Low-code is an intuitive visual alternative to coding that’s taken the market by storm. According to Gartner’s projections, organizations will create up to 70% of their software using low-code app development by 2025. For comparison, in 2020, only 20% of companies built applications with low-code.
If you’re on the brink of diving into the low-code world but still have some reservations, this article is for you. Acropolium has been working with low-code long enough to learn all about the benefits and technicalities of low-code application development. It’s an essential tool in our arsenal, and we’re excited to share our experience with you.
If you’re new to our blog, read our other articles on the topic:
Back to the topic. What makes low-code so attractive?
Is it a silver bullet, or should you choose other options in certain scenarios? What’s the process of low-code development, and what platforms should you go for? This article answers these and other questions and provides a step-by-step guide to developing low-code apps.
At Acropolium, we love working with low-code because we know the potential this approach has when applied properly. But we’re also aware of its limitations. Let us explain what this means in the case of mobile apps.
Low-code platforms and their role in mobile app development
In the low-code paradigm, mobile apps are created from pre-built modules. People can just work in a visual environment using drag-and-drop controls and choose from a pool of settings and components covering typical functionality. Adding code may be necessary at times, but many business tools can be built without programming experience whatsoever.
A low-code development platform is a collection of modular components and the tools needed to assemble them into fully functional applications. Using a platform, citizen developers can easily design user interfaces, test and deploy apps, and integrate them with other software. Even seasoned pros can utilize pre-built blocks to speed up development, adding code to cater to more specific client needs.
Due to the growing popularity of low-code platforms, there are plenty of options on the market. Platforms may differ significantly in terms of the offered modules, controls, and specialization, but they share the same core functionality.
So what are those basic ingredients that make low-code platforms a great choice for mobile app development?
Сore features of low-code mobile app development platforms
As we mentioned earlier, low-code app development solutions can be composed of a variety of modules. Those pre-designed blocks can help you streamline multiple business processes like sales and marketing, finance, human resources, customer service, business intelligence, and so on.
To understand how the magic works better, we need to look at low-code platforms at the macro level. Here are the essential tools and principles that lie at the heart of low-code development:
- Visual modeling. The ability to work in a visual IDE (integrated development environment) is what both professional and citizen (non-technical) developers love about low-code. Designing user interfaces and building features is quick and intuitive with drag-and-drop controls.
- OOTB functionality. The whole point of using ready-made modules is that they shouldn’t require any extra coding in order to work. This is exactly the case with mobile low-code solutions — their components are ready for action the minute you deploy them.
- Reusable components. As opposed to traditional coding practices, low-code components are easily reusable. Once you’ve created a feature or set up a UI element, you’ll be able to utilize it over and over again as many times as you need.
- External integration options. Most modern low-code platforms support the option of third-party app integration. With the help of APIs (application programming interfaces), you can connect multiple on-premise or cloud-based endpoints.
- Cross-platform availability. Another reason why low-code app developers enjoy working with this approach. No need to build separate apps for mobile and desktop — the low-code suite will compile the necessary versions automatically.
- Multi-user and collaboration. Low-code platforms are also popular for being a collaboration-friendly environment. Most of them allow multiple users to work on one task simultaneously and in sync.
- Data analytics and reporting. The support of data analysis is essential for most of today’s commercial apps. Low-code platforms offer such tools, so you can efficiently monitor key metrics and capitalize on the insights you gain.
- Application life cycle management tools. Every application needs to be tested prior to and maintained after deployment. The process of updating your app should also be streamlined. With most platforms, you’ll find this functionality included in the standard package.
As you can see, low-сode development tools are rich in features and can cover very complex needs. But the benefits don’t end there.
Perks of low-code for application development
You’re planning to build a house. But what if instead of having to hire professionals, you were given a house-building set? A magic box that contained Lego-like blocks designed by pros using cutting-edge tech. All you had to do was pick the right modules and put them together. So much faster and cheaper than building from the ground up, right?
But if you think saving time and money are the only perks you get from using low-code, you don’t see the whole picture. Over the years of delivering low-code solutions, we’ve compiled a more extensive list.
Test your ideas instantly
To experiment with hypotheses, startups need a way to quickly build MVPs. Low-code offers just the right tools. You can model business processes and test your ideas almost immediately, saving time and improving your ROI compared with traditional coding. This also means achieving product-market fit just got easier.
Overcome IT staff shortages
However skilled and experienced, your in-house team will have gaps in specific expertise. Finding the talent to fill those gaps isn’t always easy, and onboarding takes time, too. With low-code, most of your employees, even those without coding skills, can start building apps today.
Some information is always lost in the process of communicating the needs and requirements of the app’s future users. With low-code, you can directly involve citizen developers in creating the features they require.
Reduce the cost of development
A software developer in the US earns an average of $3,900 per month (cash bonuses included). Multiply this by the number of specialists you’d need for the project—and that’s the amount you’ll be able to save or invest into more critical aspects of your business.
The concept of using pre-built blocks guarantees you’ll receive your app much faster than if developed the traditional way. In a recent survey by Statista, the majority of respondents reported a significant increase in the development speed—from 21% to 80%.
Achieve high agility
Low-code platforms offer reusable components that are compatible in any combination. This makes it easy to quickly react to changes or new feature requests. No need to rewrite hefty chunks of code or alter the architecture.
Quickly automate processes
Low-code platforms were made with automation in mind. Most contain modules that automate things like data analytics, reporting, document management, and certain elements of customer relations. The modular structure further simplifies the process. Rather than create separate features from scratch, you can build entire CRM or ERP systems from ready-made components, spending days instead of months.
Get reliable performance out of the box
Since low-code mobile app development platforms are thoroughly tested before release, you don’t have to worry about performance issues or other quirks. On top of that, they’re often based on modern tech like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
Easily improve your app later
Unlike hand-coded software, apps built with low-code can be easily updated with new features. And you won’t even have to hire professional developers for the job.
Speed up your digital transformation
Unless you need a sophisticated custom solution, designing an app with low-code can help you digitize your workflow in no time.
But even though the record of benefits is impressive, low-code app development platforms can’t completely substitute traditional coding methods. Here’s why.
Limitations of low-code: When to avoid using it
Low-code isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. In a number of scenarios, things need to be done the old-fashioned way.
By the way, if you want to know when low-code works best, check out our article here:
We advise against using low-code if you find yourself in one of the following situations.
Complex business logic and functionality
While the idea behind low-code is that pre-built modules should cover typical business needs, no single platform can handle every possible combination. Some are optimized for creating prototypes and improving team collaboration, while others are great at integrating with other software and data sources.
If you plan to create a feature-rich app with intricate logic, the low-code app development approach might not be your best choice. Traditional methods of building software or a hybrid solution, on the other hand, should give you the right degree of flexibility.
High security requirements
Some industries, such as finance and healthcare, set higher requirements than others when it comes to data security. Businesses that operate with massive amounts of personal, medical, or financial information just can’t afford security breaches or data leaks. The issue of regulatory compliance can’t be ignored, either.
Although low-code platforms uphold certain security standards, they may be insufficient or not specific enough for some projects. And since you can’t access or alter the source code, there’s no way of fixing this problem from the inside.
Luckily, experienced developers know which code tools to use to mitigate low-code security risks. Building a custom solution with a software partner is a surefire way to address your security concerns.
Risk of vendor lock-in
Sooner or later, you might find that you’ve exceeded the capabilities of your current platform and need to find an alternative. But vendors create their low-code platforms for a competitive market, so most of them aren’t compatible with each other. Moreover, some platforms only support their proprietary languages (like Zoho’s Deluge, for instance). This can seriously restrict your options when searching for developers and incur higher costs.
However, the problem is that you can’t always see a platform’s limitations until you run into them. And when you do, with rare exceptions, switching to another platform will mean doing the same work all over again. Take these factors into account before committing to a low-code platform.
High customization needs
Apps made with the same low-code platform will all have a similar appearance. Yes, you can change colors and fonts, the layout of elements, but there’s a cap on how much you can customize your app.
The same goes for features: your requirements may be unique. While many startups or internal users are fine with it, some companies find this inconvenient or even unacceptable.
The solution? More hand coding.
Before deciding to opt for low-code, you have to carefully assess the potential risks and choose the right platform that will suit your business needs. Otherwise, you may end up spending more resources on fine-tuning the app than you would have on building it from scratch.
Of course, we’re not trying to discourage you from using low-сode development tools. Especially since building applications with the use of low-code platforms is straightforward and fun.
Low-code app development: The process
The overall logic of developing apps with low-code is similar to that of traditional hand-coding. And yet, the process is very different, with fewer steps and less bureaucracy. Let’s take a closer look.
Define your goals and requirements
As with any undertaking of this kind, knowing why you need this app precedes the question of how to make it work. Make sure the team is on the same page as to what you’re planning to achieve by creating this application. Set concrete expectations and requirements — what features will you need, what types of data will there be, who’s going to use the app, what kind of load will the app need to handle?
Choose a low-code platform
This step is important. Once you’ve finalized your choice and started working with a particular platform, it will be difficult (and expensive) to switch to another one. So take your time and choose wisely, taking into account the needs of your business.
“But how do I make the right choice?” you may ask. We’ll get more specific in our next section. For now, let’s imagine that you’ve picked your low-code development platform and started building your app.
Draw workflows and business processes
Thanks to the visual environment, you can create processes and workflows by simply dragging and dropping visual elements. Define the variables involved in a particular process and configure the relevant UI blocks. Immediately view the layout of the future app’s interface and visualize its internal logic as a diagram (depending on the platform’s settings).
Exchange ideas between business users and developers in real-time thanks to built-in collaboration tools. Experiment and prototype, reaching a consensus in days instead of weeks. The platform will automatically synchronize changes, and the team will be able to see the results of their work right away (unlike with traditional development).
Connect apps from the platform’s repository or integrate with external software or data sources using APIs. Add code manually if necessary (provided that your team includes professional developers). Work on the UI and features, while the low-code platform’s magic takes care of the backend (the dull machinery under the hood).
We’re almost there, with only a few minor things left to do.
Test, deploy, and maintain
This should be quick. If you didn’t do a lot of hand-coding, little to no testing will be necessary. Deployment is simple and painless with low-code platforms’ standard tools. Standard maintenance should be minimal and come as a part of the package you’ve signed up for.
There’s really nothing more for you to do but enjoy your brand new app. Unless you want to go over the topic of choosing the right platform. We know you do.
Some advice on choosing the right low-code platform
To select the best low-code app development platform for your project, you’ll need to keep your priorities in mind at all times. Not all platforms are universal tools; most vary greatly in terms of optimization for different business domains, models, and tasks. Not only that, some platforms require more proficiency in coding to unlock their full potential.
Some, like Appian, are great for creating enterprise apps for companies that want to improve their business and data management processes. Non-technical users with no experience in programming can leverage the power of the platform and build full-fledged applications.
Others, like App Builder from Infragistics, are better suited for developing e-commerce, fintech, and other complex apps. To make full use of the platform’s benefits, deeper knowledge of coding techniques is required.
While we can’t offer specific recommendations, here’s some advice on picking a low-code platform:
- Read the platform’s description carefully: does it match your use case? Does it mention your primary business domain or offer to solve your problems—customer interactions, data analytics, optimization of business processes?
- Look at sample projects: do you like the overall design, the available choice of fonts and colors?
- Does the platform support both desktop and web development? Are iOS and Android apps generated automatically?
- Carefully examine the platform’s plans and pricing options: are the technical and storage limitations of lower tiers acceptable to you? And what happens when you exceed your plan’s limits? Will you be charged extra or bumped up to the next tier?
- What are the platform’s requirements in terms of coding skills? Will your experts be able to handle it, or will you need to hire more talent?
Finally, you can always consult with an experienced software partner to get an independent assessment.
Going low-code with Acropolium
Even though we love coding more than anything, we also enjoy the low-code approach. It can be such a universal yet precise tool when used with purpose. We mostly mix it with manual code, combining the best of both worlds when our clients have tight deadlines and complex needs.
Some of the low-code projects we’ve worked on include:
Our low-code app developers have learned to recognize the use cases where this approach shines, leaving other approaches far behind.
The bottom line
Low-code application development has found its niche in the market, and its popularity will continue to grow. A great choice for young enterprises, this method is equally applicable for established companies that want to speed up their digital transformation and automate business processes.
The trick is to objectively assess one’s needs and balance the featherweight agility of low-code with the heavyweight arsenal of traditional coding. Acropolium has been doing this for years, and we’ve become quite good at it.
Let’s get in touch, and we’ll help you find that equilibrium.