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BuildFire Review: Best Do-It-Yourself App Maker for Beginners

BuildFire Review: Best Do-It-Yourself App Maker for Beginners
Credit: BuilFire

We recommend BuildFire as the best app maker for beginners.We chose BuildFire from dozens of app makers. To understand how we chose BuildFire, you can find our methodology and a list of app makers on our best picks page.

BuildFire starts at $19 per month. It lets you create iOS, Android and HTML5 apps for free, and you only pay when you are ready to publish and distribute your app. BuildFire also offers excellent customer support via live chat, email and online form.

The idea behind DIY app makers is that it takes the legwork and tech skills out of building an app — and BuildFire fits the bill.

In many cases, app makers that are very easy to use typically offer very generic, one-size-fits all apps that aren't aesthetically pleasing or very user-friendly. Although BuildFire isn't the cheapest app maker around — plans start at $19 per month with very basic capabilities, but requires the $59 per month or $89 per month plan for additional key features (more about this below) — we think it offers the best price for creating professional-looking apps in as little time as possible. We like that it doesn't compromise quality for ease of use, making it the best app maker for beginners.

BuildFire features a fast, easy-to-use app-building tool that simplifies the app-making process. It took us less than 10 minutes to create our first app.

The first step to building an app on BuildFire is selecting your type of business or industry. This convenient feature tells BuildFire what kind of app you need, and then automatically launches a builder that's catered to your type of business.

Whereas many app makers complicate the process by using too many steps, there are only two main parts to creating an app using BuildFire: appearance and widgets. Both are presented in a very simple and intuitive way, so we were able to figure it out quickly. The preview screen also shows you where each element corresponds to the parts of the building tool, making it even easier to make changes.

The layout page is separated into four parts: background and layout, branding, colors and themes, and font and icons style.

  • Background and layout. Choose from a collection of premade layouts; then set your preferred background color and an optional background image.
  • Branding. Upload your logo and other art for your app icon and loading screen.
  • Colors and themes. Select from premade color palettes or customize all colors to fit your brand.
  • Font and icon style. Choose which font you'd like to use and how you want your icon to look.

It took almost no effort to add widgets and build the different parts of our app. BuildFire lists all available widgets in the Widget page — such as text, multimedia, social media, online store and loyalty programs (see more below) — and all you have to do is click on the green "+" button to add the widget to your app. It then automatically takes you to the widget's settings to let you easily modify its content. This was a much easier system than those of other app makers that require you to go through multiple steps and pages just to add features to your app.

Editor's note: Looking for information on a mobile app maker? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

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Another reason we like BuildFire is that it's packed with features to help you get the most out of your investment. Here are some highlights that make BuildFire stand out from the pack:

  • Preview on device. The majority of app makers let you preview your app as you build it in real time — on your computer screen, that is. BuildFire became a top choice for us because it lets you preview your app right on your device at no extra cost. Just download the Emulator app and enter your app's unique code to see exactly how your app will turn out on that particular device.
  • Events. Invite customers to special events by manually inputting them into your app or automatically syncing your calendar.
  • Location services. Let customers quickly reach you. BuildFire doesn't just list your phone number and address; it integrates with your phone's native apps for one-click calling and to help customers find you via maps and directions.
  • Social media integration. While many app makers just let you create buttons and links to your social media accounts, BuildFire easily lets you display your feeds, too. Just add the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social widgets, and enter your account's URL to start showing your feed right on your app.
  • Live streaming. Broadcast video and audio via live stream right from your app. This includes radio broadcast as well.
  • Content syncing. Automatically sync blog posts, product listings, photos, videos and other types of content with your app. Supported sources include your website, online store, YouTube, Vimeo and more.
  • Fast content updates. Many app makers require you to submit changes to your app through the app store, which can take days, or even weeks, for approval. BuildFire's SmartSync feature bypasses this lengthy process to quickly publish and make updates that don't need to go through app-store approval.
  • Native loyalty program. There are all types of loyalty programs to help you find and retain customers, but BuildFire also offers its own that gives you and your customers a ton of flexibility. This program gives you more control over the terms and types of rewards you offer and ways customers can redeem them.
  • Custom push notifications. BuildFire comes with a dedicated push-notification section, which lets you easily create, schedule and manage alerts. Unlike many app makers, BuildFire also lets you create custom groups and subscription options to segment push notifications.
  • In-app browser. Keep users from leaving your app by allowing them to view Web content right within your app when they click on a link.
  • Third-party integration. Do you own an e-commerce business? Use the Shopify widget to display your products and entire storefront right in the app. Do you run a restaurant? Use the OpenTable widget to link your app and let customers make reservations right from your app.
  • Bluetooth integration. If you're in the tech industry, you can create Bluetooth-enabled apps that connect to other hardware, cars and even smart homes.

In addition to app-specific features, BuildFire gives you access to your app's source code. This gives tech-savvy users full control over the app with custom HTML, CSS and JavaScript. (Or, you can hire a developer to code these changes for you, too.)

BuildFire quickly became one of our favorites thanks to its awesome customer support. We were impressed that a live-chat window immediately opened up the moment we signed up for an account. We had just opened up the app builder and hadn't attempted to explore it yet, so we liked that there was already a customer service rep available to help us.

We also appreciate the friendliness and accessibility of BuildFire's customer support team. We contacted BuildFire, posing as business owners, to gain a better feel for the company's customer service. We asked a wide range of questions about the service, its features and any foreseeable technical issues, and the rep was more than prepared to help us. The rep was also very patient while walking us through the builder as we created our app. Additionally, a rep followed up with us a couple of days later to see how we were doing and if we needed any help creating our app, which we thought was a nice touch.

Users who like to solve issues on their own can also turn to BuildFire's library of documentation. This section provides all types of guides on how to create an app on BuildFire and use its many features. The company also has a YouTube channel with a collection of tutorial videos detailing a variety of functions.

Although we really like BuildFire, there are a few drawbacks that may be deal breakers for some small businesses:

Limited e-commerce integration. Currently, BuildFire works only with e-commerce software Shopify. The rep we spoke with said the company is working to expand this capability, but if your online store doesn't use Shopify, you're out of luck for now. As a workaround, you can still add your store as a widget, and the app will launch the in-app browser to display the mobile-Web version of your store.

Mobile commerce. BuildFire also has very limited mobile commerce capabilities. Although the platform is equipped with in-app purchasing capabilities, it is designed for other monetization opportunities, such as advertisements. This means customers can't do things like buy things from your online store, order takeout and make other purchases directly from your app.

Customer service. We're big fans of BuildFire's customer support team, but live help is available only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday. This will be problematic if you need help outside of those hours or on weekends. To get an idea of how long it would take to get a reply, we sent a message after work hours and received an answer first thing in the morning.

Pricing. BuildFire isn't the cheapest DIY app maker available. Although it starts at $19 per month, this is a very basic plan that only includes Android and HTML5 support and is limited to 5,000 downloads with no push notifications. To also create iOS apps, offer more downloads and enable push notifications, you'll need to shell out for the the $59 per month or $89 per month plan. These two more expensive plans also include user management tools, plugins, analytics and other advanced features. This is the standard cost of DIY app makers overall, but you can find similarly easy-to-use app makers that cost less than $20 per month. These won't have the same features or capabilities, however. See below for a list of alternatives in our best picks roundup.

Ready to choose an app maker? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Editor's note: Looking for information on mobile app makers? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

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Sara Angeles

Sara is a tech writer with a background in business and marketing. After graduating from UC Irvine, she worked as a copywriter and blogger for nonprofit organizations, tech labs and lifestyle companies. She started freelancing in 2009 and joined Business News Daily in 2013. Follow Sara Angeles on Twitter @sara_angeles.