What is app development software?

Broadly defined, app development software is a suite of various applications that enable people (usually software developers or engineers) to develop computer applications (apps). Developers may use any one of these tools as standalone solutions, but they typically use all of the tools together or a few at a time, depending on what stage of development they’re in.

The applications developers use to make other computer applications include software environments such as software frameworks, integrated development environments (IDEs), and bug tracking tools. These software environments gather different components, compilers, programming languages, debuggers, source code editors, databases, and interfaces into one place to make it easier to develop applications for desktop and mobile devices or for the web.

While software developers primarily use these tools to build native and web apps, they also help non-developers build tools for a variety of different purposes and functions such as small businesses, religious organizations, non-profits, and for personal or recreational use.

For example, many small business owners want to create mobile apps for their businesses, but they may not have the coding know-how to build it themselves or the resources to hire a software developer to build it for them. In these situations, many people may use no-code application development platforms that make it easy for anyone to build applications, regardless of their background.

No matter the reason someone uses app development software, this kind of software exists to make building apps easier than it would be to code every single aspect of an application from scratch.

Categories of app development software

Software tools classified under the umbrella of app development software might be included in software development kits (SDKs), or they may serve as standalone solutions that can, in turn, be used with other solutions for software development. App development software can be broken down into the following four main subcategories, but other subcategories such as version testing and cloud computing also exist.

Software framework

A software framework is an application that dictates a program’s flow of control. This differs from libraries and user applications, in which the caller dictates the control flow. Users cannot change the framework code, but they can override certain sections of its code and add extensions to it.

You can think of software frameworks as a theme in PowerPoint. A PowerPoint theme gives you a consistent appearance and format, but you’re free to choose which variations you want to use. You’re also free to add onto existing themes. For example, AppKit is a framework provided for free by Apple. This framework lets a developer create user interfaces (UIs) for apps run in macOS — Apple’s main operating system for all of their computers.

Software developers take many factors into consideration when choosing a framework to use. These include the operating system or platform that will run the developed app, the user experience a framework offers, and the programming languages compatible with the framework. Popular software frameworks include the .NET Framework from Microsoft, the Oracle Application Development Framework, and the Cocoa Umbrella frameworks from Apple.

Integrated development environment (IDE)

Integrated development environments give developers all the tools they need to build apps using a given framework. IDE features vary, but most IDEs at least include a text editor, build automation tools, and a debugger. Some IDEs also include a compiler and/or an interpreter. Apple’s Xcode is an example of an IDE. Xcode integrates with the Cocoa and Cocoa Touch frameworks to help developers make apps for desktop, mobile, and internet of things (IoT) Apple devices.

Bug tracking software

Bug tracking software tools keep track of software bugs. Bugs are typically reported by users or other developers testing the software. A bug tracking tool maintains a database of all reported bugs and usually allows developers to watch bugs for updates, set bug statuses, assign bugs to team members, and other actions.

Many developers use bug tracking tools during the initial development phase to help plan user stories, and agile software developers use bug tracking tools on an ongoing basis to identify and fix bugs as they arise. Jira is a popular bug tracking tool, but many project management solutions like Asana and Wrike also include bug tracking features.

No-code/low-code application development platforms

As more and more small businesses start to develop their own mobile applications, no-code/low-code application development platforms are becoming increasingly popular. These tools provide graphical user interfaces (GUIs) for building mobile, desktop, and web-based applications, using what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors to remove or reduce the need for source code editing. These tools do for application development what platforms like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace did for website development.[a][b] Popular examples of no-code/low-code application development platforms include AppSheet, Appy Pie, and Kintone.

Best-in-class breakdown of app development software

The following table gathers some of the top-rated app development software from multiple subcategories. In order of appearance: version testing, cloud computing, no-code/low-code application development, and bug tracking software. Frameworks and IDEs are not included in this list because they are free software tools that are custom-built by various different software companies to work exclusively for their own proprietary software.

Product
Industry Rating*
Pricing Tier
Free Trial
GitHub 4.78 low Yes
Microsoft Azure 4.30 low Yes
Bitbucket 4.30 low Yes
Kintone 5.00 average Yes
Google Cloud Platform 4.25 high Yes
Appy Pie 4.57 average Yes
AppSheet 4.70 low Yes
Guidebook 4.73 high Yes
Amazon Web Services 4.40 average Yes
Heroku 4.43 average Yes
Jira 4.25 average Yes
Asana 4.25 low Yes

*Industry rating is based off an average of ratings from industry-leading B2B software review sites.

Common features

Here’s a list of some of the most common features you’ll encounter within app development software solutions.

Templated apps

What it is:

Many no-code/low-code solutions offer app templates to help you get a head start on building the design and functionality of your app. These templates are usually built specifically for different kinds of businesses and include functionalities that support those business models.

Example:

If you’re building a mobile app for your ecommerce store, a relevant app template might include in-app purchases (IAP), push notifications, and integrations with ecommerce sites like Etsy and Shopify.

Source code editors

What it is:

Source code editors are text editor applications where you write and edit the basic plain text commands that constitute computer programs and software applications (i.e., source code). Most IDEs include source code editors, but you can also find source code editors as standalone tools.

Example:

If you do any “hand coding” using a programming language like JavaScript or Ruby, you’ll need to use a professional text editor for plain text editing such as Sublime Text or Atom.

Graphical user interface builders

What it is:

Graphical user interface builders (GUI builders) eliminate the need for developers to write source code that configures the position and sequence of page elements. Instead, GUI builders use visual editors where you drag and drop page elements and widgets to construct the app’s layout. As with source code editors, you can find GUI builders as features in IDEs and no-code/low-code platforms or as standalone tools.

Example:

Which GUI builder you decide to use will depend on the programming language you’re using. Many Python users prefer Kivy and PyQt, while HTML and JavaScript developers widely use Adobe DreamWeaver.

Push to mobile and web

What it is:

Push to mobile and web features let you publish mobile applications from within an IDE or no-code/low-code platform. Published items will push to the Apple App Store or the Google Play Market for publication pending review, or to a website for immediate publication.

Example:

Some tools like Appy Pie give you the option to either publish your app yourself or to go through their system to send all the relevant information to the Google Play Market or Apple App Store. If you choose to publish an app yourself, you’ll need to create an active developer account with Apple and/or Google, depending on where you want to make your app available.

Agile workflows

What it is:

Agile workflows have found their way into all kinds of different software solutions, especially in project management tools. But software developers were the original authors of agile methodologies. Software developers value these features because they keep tasks organized and allow for collaboration between multiple developers.

Example:

You’ll find familiar features like Kanban boards and Gantt charts in many bug tracking tools such as Jira and Asana.

Benefits

App development software solutions save developers from coding out every single aspect of an application in a plain text editor, but that isn’t the only reason to use these tools. Here are some of the biggest benefits of having app development software.

Time savings

The biggest benefit of app development software is the amount of time it saves developers. Tools such as integrated design environments (IDEs), software frameworks, and no-code/low-code platforms keep developers from reinventing the wheel every time they start to develop a new application, leaving them to focus on being creative and refining processes and workflows instead of writing the same source code every time they want to make a new app.

Improved visibility

Being able to see visual changes to an app while you work on it is a major benefit of using app development software. Instead of spending hours writing source code so you can run an application later to test it, tools like IDEs and no-code/low-code platforms show you changes in real time. This allows developers to identify potential problems sooner, which makes for a more responsive environment.

User interface (UI) design help

Many IDEs also offer user interface (UI) design tools to help developers

  • see what designs look like across multiple devices
  • view variations between portrait versus landscape orientations and across software versions
  • put less time and effort into coding.

Many IDEs include their own user interface tools, which developers can also use to preview designs for usability testing. For Apple Xcode, there’s SwiftUI, and for Google Android Studio, there’s Layout Editor.

Major user types

App development software, though broad in definition, usually requires a specialized skill set to use. With the exception of no-code tools, most app development solutions require at least some basic coding knowledge. With that in mind, these are some of the most common user types for app development software.

Software developers

Software developers are the primary users of app development software, and they work with all kinds of app development tools. Even though software developers are usually comfortable with at least a few programming languages, some developers also use no-code/low-code platforms or IDEs with no-code/low-code features. This helps developers deploy software rapidly, as coding is time-consuming work.

DevOps teams

As the people responsible for developing and testing the operation of software deployments, DevOps teams use software frameworks, IDEs, and bug tracking tools, among others, to carry out the day-to-day functions of their jobs.

Non-developers

Non-developers who use app development software are mostly small business owners using no-code app development platforms. These are people who want to increase sales and brand awareness for their small business but who lack the resources within their company to hire software developers. Apart from small business owners, this user type also includes church and non-profit leaders, app resellers, creative professionals such as musicians and photographers, podcast hosts, and virtually anyone else with an idea for an app.

CTOs

Depending on a company’s size, their chief technology officer (CTO) may also use app development software. This all comes down to a CTO’s level of involvement with the DevOps team. A CTO at a larger company likely won’t spend much time, if any, in app development software, but a CTO at a smaller company may be more directly involved with the creation and deployment of proprietary software and applications.

Market Trends

The app development software market is rapidly growing, especially as the demand for mobile applications rises and as more non-developers begin to make applications. Multiple large scale, industry-wide trends naturally impact this market, but for the purposes of this guide, we’ll specifically focus on trends directly related to app development software. This isn’t to say factors such as 5G technology, increased threats from cybersecurity, and virtual and augmented reality aren’t relevant to app development software, just that they aren’t only relevant to app development software.

Rising revenue for mobile applications

For the mobile application market specifically, revenues are rising fast. In fact, the total worldwide revenue generated by mobile applications is expected to rise to over $185 million USD by 2020 — that’s up over $100 million from 2016. This has huge implications for no-code/low-code application development platforms, as more and more people with no formal background in software development are using these tools to build apps.

Internet of things (IoT) and wearable technology

More and more devices connect to the internet every day. These increasingly include internet of things (IoT) devices and wearable technology. As these devices improve, many designers of IoT and wearable tech devices are opening up their devices to developers. Apple, Amazon, Google, and soon, Facebook will allow developers to create apps for their respective devices.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) — itself an implementation of AI — have huge implications for almost every kind of technology today, and developers are increasingly adding AI features to their applications, both desktop and mobile. Many frameworks such as Microsoft’s .NET and Oracle’s Java support popular programming languages for developing AI — like Python and C++ — and frameworks for mobile app development are adding support for them, too.

Platform as a service (PaaS)

Platform as a service is not a new concept, but it’s been growing in popularity as cloud computing technology improves. PaaS tools reduce time spent developing applications by handling the set up and management of an app’s infrastructure, including operating system, virtualization, databases, and servers. Tools like Heroku help automate DevOps processes so developers can spend more time focusing on their code, ultimately leading to faster deployment.

How to choose the best app development software

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