Best App Makers Showdown: BuildFire vs Appy Pie

Once again we find ourselves ringside as two titans of app building, Appy Pie and BuildFire, square off to determine who is the heavyweight champion of DIY mobile development. So far, we’ve seen Bizness Apps topple App Machine, and GoodBarber barely squeeze out a ‘W’ against ShoutEm. Now, we have the esteemed pleasure of watching two more app builders battle it out for glory and the title of ‘Best App Maker.’

More and more app builders are appearing on the marketplace each day. As mobile development continues to be the topic on everyone’s mind, businesses are increasingly turning to these low-cost solutions that boast extreme ease of use and little-to-no knowledge of coding or programming required. The arduous task for these companies eager to build their first app is determining which of these many app builders actually deliver on the promise of a professional, high-quality app for very little investment.

Thus, we’ve set out to compare some of the top app builders on the market. The objective of this Best App Makers Showdown series is to investigate the key characteristics and features that make an app builder successful and how these builders approach each one of those issues. For the purpose of our showdowns, we’ll focus on five key qualities: ease of use, design, and flexibility, social media integration, features, and support. These are the five cornerstones to delivering a successful app building experience.

We’ll go round by round, discussing each of these topics before ultimately crowning a winner. Without further delay, let’s ring the bell and get Round One underway!

 

Round 1: Ease of Use

App builders have to be easy to use for obvious reasons. Companies choosing these services as their mobile development solution are often doing so for two reasons: lack of expertise and small budget (or the lack of budget required to acquire the expertise to build an app). Most app building software comes at a relatively low cost, but not all of them are out-of-the-box ready. In other words, there are app builders that are easy enough for anyone to use and then there are app builders that have a sharp learning curve. Most companies look for the former because it saves time.

Appy Pie built itself up on this idea that app builders should be easy to use. Their name comes from their slogan: ‘Make an app as easy as pie.’  As such, their builder requires zero programming or coding skills. The builder is a drag-and-drop platform, where features are moved and rearranged by, you guessed it, clicking and dragging. That said, if you do have a bit of coding knowledge or decide later to hire someone who does, Appy Pie lets you have access to the code pages as well, which allows for greater customization and added functionality. It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t have to download any software to use Appy Pie; you can access the builder right on their website and get to work immediately in the browser window.

BuildFire’s ‘click-and-edit navigation platform is very similar and, just like Appy Pie, doesn’t require any knowledge of coding. Before creating an app, the builder prompts you on different themes corresponding to various types of businesses and organizations — restaurants, nonprofits, churches, small businesses, etc. Once you’ve chosen your desired industry, BuildFire caters the builder specifically to that type of activity, which makes the rest of the development process a breeze. BuildFire separates construction into two categories: appearance and widgets. Widgets, in this case, are anything the user wants to add, whether it be text, a feature, a branded image, etc. Appearance, as one might guess, affects the look of the widgets and the overall layout of the app. BuildFire’s ease of use really shines in how fast and effortless it is to build a mobile app.

Round Winner: Even – despite Appy Pie’s “easy as pie” mentality and dedication to being incredibly easy to use, BuildFire’s platform is just as simple, which results in a first round tie for these two competitors.

 

Round 2: Design and Flexibility

Larger, enterprise companies have the resources and trained staff (or ability to hire trained team members) necessary to build an entirely unique app from the ground up. This means they don’t have to worry about their app looking too similar to competitors. Small businesses on a budget that have to rely on an app builder, on the other hand, do. Most of these tools offer only a limited number of templates, which means the odds are small that you create an app unique from any other companies using the same builder. The most flexible and design-worthy apps offer some different templates and options to help solve this issue and ensure that every app created is distinct and one-of-a-kind.

 

Appy Pie allows you to choose from 32 different categories of apps, similar to BuildFire. The difference, however, is that within each of those categories are 12 unique templates. Thus, Appy Pie actually offers a total of 384 distinct templates. Plus, with 32 industry-specific categories, there’s a lot of business types included that other app makers don’t bother creating unique templates for, such as a radio station, a sports team, casinos, authors and more. Once you’ve settled on a category and template, further design options allow you to customize your app even further. The layout suggested features and more can be adjusted to fit your brand’s image and desired mobile experience.

It’s not easy for BuildFire to compete with the incredible number of design and theme options offered by Appy Pie. Their app builder only has 15 different templates, and each one is designed for a different type of business in mind. This makes it tough to create a unique app. Two restaurants using BuildFire are likely going to choose the restaurant template, which means their apps will start out identical. It actually takes some tinkering and adjusting if you want to take that template and make it something truly unique and functional.

Round Winner: Appy Pie – there’s just no competing with the 32 different categories, each with 12 additional templates, that Appy Pie offers.

 

Round 3: Social Media Integration

Apps receive a huge boost to their popularity, exposure, usage and download numbers when they are integrated through traditional social media channels. Not to mention, it has become an expected feature by users and greatly enhances the mobile experience for them. As a result, app builders have put social media integration at the front of the line, as far as what features and functions apps need to provide. While many reviews include social media integration with features, it really is an important category deserving of its own conversation.

Appy Pie, like most app-building tools, allows you to connect and integrate apps with the major social media networks, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Additionally, Appy Pie has an impressive number of photo gallery platforms, like Instagram, Picasa, Flickr and others, which can be integrated to make an excellent picture display or showcase products, events, etc. For video content, you can add playlists from all the major host sites like Vimeo, YouTube or upload a video file directly. You can integrate an existing blog, create internal social networks that allow users to engage and communicate with one another inside the app and much more. Appy Pie really brings a lot to the table regarding social media integration.

BuildFire brings a similar arsenal of social media integration tools to the table. You can add a social media tab to your app that shows links to your brand’s major social media pages. Again, major, in this sense, relates to channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The other neat feature of BuildFire’s social media efforts is their SmartPush technology. This lets you to segment users into groups based on their preferences or other parameters, and those users can then interact (post pictures, comments, likes, etc.) with one another inside the app. The owner of the app receives notifications every time an engagement takes place, which makes it easy to stay on top of questions or comments submitted through the app. It’s also a convenient way to get the word out about upcoming events.

Round Winner: Appy Pie – despite the SmartPush technology offered by BuildFire, Appy Pie has a similar feature and seems to integrate with more social media platforms, which gives them the slight edge in this round.

 

Round 4: Features

Social media integration is a vital part of any app’s success, but it ultimately comes down to the features. Features are what people find valuable about your mobile experience that encourages them to download and become active users of the app. If your features aren’t relevant, in the eyes of the user, or are inferior to a competing app’s experience, then you won’t see much success in the mobile world. Fortunately, it is a two-way street; as enjoyable as features are for the user, they also give businesses a ton of value. Push notifications paired with location services present the opportunity to know where your customers physically are and notify them of deals, a nearby store location, an event in the area, etc. Apps also create the opportunity to implement reward point systems and elevate a brand’s current loyalty program offerings.

Appy Pie has a lot of industry-specific features that make it a significant threat to other app builders. For example, a restaurant can benefit from their menu building, reservation and takeout ordering functions. Alternatively, a realtor could take advantage of delivering an in-app mortgage calculator and GPS location tracker to notify potential home buyers of new properties for sale in their area. Appy Pie also hits all the other major considerations when it comes to features. They allow for the creation of coupons and loyalty cards (even movie/event tickets), location-specific push notifications, an E-Commerce store and more. The biggest drawback is that the E-Commerce can’t be connected to an existing platform like Shopify; it is only the Appy Pie Shopping Cart.

In the opposing corner, BuildFire’s lineup of features is also impressive. Although some reviews are circulating that claim the app builder lacks some features, BuildFire has made an effort to improve their offerings.They have their own loyalty program system, which could be annoying if you have an existing rewards system already in place. If you don’t (or aren’t satisfied with your current one), however, their program is great and gives you a lot of say over the terms, types of rewards, how customers earn/redeem points and more. One compelling feature offered by BuildFire is the ability to live stream audio or video content. For example, you could stream your podcast live through the app or stream a video of an event taking place. On the topic of events, their auto-sync feature automatically updates users’ calendars with your events. They have a slightly better E-Commerce platform than Appy Pie (emphasis on slightly), and it can integrate with an existing Shopify or WooCommerce account.

Round Winner: BuildFire – in the past, BuildFire has gotten a bad wrap about their lack of features, but they have made a significant effort to improve and continue to further their offerings. That said, Appy Pie’s category-specific offerings are pretty nice, but the E-Commerce platform is lacking.

 

Round 5: Support

DIY app builders have to be easy to use, but, mobile development is still a rapidly evolving and tech-heavy trend. This means it can be very easy to run into problems or get a little lost in the building process, even with the most intuitive and easy to use builder. Not to mention, any software or digital service is prone to occasional bugs and errors. Companies like BuildFire and Appy Pie need to have dedicated support staff to handle these issues and help users successfully, build, run and manage their apps. Lack of timely support can be a huge problem because it negatively impacts your customers and their mobile experience.

Appy Pie’s support offerings include video tutorials, a “knowledge base” that can be queried with questions and topics, FAQ section, a blog that is updated on a regular basis and phone, email or live chat support. What is nice about their tutorials and articles is they can be searched for and then read/watched in the same window as the builder. You don’t have to open a new tab or move outside the app builder. They have content on specific tools, which makes it easy to find the specific answers you are looking for. There are, however, two drawbacks. First, their email and chat support is only available for the paid, basic plan ($12/mo) and phone support is reserved for Gold members ($30/mo). Secondly and as a result of this pay-for-support system, email and chat support is noticeably slower than the phone.

Compared to a lot of app builders, BuildFire is a relatively small company. Many competing services are backed by other, larger businesses or deep-pocketed investors. While we are confident BuildFire has its own investors, the point is that they have fewer resources than some of their competitors. And, one of the biggest areas where they lack resources is with their support. Their small staff limits them just to email support, and that support is only available during regular work hours (9am-5pm PST) on weekdays. If your app crashes on a Saturday, you are out of luck until Monday morning. That said, they do have a library of videos and tips on various topics, which give you the chance to solve most problems on your own.

Round Winner: Appy Pie – while we aren’t thrilled that Appy Pie essentially charges customers for support and isn’t very quick to respond, to begin with, they do offer a lot more than BuildFire; this is another easy win for the Appy Pie corner.

 

And the Winner Is…

In a big knockout victory, Appy Pie is the clear winner. Not only did they win three rounds, but considering the first round was a draw, they actually only lost one round. And, it wasn’t a big loss either, whereas BuildFire really lost badly in rounds 2 and 5 (design/flexibility and support). That said, BuildFire has slowly been fixing the chinks in their armor.

If this matchup took place just a couple of months ago, BuildFire probably wouldn’t have even won the Features round. Their team has really been evaluating the issues with their builder and making big efforts to improve. For a company that is only just beginning to plan out their mobile development strategy and isn’t quite ready to make a commitment to an app builder yet, BuildFire might be worth a second glance when you do decide it is time to build an app.

They may even turn the outcome around the next time these two app building heavyweights take to the ring.