Katherine Boehret

Using a Self-Made App for Family Ping-Pong

With hundreds of thousands of mobile apps out there, it’s easy to think they materialize out of thin air. The reality is a different story: App developers spend time and money researching operating systems before creating and testing apps. Then they often have to wait for an app store to approve the apps.

Given these obstacles, you would think it’s nearly impossible for average people to design a personal app.

Yet this week, I tested a tool that helps people make apps for events such as PTA meetings, church activities, fantasy football leagues or weddings. It requires next to no technical knowledge, no app-store approval and it’s free. It’s called Yapp — a mashup of “your” and “app.”

To use it, you open Yapp’s website, Yapp.us, in a computer browser, select an app design from about three dozen themes and enter whatever information you want to appear in the app, like text and photos. Pressing Publish generates a link or QR code to send to friends, family and colleagues for downloading the app. (Customized Web links, where you select the URL’s text, cost $5 each; the rest are randomly selected and free.)

But things get tricky the first time you try to download a finished app, which is also called a Yapp. When you receive an email with the Yapp link and click on it, you are sent to Apple’s App Store or the Google Play store to download YappBox, a free app that serves as an inbox for all of the Yapps a person might receive, much like Apple’s Newsstand on iPads and iPhones. Once you open YappBox, the new Yapp is there for you to use. This process is initially confusing and will intimidate some people. After that, the process of receiving apps made by friends is much smoother.

Yapp Inc., the New York start-up behind the Web site, takes advantage of a method Apple has used for years: Combining user-friendly software with beautiful design yields elegant results that look far more difficult to create than they actually are. Other app-making services either involve higher fees, or focus on certain events, like Appy Couple, which creates wedding apps.

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For special events like a holiday party, users can create Yapps for guests that include Invitation and Gallery pages.

It took me as little as five minutes to make a simple Yapp. I went on to make seven, including one for my church’s holiday greens sale, one for a family ping-pong tournament and one for a holiday party. Though the functionality of these Yapps is relatively basic, they look polished and professional. And they include links that interact with other features on a mobile device, so selecting a street address links out to Google Maps or selecting an email address opens the compose email screen.

Preloaded pages in each Yapp include Invitation, Schedule, News Feed (where Twitter feeds can be imported) and Gallery (for photos). Extra pages can be added, as well as pages for People and Simple Text.

I found a theme called Underground, which had playful fonts and a loud red and brown design on its front page, to match the Yapp I made for my family ping-pong tournament. I uploaded a photo of ping-pong paddles for the Yapp’s front image. Its Invitation page included location and start time, and the Schedule page included times for three rounds of play. The News Feed included a Twitter feed and messages posted by family members using the app; the Gallery page showed family photos; and a People page listed players, titles, emails and phone numbers.

Each time I made changes to a Yapp, I pressed Publish to send updates to other users, and these people had to hit an OK button to implement these updates. This process is relatively simple and lets people keep adding features to their Yapps.

The Yapps can broadcast push notifications to other users, and these work the same way text messages appear on most devices. This is a big plus in situations like when a birthday party gets moved at the last minute because of rain or it’s the last day for wedding guests to book a hotel room. These notifications can be text-only or can include photos, and they get listed in the Yapp’s News Feed.

There are a few drawbacks, starting with the occasional sluggishness of apps. It’s missing a few features I wish it had, like the ability to add end times to events and let guests RSVP. And there aren’t many design templates to choose from.

I also wish I could collaborate with other people on a Yapp, but there’s currently only one administrator allowed per Yapp. Maria Seidman, Yapp’s CEO and co-founder, said these features and the ability to have more than one administrator are in the works.

Yapp users are asked to sign in using Facebook Connect, but Yapp never posts to Facebook on your behalf. Though signing into Yapp with Facebook credentials might be nerve-racking for people worried about privacy, I found it offered a quick way to log into Yapp via iPhone, Android phones or Web browsers.

Eight of the Yapp themes use designs that have matching stationery from popular stationery site Wedding Paper Divas, which is a nice touch if you want your wedding-app design to match your wedding invitation, program and thank-you notes.

If you’re looking for a fun way to coordinate with friends or family members, Yapp will do the trick. It has some growing up to do, but it puts app creation in the hands of real people, which is an exciting step.

Email katie.boehret@wsj.com.


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