AppPresser, Just A Website In An App?

AppPresser, Just A Website In An App?

Do you know how to make a website in WordPress? Then you know how to make an app!

That’s the AppPresser claim, the first mobile development framework for WordPress. But having spent the day playing with it and building an app, I’m struggling to see what the benefit is.

Just what would I use AppPresser for?

Easy to see the gap that AppPresser fills - is your gap though?
Is AppPresser just about putting a website in an app?

Earlier this week, I reviewed five plugins as possible alternatives to AppPresser for building a WordPress-based mobile app, so it seemed only fair that I should play with the newest contender.

Having bought the AppPresser theme (you have to buy something in order to get the PhoneGap build files), I built an app and found myself completely, and unexpectedly, underwhelmed by the whole experience.

It’s probably due to a lack of technical nous, or perhaps a lack of imagination but all I could see was a website in an app and I couldn’t get excited about it. But why not? Why can’t I get as excited as whose tweets appear on the AppPresser front page?

Because AppPresser has two main problems.

It’s Just A Website

The first is that it lives up to its claim that if “you know how to make a website in WordPress…you know how to make an app!”.

Because you really can.

Completely new to PhoneGap, I was easily able to turn a website into an app running on an Android simulator (iOS is a bit more involved due to the PhoneGap build process and Apple, not AppPresser) in next to no time. All by simply following the informative video on the AppPresser website.

Because there’s not much to it.

Add the AppPresser plugin, fill in a few settings, update a configuration, build the screen and icon images, zip it, upload it to the PhoneGap build service and you’re done. Browse to the your apps public page on an Android device and click on the apk link and it’s installed.

Easy.

But what had I really done? All I’d done was produced a browser app that can only show one website. Now, of course, I could make it mobile specific. I could put a mobile theme on it, build specific menus, use many of the techniques written about on this site to create great mobile content.

The great thing is that I wouldn’t even have to rebuild the app because any changes I make are instantly reflected because the app is showing my website.

But then why go to the trouble of building the app when the exact same site is available on the web anyway? When a web-clip would give at least as good, possibly better responding experience than the app? (For some reason, the splashscreen comes up on my app for only a couple of seconds and then I have a blank screen for six or seven seconds before my site appears.)

It’s exactly the same question for the five alternatives I reviewed earlier in the week. What advantage am I getting with the app when it’s basically a website in a bottle?

Device functionality. That’s the advantage, not with the alternatives, but with AppPresser. The ability to add shortcodes to WordPress content to utilize features like the camera and geolocation.

Which brings us to AppPresser’s second problem.

Where’s The Unique Functionality?

Screenshot of iPhone running geolocation demo
Even my 3GS can do HTML5 geolocation
There are only five extensions currently available and only two are about device specific functions with the other three being a theme, an e-commerce bundle and a slider.

Those two device extensions are for the camera and geolocation but both these can be replicated to a large extent using just HTML5 and javascript. This geolocation demo and this camera demo both worked flawlessly on my iPad Air meaning that there’s actually no real gain in having the extensions.

The one extension that would have been a clincher is notifications as that is essential functionality and one distinct advantage that apps have over websites and web apps. Disappointingly, and despite the odd claim to the contrary, AppPresser decided to launch without notifications.

What I’d really like to see are the killer applications, in particular, Newstand integration and in-app purchases. Now that would have me and every magazine publisher immediately taking notice.

Running Before It Can Walk?

So, I’m struggling. I can’t see what advantage an AppPresser app brings over the original website, especially when the app is an additional step or 4 after you’ve built the original site.

Perhaps the advantage is for those with a more than passing acquaintance with PhoneGap, who can write their own extensions but then that goes against the if “you know how to make a website in WordPress” claim. I can make a website in WordPress but I haven’t a clue when it comes PhoneGap.

My feeling, though, is that AppPresser has tried to run before it can walk.

Screenshot of 3 of the extensions
The extensions library is woefully small

The extensions library is woefully small and left me wondering if it was driven by the desire to find a method to charge for the PhoneGap build files rather than providing additional functionality. Given that none of the extensions nor the AppPresser Theme are required to build an app, why not sell the build files separately?

In fact, why not give the build files away with the AppPresser plugin and let people play with the basic product. That model, of give away the core and generate revenue from extensions, themes and support, has been a huge success for WooCommerce and seen them build an enormous user base. So, why not do the same?

Incidentally, I bought the AppPresser Theme. It may be a great framework for building a mobile app but with a single page of documentation its use is limited without perhaps wading through the code. This makes the $99 price tag excessive, even if it does come with the build files and 1 year’s support.

Not All Doom And Gloom

Screenshot of the e-commerce bundle
The bundles show a lot of promise
Despite all this, I still think that AppPresser has promise. The e-commerce bundle probably shows the pathway for the non-developers like me. Complete solutions that can be installed and configured easily to produce great looking apps (and web apps too?).

No doubt as the AppPresser user base grows then the marketplace for solutions and themes will also grow and convenience may loom as a major advantage.

And, if I absolutely had to build an app and if time was not an issue, then I would be inclined to use AppPresser over the alternatives simply because of the level of control AppPresser gives you over the look and feel.

At the moment, though, I’d still be advocating hard for a web app over a mobile app.

UPDATE: AppPresser have responded to this post on their own blog with a post that seeks to clarify “what it does and why it is different”.

Have you used AppPresser? What do you think? What am I not seeing about this product that has had people raving about it? I am genuinely interested, so please let me know in the comments.