“Everybody should learn to code,” they say. Well, as a student of Software Engineering, I’m here to tell you everybody can’t become a coder. It takes a good amount of theoretical knowledge, relentless practice, and a lot of patience to be able to create something even as simple as an average quality, one-trick pony of a mobile app. There’s no way around it. Unless, of course, you are Microsoft! Yes, Redmond has come up with an app called Project Siena that allows you – at least on paper – to create other apps without writing a single line of code.
Project Siena gives you an empty canvas with a good number of tools to play around with. You can add background images, add labels, buttons, galleries, video players, drop-down menus, shapes, timers, etc. Afterwards, you can set their behavior to, say, navigate to a new page, save or delete information. If you want to view data from an outside source, you can do that too! There are options to call data from RSS feeds, Windows Azure, Office Excel spreadsheets, and SharePoint.
So, they’ve given users the tools, but is it easy to create an app?
I spent around 30 minutes trying to make a simple webcam photo capture app. The idea was simple: display your webcam’s feed at the top, and have a big ‘Capture’ button at the bottom that, when clicked, would save the photo. I set the ‘Capture’ button’s ‘OnSelect’ value to capture a photo from the Camera module, but upon publishing the app (which requires a Windows developer account), it didn’t work at all.
Indeed, it is true that I didn’t do something right along the way, but that speaks badly for the app. To wrangle Project Siena, you may not need programming skills, but you still need be a techie.
Microsoft and Google have made similar attempts in the past. There are tools available that again on paper allow you to make apps without having any coding skills. Windows Phone App Studio and App Inventor were launched with a lot of fanfare, but they never picked up steam.
Siena is a work-in-progress (beta) at the moment, so we can expect good improvements from it in the future. If you’ve got a simple app idea that can work within the constraints put in place by Siena, you should definitely give it a try. Your experience may be different from mine.