Swim with the big fishes

AppFin makes a native iOS app from your Facebook page

With iPhones still selling like hot cakes (and celebrating a fifth birthday), everyone and their dog is scrambling to release a trendy iOS app for their company. But unless you’re an expert developer yourself, apps are surprisingly expensive to make, usually upwards of a couple of thousand dollars.

Enter AppFin, a new service which generates a native iOS app from your existing Facebook fan page, and then submits it to the App Store. We got in touch with the company and asked them to produce a version of webdev360’s own Facebook fan page for us to test it out for ourselves.

Here’s webdev360’s Facebook page on iPhone, and on the right app that AppFin version generated for us.

AppFin pulls your brand’s cover photo and icon off Facebook, as well as latest posts, photos and the “about” page - and even gives your app an icon on the home screen. Navigation is as smooth as any Apple-designed native app, and considerably faster than Facebook’s own app.

Though there’s a few rough edges - the app’s still in beta, after all - the overall design is great, with subtle textures and gradients and a fairly tasteful colour orange colour scheme which will apparently be customisable. New updates (statuses, links or photos) get pushed out immediately as standard notifications. Even though the current product is incomplete, it’s already looking promising.

The team of seven, who are based in Turkey, say they came up with the idea almost a year ago. “We have been in the app development business for a while,” Sales and Marketing head Mert Sevinc told us. “While we developing apps for our customers, we realized that it is hard to sync data between different mediums or code a content management system and force them to use it.”

Since mobile apps and Facebook fan pages are similar in function, the team thought, why not try to combine them? After seven months’ work, they ended up with AppFin.

Giving an example of where AppFin might be more useful than a native app, Sevinc said: “Imagine that you are an exhibition organizer. You will definitely have a Facebook Fan page for every different exhibition, in which you will want to interact with your participants, post updates about the event or share floor maps.

“If you want your own custom mobile application for every event you organize, you would have to pay thousands of dollars - not to mention deal with sync problems. You can expand this example for small business owners like restaurants, shops, cafes or  blogs, brands, movies, series…etc.”

Left: The menu slides similarly to the Facebook app, and has plenty of space for new features. Right: AppFin acts like any other iOS app, with notifications and an icon.

One of the neatest things about AppFin is the way it pulls data off Facebook’s servers, Sevinc told us. Using their own SDK based on a modified version of Facebook’s Graph API, information is taken directly from the fan page, modified for mobile and pushed to the application instantly. “We did not store big files like videos, images anywhere, so updating an application is fast and easy thanks to our specialized middleware,” says Sevinc.

But basing a business plan on an external company’s API can be risky: is there any risk that Facebook could decide to block AppFin apps? “Since we are using Facebook API which Facebook itself provide it to developers, we do not think blocking could happen.”

The product is far from finished, though. There are obvious bugs, such as missing link metadata, and bigger issues such as the inability to use the app without an internet connection - but the team say they are listening closely to user feedback and are already working on the issues we highlighted.

Another aspect of Facebook fan pages are third-party Facebook apps such as Static HTML and Soundcloud, which AppFin isn’t currently able to access  - although when asked about the subject, Sevinc replied cryptically: “all I can say is that a surprise is coming soon.”

AppFin’s basic version will be free for the foreseeable future (“We have necessary funds supplied by our investor firm,” says Sevinc), though the company intends to charge for “premium” features further down the line. As for the more ambitious future plans, the team hopes to incorporate data from other social platforms including Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram.

Although AppFin isn’t quite ready for a general release yet, you can get a live demo version on your phone by emailing info@appfin.net.

Elliot Bentley

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