Opinion / Monday, 23 April, 2018

Building simple smartphone apps workshop: Opinion from LIDA intern David Marshall


I recently attended a 1-day course to learn how to build simple smartphone apps without coding, hosted by the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) in the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA). The training was delivered by Dr Chris Birchall of the Leeds University School of Media and Communication. I went into the course with no knowledge about the way apps work or how to create them, but by the end was able to successfully create my own simple app which allowed users to fill in a form and which collected their data into a spreadsheet. In just a couple of hours I was able to learn the basics of app development.

The course started with introductions and I was impressed by the range of research and industry backgrounds from which the other delegates came and the range of rationales for being at the training, with a mix of students, researchers, teachers and industry professionals looking to develop apps for businesses.

The software we used during the training is Thunkable, which is a free-to-use software allowing users to drag and drop visual objects in order to create an app which can be used on Android or iOS devices. Once I’d registered with Thunkable and downloaded the app, creating the initial interface for my app was easy. Simple drop down menus and drag and drop objects allowed me to create the interface for a potential login screen. Typing a code into the “Test function on the Thunkable app then enabled me to test the app on my phone easily.



Creating a login screen for my app on Thunkable


The (slightly) trickier bit came when attempting to link the buttons and menus to other screens within the app. The idea for this comes from a software called Scratch which allows users to create blocks of code using a jigsaw technique. This is a much more accessible way for people with no experience of coding to learn the basics of coding. I was able to drag and drop jigsaw pieces from the left hand side, joining them on the right hand side, to create an app with a register and login page, as well as home page once logged in.


Linking buttons and menus using the Thunkable app


I then linked the app I created with Google spreadsheets so that the data filled in by the user could be stored safely and easily in a secure database. It was also possible to display some results from the database (a list of names) live on the app itself. The idea of this is that you could display live events linked to a calendar or a list of people attending an event etc.

Throughout the session I was able to browse some of the other features and potentials of the software. Apps created using the software can be exported and put on the Google Play Store for free at the touch of a button (iOS is not free and the app must meet certain requirements). Images, passwords, buttons, menus, sliders and web browsers are all easy to add. The app can be linked to the smartphone’s camera, recorder, accelerometer, location and barcode scanner. It can also create easy links to external apps such as social media. From what I can tell the only downside of the software is that creating better looking graphics and interfaces is extremely difficult. However, as a free piece of software for creating simple apps I found it impressive and very easy to use.

David Marshall is a Leeds Institute for Data Analytics intern who has just completed the research project, Textile Data Analytics (TDA): to enable Technology Innovations in Fashion Industry, in partnership with a high-end fashion retailer. For more information on our internships, please click here.

This training course is the first of two on Building Simple Smartphone Apps being hosted by the CDRC as part of Leeds Digital Festival 2018.