One of the big buzz words I hear at conferences is that everyone wants to create a “mobile app”. There is something special about seeing the tiny little square on your mobile device and knowing that you created it. More importantly, mobile apps and resources increase students interaction with coursework and can help them ultimately learn the material better.
Educators are developing mobile apps as resources or supplements to their courses. They may be course-based practices covering topics to help students prepare for an assessment or just a few web pages linked together that look and interact well on a mobile device. I’ll be honest, I am new to developing apps so please realize there is a lot I don’t know but I have a few things I’ve tested out and wanted to share with you what I’ve learned. You can take this and run with it if you like. If anything, I hope to give you a headstart if you are excited to develop a mobile app.
Want to make an app for the Android?
You are lucky! Creating a basic app for the Android system is about as complicated as filing out a form. Using Android App Inventor, you design how the app will look by moving “puzzle pieces” to set your app’s behavior. You create it all online and the app appears on your phone.
Here is a demo video to give you an overview of how simple it is to create an app for the Android.
So if you want to test it out, try it and let me know in the comments area below what you think.
On a side note: 55% of our students (that have smartphones) use the Android system so this takes care of a big chunk of them. However, the rest say they have an iOS mobile device which is quite a bit more complicated. Less than 5% of our students are using mobile devices outside of Android & iOS but your student use may differ.
Want to make an app for the iOS?
Whenever I speak with educators about developing their own mobile apps, they usually tell me that developing for the Android is easy but the IOS is more challenging. I agree!
However, it is possible! I used Phonegap, an open source mobile framework which allows you to drag your HTML files into it and create an app that houses those HTML files to create an app that works on the iOS, Android, Blackberry, WebOS, Windows, Simbian, etc. Here is an introduction demo to Phonegap.
This is nice because you may already have some HTML files you use in your courses. Or better yet you can create some new HTML files using Dreamweaver or a tool that publishes to HTML (like Softchalk, Lectora, or Hotpotatoes).
I’ll be honest. This is much more tech heavy than using the Android Appmaker but it also lets you convert your HTML pages to be viewed for different mobile devices. In order to create an app for iOS you have to have an Apple Developer account (including paying the fee to Apple to become a Developer). Once you have that, and you have the HTML files you want housed in the app, you follow the steps here to build an iOS app using Phone gap.
The nice thing is once you have it set up, you can simply drag HTML files over to the WWW folder in Phonegap and it will convert your HTML files so they appear nicely in the app.I created a practice using Hotpotatoes (a free open source tool to create practices that are simple HTML files) and it worked surprisingly well.
Ever heard of hotpotatoes?
One advantage to using Phonegap is that you technically can use whatever tool you like to create HTML files and then send them through Phonegap to “app-ize” them. 😉
Hotpotatoes is a freeware sofware program that lets you easily create multiple choice/true false, etc practices and it publishes the practices in HTML files. Using phonegap you can take these HTML files and house them in an app container whch appears on your device.
Here are some screenshots of the app I made using Hotpotatoes. Warning: Its not a beauty! I didn’t spend much time working on the design, its pretty much what Hotpotatoes publishes (HTML) when you make a practice. But I did replace some of the links in the navigation with Icons (by opening the index.htm hotpotatoes file in Dreamweaver and editing it). This is a work in progress. All the practice types worked great in the app. I was surprised. Even the audio (MP3 files) and pictures (PNG files) worked without a hitch once I sent them through phonegap. The next step for me would be to open each of the HTML files in Dreamweaver and make them look better.
Looking at a Hotpotatoes Practice that was converted to an iPhone app using Phonegap.
Steps to use Hotpotatoes & Phonegap to create an app for iOS:
1) Create the hotpotatoes practice. It can be multiple choice, true false, fill in the blank, and there are some crossword puzzles and things too you can use too. Link them all together. You save them just like you would normally save practices that are developed in Hotpotatoes. Keep them all in one folder (which you will drag to Phonegap).
2) Setup an iOS Developer Account. This costs $$$ but is necessary.
3) Setup phonegap.
4) Then you drag all the HTML files into the WWW phonegap folder. Make sure that there is a file called “index.html (not just index.htm as hotpotatoes creates)”and that the HTML on the “index.html” file is identical to the hotpotatoes index page (copy and paste the HTML). This page will be the home page of the app. Click “Clean” and then “RUN” or “BUILD” while your iOS device is connected. It will create the little app on your iPhone. There is actually a multistep process to get phonegap workign for you but once its working, you are good to go.
3) The next step is submitting your app to the iTunes store for approval. I haven’t gotten that far yet but I’ll let you know how it goes. So far everything works on my iPhone. I’ll keep you posted.
The phonegap app also works on platforms including iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, webOS, symbian, and bada.
Q: Do you know of tips or other app inventors/app creator tools that are even easier to use? Android appinventor is a cinch, but I’d love to know if there are other tools that make creating an app learning even easier (particularly for the iOS). Let me know. Thanks!