For the past two weeks I've been working on a post comparing the many iPhone developers that have launched web based iPhone app development tools for publishers. After two weeks of trying out different vendors approaches I came to one conclusion: if you are serious about mobile do it yourself.
That's not to say that the door is closed to the off-the-shelf approach. Several companies have come up with easy to use interfaces that makes creating a simple RSS driven apps a breeze. And prices seem to fall into a small range: $199 to $499.
☜ The TNM iPhone as built by Appmakr.
The key is that you can not build an app with one of these vendors and charge for the app on the iTunes store. In order to put a price on your app you must be part of the Apple developer program. The good news is that this is very easy, simply go here, fill out the necessary pixel work and pay the fee. This now gives you the freedom to develop and launch your own app free from the constraints of these vendors, or, conversely with an outside vendor.
On the other hand, if you have no intention to charge then an off-the-shelf solution might work. So what's the variables you will see in prices? Are you hosting the content? If the app is simply going to bring in content from your RSS feeds then hosting costs will be eliminated. Plan on including advertising? Well if you want to use Admob, a popular option, then the price goes up a bit. If you will allow the vendor to place ads then the cost goes down.
My advice, though, is simple: don't give up your brand, don't surrender your revenue options, and give yourself as much flexibility as possible.
New companies are sprouting up like crazy. A service like Appmakr makes it incredibly easy and cheap to get an app on the iTunes store in a few minutes. It took me no time at all to come up with an attractive, though simple, RSS driven iPhone app. The cost to publish would have been $199. But the downside was simply too much for me to close the deal. Checking the iTune store for other Appmakr apps one sees a collection of bloggers all with apps named "ROH Built by Appmakr" or "AF News Built by Appmakr" -- almost 100 would be iPhone publishers willing to get on iTunes for only $199, and not at all concerned that their brand is now tied to the hip with Appmakr.
A very new company, Seattle Clouds, has a similar interface and pricing structure (strange, huh?). Again, the pricing is determined by the amount of control you want versus your vendor, and who hosts the content. Seattle Clouds seems to have learned the branding lesson because they do not force their own brand on your app -- they only get credit for being the developer which seems more than fair to me. The service is very, very new so less than a dozens came up in my search of the iTunes store.
There are plenty of other vendor choices like Big Forge's Local Beacon, and app programmers like Appcelerator.
But rather than jump in just to be one of the thousands of new apps on iTunes, wouldn't a better approach be to seriously commit to mobile by hiring someone who can do this for your company across publications and web sites? Publishers wouldn't think of going to press without an art director or production personnel, so why not take the leap and add technical capability to your company in the form of a person who can migrate your products not only to the iPhone but to Android phones and other formats -- and will be there when you ask "how can we have your products on tablet/readers", as well. I look forward to hearing contrary views from both publishers and app developers.