/A||$540 / yr|
|$540 / yr|
|N/A||$960 / yr|
|Yes (via GA)||Yes||Yes|
All prices are one-time unless stated otherwise.
* Price includes iOS (iPhone) and Android
** Price includes iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android
All the services operate on the same basis: a WordPress plugin provides an API that the mobile app uses to access content on your site, meaning that new content published on your site will be immediately available in the app.
Whilst IdeaPress and joemobi require the apps to be configured on their websites, the UppSite, Wiziapps and Mobiloud apps add all the configuration functionality to the WordPress Admin interface which seems more logical. UppSite appears to be the most configurable app although many of its options are only available on its premium plan.
UppSite and Wiziapp also provide an HTML5 Web App as part of their free offering (in the case of UppSite this is minus any premium features) which is not only useful in providing a mobile web experience to your visitors but is the best preview tool.
Previews are vitally important, especially with some of the costs involved, and yet the quality of previews varies dramatically across the plugins. joemobi provided no preview at all before compiling; UppSite’s is severely compromised by constraining it to the features of the free plan; IdeaPress’ preview doesn’t honor HTML formatting properly; Mobiloud’s looks to be a realistic representation as does Wiziapp’s.
Regardless of whether a feature is premium or not, a user should be able to preview how their app will potentially look and feel before any purchase. Free trial periods do not mitigate this requirement, especially if payment details are required to start the trial.
With the exception of joemobi, all the solutions uphold the promise of a mobile app in rapid time, with no need for any coding. Of course, there are compromises: design can only be tinkered with and functionality is not easily extended if at all.
With not much difference in the functional offerings, it really comes down to price and the pre-design of the app itself.
Ignoring joemobi, I’ve not been able to generate anything to form a judgement on, Wiziapp, for me, provides a good app for a good price with the added bonus of a decent HTML5 web app. In fact, it’s worth installing the Wiziapp plugin just to get the HTML5 app.
Having gone through each option, it’s easy to see why AppPresser was born: to provide the flexibility in both design and functionality that is just not possible in the turnkey solutions. Whether AppPresser is a better option for you will depend on whether you need this level of flexibility, your technical confidence and your willingness to compromise.
After all, being able to build a pretty decent mobile app running on HTML5, Android and iOS, in under 30 minutes with no coding for $199 is pretty tempting.