What is WP App Studio
Designing, maintaining and updating a WordPress app can be hard work – especially if one has limited, or no programming experience. WP App Studio (WPAS) is a WordPress design and development platform (PaaS) that allows users to design and develop their own WordPress plugins without coding in PHP.
WPAS is offered in two tiers, ProDev, the commercial tier, and FreeDev, the free development tier. We will be reviewing ProDev within this article.
What does it offer?
WPAS is targeted at all types and levels of WordPress users, from marketers, bloggers and start-ups to developers and designers. Marketers, bloggers and in general, anyone with little or no coding experience, will find that they can easily design and maintain an app without hiring developers. In fact, later on in the review we show you a simple app we have created that didn’t require any coding.
For seasoned developers and designers, key benefits will be in the form of reduced development time and increased resource productivity as they will find that creating or modifying apps becomes a quicker process.
How do I use it
Creating an account
First up, one needs to create an account – there are two options, either creating a free account or otherwise purchasing a ProDev license. If unsure, a free account can be created at this stage and then the ProDev licence purchased later on when generating the plugin code.
Installing WP App Studio
The next step is installing WP App Studio, which is very easy – the plugin can be installed automatically by going to ‘Plugins’, then to ‘Add New’ and searching for ‘WP App Studio’ in the search field. Alternatively the plugin zip file can be downloaded and installed manually.
Designing and generating an app
The next step is to create your App. To test WPAS, we have created a simple app that can be used by football clubs, whereby all football player details can be entered through a form, and the club would have the functionality to search for a particular player based on position, skills, contract window etc.
To start creating the app click on “Add New Application” and enter an Application Name.
Bear in mind that a WPAS app is a collection of entities (which are mandatory), taxonomies, relationships and other functionality such as forms or views.
Entities and attributes
An entity is a person, object, place, event or a concept for which data is collected. WP App Studio entities are equivalent to WordPress custom post types and store information on main concepts such as customers, products etc. For custom entities, the name, labels and hierarchy need to be defined.
Through the relationships menu, one can also set up one-to-many or many-to-many relationships between entities.
Each entity must have at least one attribute. An attribute is a property or descriptor of an entity – in our case, Player Photo and Player Date of Birth are both examples of attributes of the entity Player.
A taxonomy is a way to classify and group things together. In our example, we have created two taxonomies – one for Clubs (to categorize clubs that players belong to) and the other for Player Position (to categorize player positions, such as attacker, midfielder etc).
WPAS users have the option to define both hierarchical and non-hierarchical taxonomies.
Forms and views
We then went ahead to create two forms – one for the searching of players and another form for the addition of a new player.
The next stage is to set-up views, which define how content will be displayed on the front-end. It’s good to see that a good variety of pages can be designed using views, e.g. single, archive or taxonomy pages. Some types of views can also be used to display content in a table form, such as data grid.
For our example, we created two separate views, mirroring the forms created above – one for player searching and another for new player entry.
WPAS also offers useful additional functionality – widgets being a good example of this. WPAS users can easily create widgets to display entity records on a dashboard page or sidebar.
WPAS provides the ability to set up help screens, which can be quite useful in instances where the end user needs to be guided or provided with additional information to navigate the various settings in the admin panel. Help screens are displayed as tables and can be attached to an entity or taxonomy.
If needed, App permissions can also be easily created and assigned. Through WPAS, once can either modify existing WordPress roles and/or create custom roles to configure and control what people can see, create, delete and edit.
Once satisfied with all app design and development, code can then be generated. Once the Generate button is clicked, the app will be sent to WPAS servers for code generation – in our case, code generation was quite quick and generally took less than 3 minutes, however you are advised that it can take between 5-10 minutes to receive the generated code.
Once the code is ready, the plugin can be downloaded and saved. The plugin can then be uploaded, installed and activated in the standard WordPress manner.
User Interface, documentation and support
The WPAS user interface is not too close to the native WordPress UI and there will be instances that will require some thinking as some features are less intuitive than others to find, especially when using the tool for the first time. Having said that, the tool is overall easy and straightforward to use.
Documentation is exceptionally detailed and is provided in the form of a knowledge center that contains a large number of articles as well as some video tutorials. The knowledge centre contains detailed information on a range of topics, from articles on installing and setting up the plugin for beginners, to articles on how to do mathematical calculations targeted at more advanced users.
WPAS offer free support for a period of one year from the date of purchase. Users on a free support plan can expect a reply within 48 hours, although when we raised a request an answer was received more quickly (less than 24 hours) and answers were spot-on and very helpful.
Once free support expires, priority support will need to be purchased ($99.99 – $299.99) to have access to technical support – an additional fee that does need to be considered on top of the pricing plans below if one is planning on using WPAS on a longer-term basis.
WPAS is offered in two tiers: ProDev and FreeDev. Through ProDev, one can create fully-featured, advanced WordPress plugins without any API access limitation, whereas FreeDev is designed for new-starters who want to obtain hands-on experience with WP Studio for a period of 12 months.
ProDev license prices vary depending on the number of sites owned and include one year free support, one year plugin and WPAS platform updates, as well as one year exclusive app name and text domain registration.
Compared to the majority of WordPress plugins, pricing is quite steep, especially for 2 or more sites. You would need to need to carefully evaluate current development cost and understand how WPAS can help you reduce this and in which areas. For example, if you rely heavily on custom site or plugin development and can markedly improve time-to-market as well as resource productivity, the investment in WPAS would certainly be justified.
Conclusions & recommendations
All in all, WPAS is a great plugin to have – new beginners will find it is easy to use and to get started. It is impressive how quickly one can actually design a new app without any coding knowledge and without having to hire a developer.
At the same time WPAS also provides a comprehensive tool-set that is dynamic enough for advanced users to enable them to design and develop advanced, fully featured apps without spending too much time learning tricks and workarounds, thus shaving months of development time off a project. In a nutshell, WPAS does what it says on the tin.
eMarket Design, the company behind WPAS, is a software company that specializes in business applications based on WordPress. The founders have extensive experience in software development and IT and have launched WPAS in the market in 2014. As the tool has only been launched relatively recently, one may experience certain hiccups in terms functionality and design or encounter items that are still within the WPAS development roadmap. Support is however quick and efficient so one can expect a prompt, helpful reply.
One of the most important points to consider when using such automation tools is certainly the time factor – WPAS quote that on average ProDev license holders see an 80% reduction in product time-to-market and 56% increase in the productivity and utilization of resources. Keeping opportunity cost in mind, WPAS should be seen as an investment rather than an expense.
WPAS is, undoubtedly, worth a try. Grabbing the FreeDev version and tweaking some of the readily available free apps will certainly help you to decide whether to make the investment or not.