We live in an application-centric world, and apps are the software tools that ultimately get things done. The easier and faster we can build and deploy them, the more efficiently businesses will run. This particularly rings true in the mobile era where demand for mobile apps far outstrips the professional capacity to deliver them: The number of mobile app downloads in 2017 clocked in at nearly 200 billion, with the figure expected to exceed 350 billion by 2021. Low-code development platforms have emerged as an ideal way for businesses and power users to quickly design, build and deploy apps with minimal coding.
With low-code tools, app development is no longer reserved for IT pros and the most tech-savvy but also something that a person with minimal or even zero coding skills can pull off. Low-code platforms are specifically designed to cater to these two groups of users with drastically different preferences and skills sets. On one hand, the platforms provide everyday business users with a simple UI and plenty of tools to help them build apps step by step. On the other hand, they provide IT and tech-savvy users with a wide selection of customization tools, additional data sources, third-party services and an additional layer of security and compliance.
The best low-code application development frameworks share certain features. Here are five of the most important that are worthy of consideration:
1. Cloud-based Architecture
A good low-code development platform needs more than an intuitive UI. It also requires a host of services that power business logic, authentication, security, APIs and the ability to add microservices such as Bluetooth, RFID, maps, push notifications and more.
A great platform also provides an out-of-the-box selection of cloud services so that even non-coders can quickly assemble an application without writing code.
2. Data Centricity
Successful businesses want the ability to quickly access large volumes of data. A low-code platform should ideally not only be built atop reliable databases, but also allow easy integration with third-party data sources in order to create data-centric apps. The platform should make it easy for the user to embed data into apps using simple point-and-click integration tools.
3. Point-and-click/Drag-and-drop Tools
The biggest selling point of low-code platforms is that they allow the developer to drastically cut down on development time without sacrificing app quality. This is made possible by employing a variety of tools that the developer can use to control their GUI using mouse controls, selecting actions from a drag-and-drop list, and adding elements to their app template with a click.
4. Cross-platform Support
Most businesses prefer a cross-platform development framework where they can develop solutions for web, mobile and other platforms instead of developing web applications on one platform, mobile on a second one, and so on. Developers tend to stick to one platform regardless of device or architecture (e.g. native, web, mobile).
A flexible framework that fits the diverse needs of the business or its clients is highly desirable. The platform should ideally support as many programming languages as possible, including Java, Ruby, Python, PHP, HTML5 and others. Furthermore, the framework should easily scale up or down based on the transaction volume by users, as well as come with a range of built-in services for software testing, analytics and app deployment.
Best Low-Code App Platforms
Low-code platforms offer varying levels of differentiation. Some excel at providing an intuitive and guided experience that helps non-experts to quickly build task-oriented apps. Others specialize in helping experienced developers build complex business process models and customized UI designs without having to write code. Some are great for mobile apps, and others excel at web applications.
Here are two leading low-code development platforms:
Although Salesforce is primarily a CRM solutions vendor, the company also ranks as the largest vendor of low-code application platforms. The company's Force.com is an app development platform that allows users to build powerful enterprise apps without writing code. Salesforce actually describes Force.com as a no-code platform, since all you need to create apps is to drag and drop components into the Lightning App Builder, while the Schema Builder allows you to modify your data object relationships. The company also provides a mobile SDK that can be used to create iOS and Android apps, and its Heroku cloud platform allows users to design and operate scalable back-end services.
- Feature set that allows the user to supplement data from its huge selection of SaaS apps
- Robust security
- Strong partner roster
- Not as low-code as some other platforms
- Lacks customer support for app autoscaling
OutSystems is an open standard-based low-code platform that can be readily integrated with any system. Unlike Salesforce's piecemeal approach, OutSystems boasts a unified low-code platform under the name OutSystems 10. The platform allows users to define the data model, workflow process, business logic, and UIs for both mobile and web apps.
- Broad feature set, including ample tools for database and process applications
- Minimal coding required even when working on custom UIs
- Heavy reliance on partners for cloud-security certifications
Are you considering a low-code platform but not sure if it's the right decision? Contact us, and we can help you think through your options.