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What is Low-Code Development and Why is it Important? 5 Low-Code Platforms for You

Coding can be exhilarating. Thinking of solutions to complex problems is extremely rewarding. However, there are also many times when coding feels like a manual, repetitive task. Whether it be programming a simple web app or building a data pipeline for the tenth time, starting your project from scratch can be highly time consuming.

Enter low-code platforms. Instead of forcing you to reinvent the wheel every time, low-code platforms allow you to build fast by automating those manual, repetitive tasks. Throughout this blog post, we will discuss some low-code platforms with different applications that will allow you to work more efficiently.

What is a low-code platform?

A low-code platform allows you to build software quickly while writing minimal lines of code. When using a low-code platform, software is built through a graphical user interface rather than traditional programming. The ultimate goal is to decrease the amount of code that needs to be written by hand.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  1. Build faster: It is often much quicker to develop software using low-code platforms. A lot of the heavy lifting has already been done and you just need to put everything together.
  2. Lower development costs: Time is money. By building faster, you can allocate your resources elsewhere and build applications without incurring high costs.
  3. More accessible: Without the need to hand-write code, business teams and designers can build applications without depending on engineering.
  4. Cloud-based solutions: Most low-code tools run on the cloud, allowing you to have scalable, resilient applications and often come with baked in collaboration tools.

Cons

The primary disadvantage of low-code platforms is that there can be a lack of flexibility in some circumstances. When you are writing your own code, you have 100% freedom to do as you wish, however, depending on the platform that you are using, you may not have that flexibility.

Additionally, low-code platforms are often used by non-technical people to solve their business needs. While this can be a huge advantage, if the solution becomes a critical business function, modifications will likely be needed that exceed the low-code platform's capabilities. You will still need to bring in developers, and in some cases, they will need to build an entirely new solution.

Another point to note is that most low-code platforms are SaaS, so you will likely be paying a monthly fee throughout the entire lifetime of your application.

Who can use low-code platforms?

Low-code platforms can enable non-technical users to start building software projects, but that doesn't mean engineers can't use them as well. These platforms are designed to be accessible, however, a majority of them also enable users to write their own code if they desire. This allows you to maximize your efficiency by only coding when you need to.

In some cases, these platforms are designed with engineers in mind, requiring some code to be hand-written but reducing a lot of the tedious work.

5 tools for low-code development

In the next section, we are going to discuss 5 tools that can help you get the benefits of a low-code platform for different situations.

Web Apps - Bubble

Bubble is an online tool that lets you build mobile and desktop web apps without writing any code.

Some of the reasons to use bubble are:

  1. Intuitive drag and drop interface: Bubble allows you to drag and drop visual elements from a large library and resize and position them with ease.
  2. Multi-user Apps: You can create multi-user apps with Bubble by enabling user accounts.
  3. Collaboration: Like with many cloud based solutions, Bubble has builtin collaboration features which enable you to work simultaneously with your entire team.
  4. Integrations: You can connect your Bubble app to any Javascript plugin or API to get the functionality that you need. There are 1000+ pre-built plugins which allow you to connect to your favourite tools like Stripe or Google Analytics.
  5. Hosting: All bubble plans come with basic hosting services and premium plans have reserved server space.
  6. Marketplace: Bubble has a marketplace full of templates and plugins, many of which are built by community developers, to give you the freedom to build a full scale application without coding.

Although there are many advantages to using Bubble, you should also be aware of some of the disadvantages:

  1. Limited free plans: The free plans on Bubble have quite limited functionality and many great features are behind a pay wall. If you stick with the free plan, your app will have Bubble branding as well.
  2. Separate plan for each app: Bubble is priced on a per app basis. You can create as many free apps as you want, but you will need to pay for each app separately if you want to upgrade.

Overall, Bubble is an easy to use platform that will allow you to develop a great web app. To get all the power you need, you will likely need a premium subscription.

Mobile Apps - Adalo

Adalo allows users to build native mobile apps for both Android and iOS without needing to write any code. You can also build web apps using Adalo.

Some of the key advantages of Adalo are:

  1. Drag and drop interface: Like Bubble, Adalo allows users to create their apps using a simple drag and drop interface. Users can pick from a library of reusable components and place them how they want.
  2. Spreadsheets as a database: Adalo uses spreadsheets as a database to allow users to build simple applications very quickly and view their data.
  3. Integrations: You can connect to over 1500 tools using Zapier so you can easily handle payments, authorization, analytics, and more.
  4. Dynamic actions: When building a mobile app, actions like push notifications, linking pages, and native device actions (e.g. camera, photo library, etc.) are essential. Adalo allows you to integrate these actions without writing a line of code.
  5. Marketplace: Adalo recently added a marketplace to allow community developers to build templates and components. Over time, this will become a highly valuable feature.

Adalo ticks off a lot of the boxes for a great low-code development platform, but there are also some pitfalls:

  1. Free plan limitations: The free plan for Adalo comes with significant limitations and upgrading will cost you $50 or $200 per month. The free plan has a limit of 50 rows in your "database" and you can't publish to the App Store or Google Play Store. Collaboration options are also limited to only the top tier plan.
  2. Limited design options: As is generally the pitfall with low-code platforms, Adalo lacks some flexibility with design options. For example, there is only one font.

If you are building an app on your own and looking to do so quickly, Adalo could be a great platform for you.

Data Ingestion and Pipelines - Dropbase

Dropbase allows you to convert CSV and Excel files to live database and apply cleaning and processing steps along the way. With Dropbase, you can automate data pipelines without writing any SQL or Python.

Some of the reasons for using Dropbase are:

  1. Spreadsheet views: Dropbase allows you to interact with your data in a familiar spreadsheet UI so that you can see how your data transforms after each processing step.
  2. Pre-built transformation functions: Instead of writing your own transformations, you can pick from an extensive list of operations to transform your data. Adding, removing, and reordering transformation steps is also simple so that you can modify your data pipeline with ease.
  3. Repeatable cleaning and transformations steps: Instead of manually repeating the same cleaning and processing steps, you can automatically repeat transformation steps on incoming data with just a few clicks.
  4. One-click export to database: With one click, you can export your data to a live database, providing you with a scalable and secure way to store your data.
  5. Easily connect to your BI tools: Dropbase gives you the credentials to your database so that you can use your data however you want. You can connect to all your favourite BI and visualization tools.
  6. Database provided: Your Dropbase account includes access to a top of the line database, so that you don't need to set one up yourself.

Dropbase is great for a lot of reasons, but there are also some areas where it could be improved:

  1. Export to a managed database only: Dropbase only allows you to export your data to the data warehouse that they provide. Although it is a powerful warehouse, you don't have any other option.
  2. Not embeddable: At the moment, there is no way to embed Dropbase inside your applications for file ingestion.

If you are looking to automate your data pipelines without writing any code, Dropbase could be a good solution for you.

Data Apps - Airtable

Airtable is a low-code platform that allows you to harness the power of a database with a spreadsheet-like interface and build apps on top of your data.

Here are some of the reasons to use Airtable:

  1. Templates and marketplace: Airtable and their community provide a ton of templates so that you can use a pre-built format to store your data. If there isn't anything that fits your application, you can always make your own using a spreadsheet-like view.
  2. Integrations and automation: With Airtable, you can connect to thousands of different tools to pull data and trigger events with ease.
  3. Lots of ways to view your data: Airtable allows you to view your data in many ways. Depending on the type of data you are working with, you can view it as a calendar, spreadsheet, map, gallery, and more.
  4. Publish views and forms: Publishing your data views and applications is very easy and you can ingest data from forms directly into Airtable.
  5. Collaboration: Working with teammates is simple in Airtable. The experience is similar to working in Google Sheets.

Before rushing to sign up, it is important to also be aware of some disadvantages:

  1. Complex to write spreadsheet formulas: Airtable has a lot of functionality that can't be achieved within a spreadsheet, however, this comes at the expense of making simple spreadsheet formulas more difficult to work with.
  2. Payment plans are per user per month: If you are planning on collaborating with a lot of people, Airtable can get expensive as they charge per user per month.

If you are looking to incorporate rich-field types and get the power of a database with the familiarity of a spreadsheet, you should check out Airtable.

Internal Apps - Retool

Retool is a low-code platform that allows you to build powerful internal apps. Although you will still need to write some basic SQL queries, Retool will make the app creation process much quicker.

Here are some of the key features that make Retool stand out:

  1. Drag and drop editor: Retool has a simple drag and drop editor that allows you to select components from a large component library and place them within your application.
  2. Pre-built templates: Retool has 40 templates for internal tools already built so that you can get your tool up and running even quicker.
  3. Connect to nearly any database or API: You can connect directly to your database and APIs with ease. Retool does not store your data, rather they query it directly.
  4. Prebuilt components + SQL: Integrate SQL queries with your pre-built components like tables, charts, or lists to view and edit your data with ease.
  5. Add custom JavaScript: Retool allows you to add custom JavaScript pretty much anywhere so that you can have an entirely customizable experience.

There are also some disadvantages to keep in mind:

  1. Retool is built for developers: If you have never written any code before, it may be difficult for you to use the platform.
  2. Priced per end user: Retool is priced per end user, so if you are building an internal tool with 15 users, each of them will need a paid plan.
  3. Limited free version: You are only able to edit tools with the free version. So if you ever want to put them to use, you will need to upgrade.

Retool is a very powerful platform for developing internal tools, however, it was built with developers in mind. It might take some extra time for less technical users to get familiar with the platform.

Summary

There are tons of low-code tools out there and many more will be created going forward. Before starting a project, it is important to consider what tools can help you build faster and more efficiently rather than diving straight into coding. We discussed 5 tools for 5 different applications, but there are so many more options available. Everyone will have different needs and skillsets, so it is important to do find the platform that is best suited for you.

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