Last week, at Web 2.0 Expo, during a Zoosk-sponsored speed-dating event for startups and venture capitalists (Zoosk is an Web-based dating service), one entrepreneur took some time to show me what his startup Yapper does. The demo, which I captured on video (below), shows how ordinary non-programmers can develop mobile applications for iPhones, iPads, Android-based devices, and BlackBerries with little more than a Web browser.
First off, based on the demo, Yapper is incredibly cool. As an editor at a media company, I can envision immediate benefits to any organization that wants to pump structured content out to mobile users. But structure is key.
Yapper isn't for developing just any sort of mobile application. It is specifically suited to the development of applications that consume RSS feeds and leaves very little room for flexibility when it comes to developing your own user interface. In other words, outside of the ability to change the skin (colors, icons, splash page, etc.) of an application, all Yapper-built mobile apps get the same basic user interface.
Even so, given what you get for the price (discussed below), Yapper.com can do a remarkable job in helping to get certain types of mobile applications up and running in minutes without developing one line of code. Yapper even takes care of submitting the iPhone (and iPod Touch) and iPad applications for approval to be listed in Apple's App Store.
As can be seen in the video below, there are basically four easy steps, the first of which includes selection of the final delivery platform (iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry). According to Yapper.com founder Chintu Pratikh, the iPad as a delivery platform is included when you pick iPhone. But, the user interface makes to indication to that effect until you get to the end of the four step process.
The first step also includes pointing the Yapper.com mobile app dev interface at an RSS feed to consume (a single application can consume more than one). Immediately after selecting a feed, the mobile device simulator (off to the right in the video) responds to that selection by giving you (the developer) some idea of what the final application is going to look like when it consumes that feed.
For each feed that an application consumes, Yapper creates a new Tab (up to 11 of them) at the bottom of the user interface and the developer can select from a list of icons (or upload their own) to display on the those tabs. Yapper.com won't intermingle two or more RSS feeds on one tab. In order to do that, you'll probably have to turn to a service like Yahoo's Pipes which can not only handle such intermingling, but also spit out a new RSS feed as the result (one that could be consumed by a tab on a Yapper-built mobile application.
In subsequent steps, the "developer" can personalize the application colors, labels (the application's name for example), icons, App Store image, and the application's splash page (appears on launch). As can be seen from the video, you're better off uploading exact image sizes instead of counting on Yapper to properly resize or crop any images. Fortunately, Yapper gives you a good idea of the image dimensions that it's expecting.
Any further customization of an application requires the attention of Yapper's engineers at a rate of $100 per hour. During the video interview, the company's founder and CEO Chintu Pratikh told me that the application development process isn't entirely cloud-based and that where the cloud-based development leaves off, Yapper's engineers take over (approximately 20% of the process is manual).
In terms of cost, the first decision is whether you, your organization, or Yapper is going to be the publisher of record for your application (in places like Apple's App Store). If the answer is something other than Yapper, then it costs $50 extra per application. Next, you must decide which platforms to generate the application for. Each incurs a one time cost (provided there's no custom work required). Android and BlackBerry apps cost $199. Native iPhone and iPad apps are $299. If you want the output as a Web app that works on both iPhone and Android, that's $99 and there's an additional $50 if the application will include pushing alerts to end users.
To the extent that Yapper's applications are all about content and RSS feed consumption, Yapper would be well-advised to offer other functionality that's common to the types of customers (eg: media companies) that might use its service. For example, a provision for some type of mobile advertising or embedded linkage to contextually-related content. For a closer look at the how Yapper.com works be sure to watch the ReviewCam below.
David Berlind is the chief content officer of TechWeb and editor-in-chief of TechWeb.com. He can be reached at [email protected] and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below).