You have a website, you want an app, and you don’t have much cash. Oh, and not just any app, mind you, a pretty nice app–one that feels posh as those designed by major companies with millions of dollars to throw at the project? What do you do?
You might look for a cheap, offshore app developer to bid on your project and hope they don’t rip you off. (Been there, don’t recommend it.) Or you might just pay $15 a month for Dwnld, a new app that can suck in a website and spit out a beautiful application.
Dwnld isn’t the first company to try this, but Dwnld is the first company I’ve seen do it really well. Once you load Dwnld, all you need to do is enter your site’s URL. Their software scrapes through the site, and generates a fully functional preview of your app within six seconds. Customize it, then publish this app to the App Store with a tap. (Dwnld’s staff will screen that you own the site, that it’s not pornography or spam, etc.) The longest wait in the process is the three to ten days Apple will take to approve your app.
Right now, Dwnld can transform a blog or publication into a phone-friendly app because they’re really good with news headlines, images, and videos. But that’s still only a piece of the web. Into the future, they want their in-house design team to develop schemes for more content types, like recipes or restaurant menus, that will work on a wider array of screens.
Testing Fastcompany.com inside Dwnld, I was impressed. I’d have never suspected that any of these potential Fastcompany.com apps were spit out by software in a manner of moments. Yes, our custom font and branding was totally lost in the translation. But the resulting app was respectable. Coded natively for iOS rather than just shrinking our webpage down to the iPhone’s screen, it features the performance enhancements and little flourishes of physics–like a feed that feels a bit elastic on your thumb, or a poster image that animates to your touch–that you’d expect to find in a AAA app like Twitter.
I could also toggle between a handful of different templates for the app, turning our stories from a tight checkerboard pattern of images into an airy, minimal stream of text with a tap. It reminded me a lot of the web design service Squarespace, but for a mobile screen. Dwnld is like the automated design magic of Flipboard, but at the end of the day, Flipboard doesn’t hold the keys to the experience. It’s your app–mostly. The compromise you make is that Dwnld is listed as the publisher in the App Store, and if you use their integrated advertising tools, you pay them a cut. That’s all on top of the $15 monthly fee.
The company was founded by Fritz Lanman, a former Microsoft VP who may be best known as an angel investor for Square and Pinterest, then creating a personalized search engine called Livestar he’d later sell to Pinterest as well. With Dwnld, he saw a chance to ease the transition to what some have dubbed the Internet of Apps–an age of mobile-based content when every webpage you know is a discrete application and they simply link to one another like webpages.
“We kind of realized, there was an interesting opportunity here to build enabling technology to take the world from 1.2 million apps to hundreds of millions, if not billions of apps . . . similarly to how the web evolved,” Lanman tells Co.Design. “[But] migration from a desktop world to a mobile world is a design problem.”
Indeed, not only do companies still need to figure out how to shrink and simplify a full webpage of content to a smartphone screen, Lanman (rightly) points out that they now have to worry about tablets, so-called phablets (phone-tablets), televisions, and even smartwatches. The digital world is growing into more and more screens shaped and scaled in various sizes that may, in many cases, blur any classification at all.
Dwnld is out now for iOS, to build iPhone/iPad apps, but you’ll need to request an invite to create an account.