Amazon Web Services’ new Amazon Honeycode – now in beta – puts AWS into the no-code application competition with Microsoft Power Apps and Google Cloud’s AppSheet.
Designed for citizen developers, the fully managed service allows customers to build mobile and web applications without writing any programming code.
Amazon Honeycode allows customers to bypass hiring developers to build often-costly custom applications – or resorting to emailing spreadsheets or documents -- for tasks ranging from approving purchase orders, inventory management and conducting simply surveys, to managing complex project workflows for multiple teams or departments, according to AWS.
“Today’s spreadsheets fill an important gap between mass-produced packaged applications and custom-built code created by teams of dedicated developers,” AWS “chief evangelist” Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post. “Every tool has its limits, however. Sharing data across multiple users and multiple spreadsheets is difficult, as is dealing with large amounts of data. Integration and automation are also challenging and require specialized skills. In many cases, those custom-built apps would be a better solution than a spreadsheet, but a lack of developers or other IT resources means that these apps rarely get built.”
Amazon Honeycode combines the familiar interface of a spreadsheet with the data management capability of a database. Customers can use its visual application builder to create interactive web and mobile applications backed by an AWS-built database to perform tasks including tracking data over time, notifying users of changes, routing approvals and facilitating interactive business processes, according to AWS.
San Francisco’s Slack Technologies, which offers a channel-based messaging platform, and Mountain View, Calif.-based SmugMug, an image and video sharing and hosting service, are among the AWS customers planning to use Amazon Honeycode, according to the cloud provider.
Amazon Honeycode and the APN
AWS Partner Network (APN) members can use Honeycode internally to improve their business processes and productivity needs, according to Meera Vaidyanathan, AWS’ director of product management for Amazon Honeycode.
“Honeycode is a great product for consulting/services partners to use to build apps for their customers that they might not have had time to develop with code,” Vaidyanathan said. “We are working on enabling Honeycode in the APN program. Right now, partners can sign up today and start learning, building and using Honeycode.”
AWS decided on the Amazon Honeycode name to entice business users for whom coding is out of reach or a little daunting, according to Vaidyanathan.
“Honey represents something sweet, enjoyable and familiar,” Vaidyanathan said. “By bringing honey and code together, we wanted the service name to convey that building apps is now accessible to business users, and that it can even be fun.”
Amazon Honeycode basics
Amazon Honeycode currently is available in beta in AWS’ U.S. West (Oregon) cloud region only, although AWS said it would be expanded to additional regions soon. Customers can build applications with up to 20 users for free and pay only for the users and storage for larger applications, according to AWS.
The service includes templates for common applications including simple to-do lists, customer tracking, simple surveys, inventory management, content tracking, time off reporting, event management, team task tracking, weekly demo schedules, field service agents and purchase order approvals. Users also can import data into a blank workbook and use the spreadsheet interface to define the data model and design application screens with objects like lists, buttons and input fields.
“You can customize these apps at any time, and the changes will be deployed immediately,” Barr said. “You can also start with an empty table or by importing some existing data in CSV (comma-separated values) form. You can also take advantage of a repertoire of built-in, trigger-driven actions that can generate email notifications and modify tables.”
Amazon Honeycode’s built-in functions include common ones associated with spreadsheets and Honeycode-specific functions, including FindRow, which Barr said was a more powerful version of the Excel VLOOKUP function.
Applications can scale up to 100,000 rows in each workbook. Amazon Honeycode automates the building and linking of the three tiers of functionality found in most business applications -- database, business logic and user interface, according to AWS.
Honeycode has two application programming interfaces (APIs) -- GetScreenData and InvokeScreenAutomation -- that allow users to programmatically interact with Honeycode apps. The APIs can be used to read, write, update or delete data stored in Honeycode workbooks as users interact with Honeycode apps. External applications also can use the APIs to interact with Honeycode-built applications.
Honeycode-built applications can be shared with a click of a button. Users with mobile devices can install the Honeycode Player – there are iOS and Android versions -- to use apps shared with them.
AWS has an online Amazon Honeycode Forum, where users can post questions, find Honeycode announcements including updates, access Honeycode courses, read and watch how-to articles and videos, and find other resources.
A ‘very lightweight’ tool
Amazon Honeycode is aimed squarely at citizen developers – non-professional developers – who are end-users inside enterprises, according to Jason Wong, research vice president at Gartner, the Stamford, Conn.-based research and advisory firm.
“The tool is very lightweight in this initial release and would not be a substitute for any custom solutions that partners would be building using AWS,” Wong said.
It’s unlikely that partners would use Amazon Honeycode themselves due to the “limited functionality of the tool,” according to Wong.
“Over time, Amazon Honeycode could potentially be used by partners to build a no-code configurable user interface – e.g., a form or app -- into parts of a larger complex application that runs on AWS,” he said. “Partners could also build and contribute app templates if a marketplace, catalog or exchange is offered by AWS at some point in the future. Gartner sees a platform marketplace as a key value driver for low-code platforms to create critical mass adoption.”
Amazon Honeycode is very “lightweight” functionally compared to Microsoft’s and Google’s no-code application development platforms – Microsoft Power Apps, which launched in 2016, and Google Cloud’s AppSheet -- according to Wong. Google acquired AppSheet, a 6-year-old Seattle startup, in January, for undisclosed terms.
“Both of those products have been in market for many years and, more importantly, are tied to Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite respectively,” Wong said. “AWS has no such office productivity offering to leverage in positioning AWS Honeycode to reach potential citizen developer users.”