How can you build an app if you don't know how to code?

Phase Build
Photo by Agefis on Unsplash

So you have an idea for an app but you can't find a co-founder, you can't afford to hire someone, and learning to code doesn't sound appealing. What can you do? You can build your app without code by using a no-code platform.

In this article we’re going to dig into no-code platforms, the pros and cons of using them, and examples of platforms you can use today.

What is a no-code platform?

A no-code platform, specifically for apps, allows anyone to build an app without the use of traditional code. Instead of traditional code, the platform provides an interface that leverages methods such as drag and drop to create your app. Think Squarespace or Wix but for apps.

Some might say Microsoft Access was one of the first no-code platforms for making apps. It has been around since 1997. It gave everyone a taste for what was possible as a non-developer and the industry has grown up a lot since then. Bubble launched in 2012 and their platform has drastically improved and changed the game. Others such as AppyPie, Thunkable, and many more have followed suit.

It’s also worth mentioning that no-code platforms aren't just for building apps. Squarespace, which has been around since 2004, has allowed anyone to build a website without code, and tools like IFTTT and Zapier have been around since 2010 to automate one-off tasks without the use of code. For example, IFTTT could be used to add content to a Google spreadsheet after being mentioned on Twitter, and Zapier can be used to add a new subscriber to a mailing list after submitting a form on a website.

As no-code platforms become more sophisticated and feature rich, they have become more popular amongst both technical and non-technical people. Compared to other options for building an app, it helps that no-code platforms are also pretty affordable. While it might take tens of thousands of dollars to work with a developer, you can build your app on average for under $100/month.

It’s an exciting time for anyone with an idea for an app.

What are examples of no-code platforms you can use to build your app?

There are actually quite a few no-code platforms available to build an app. Some focus on mobile apps, some on web apps, and some on both. Some focus on building any type of app, while some focus on a specific type, like marketplaces or communities.

Examples of no-code platforms for building apps are:

What are examples of apps built with a no-code platform?

There’s a good chance you’ve used an app built with a no-code platform. People have built a wide variety of apps over the years, and some have even been acquired (aka sold their app to another company). Here are a few that have been built with a no-code platform:

  • Tavolo: An app for reserving a table at a restaurant and pre-ordering food. Built with Adalo.
  • Dida Academy: A home learning app to connect students and facilitators during the COVID-19 lockdown. Built with Glide.
  • Zeroqode: A suite of no-code products that will help you launch your ideas fast and easy. Built with Bubble.
  • Spotto: An app to help recent graduates match with employers during the recruiting process. Built with Adalo and recently acquired.

What can you build with a no-code platform?

You can go pretty far with a no-code platform. There are a number of types of apps you can build, from marketplaces to social networks to dating apps. There's even a no-code platform for creating voice apps!

While no-code platforms are continuing to grow and advance in capabilities, there's still a limit to what you can build. Apps that include AR/VR, mobile games, algorithmic feeds, AI, complex computations, data analysis, or tracking are more complex and can be harder to implement and manipulate in a no-code platform, but there are a few in the works.

Over time, I believe these platforms will become better and more equipped to handle more complex applications, and soon anyone will be able to create almost anything without knowing how to code.

What are the limitations to using a no-code platform?

Anything that's not built completely custom with code can have limitations. Here are some specific limitations for no-code platforms:

  • You can be limited in the design options provided in the platform. While platforms like Bubble give you complete control over styling the user interface, others like Sharetribe or Adalo for mobile apps can be very limited in what you can manipulate.
  • You can be limited in exportability. Most no-code platforms don’t allow you to export the code behind what you're building if you ever decide to go off-platform. This makes it harder to grow or scale in the future without starting from scratch.
  • You can be limited by the functionality of what the platform can provide. Apps with complex or unique flows and/or functionality (for example, a recommendation engine using machine learning) may not be able to be built using current no-code tools.

What should you look for in a no-code platform?

Choosing a no-code platform is primarily dependent on what your app needs, or in other words, the functionality and features you want to support. You can usually determine this through viewing their product tour, their documentation, or by signing up for a free trial and taking it for a spin. Apart from that, I personally look out for:

  • An intuitive interface. If the platform is hard to use to implement what you need, you might lose your motivation for building it.
  • Design options. If you hope to create an app that looks sleek and modern, finding a platform with initial design options or the possibility of implementing a custom design will be crucial.
  • Documentation. It's important for a platform to have comprehensive documentation that you can turn to when you're stuck.
  • Support. If they have proper documentation you might not need support but it's nice to know that it's there if you ever run into issues you just can't seem to fix.

Before you commit to any platform, you should take it for a spin.

No-code platforms come in all shapes and sizes. Try not to commit to the first one you find. Make sure you:

  • Do research. Come up with a short list of your top options and research each platforms' capabilities as it relates to your core features to ensure you’re able to build out your entire experience.
  • Do a test run. I've found that research isn't enough and you should always do a test run. You can do this simply by trying to implement one of your core features within the platform’s interface by signing up for a free trial.
  • Ensure there is documentation. You should hopefully be able to find comprehensive documentation to guide you along the way. Choosing a platform that has documentation in case you run into trouble will be good for you in the long run.
  • Read the reviews. What are people saying about the platform? Have most people found success in using it or are there mostly complaints?
  • Explore the roadmap. What is the company planning to do next? This would help gauge if future features would support future functionality you're hoping to have.

No-code platforms make it possible for anyone to build an app.

If you don’t have funds or technical skills, no-code platforms are amazing tools for making an app without code. They make it possible for anyone to bring their idea to life.