The different types of no-code tools
No-code tools broadly fall into 5 distinctive buckets. Here's the lowdown.
Table of Contents
To understand what no-code tools do, and which ones will be right for your purpose, it’s helpful to first get a grip on the different kinds of tools and platforms out there.
Being thrust into the world of no-code can be a pretty disorientating experience. Ultimately, there’s a broad range of what you can do with no-code tools and the kind of freedom you have when it comes to building your own apps. While beginners might look for no-code tools that are easier to get started with (and usually less customisable), others might want free reign to create the complex app of their dreams.
We've broken down the no-code tools and platforms into 5 buckets to give you a better understanding of the general differences you'll find in the no-code ecosystem.
Bucket 1: Free-form tools
EG: Adalo, Glide, Bubble and Betty Blocks
With these powerful no-code platforms, you can build an entire web app or mobile app (or both), from within that tool. That means they come with a database, an interface builder, all the logic you need to control the relationship between those two things, and you can publish your app live.
In many ways, these tools are like a blank canvas for you to create what you want. You come up with the logic yourself (aka design the different paths a user can take and what happens when). That’s great if you want to create something pretty complex and sophisticated, where you need a lot of design freedom. The caveat is that it’s actually quite difficult to make a successful, viable app using these tools unless you really know your way around them – and dedicate yourself to learning.
Due to their all-encompassing nature, these platforms often come with a pretty rigorous ecosystem to support whatever you’re hoping to build. That includes templates to build from (very handy) and plugins to let you do more (like adding a barcode scanner or integrating with other apps like Paypal).
Bucket 2: Less customisable tools
EG: Stacker, Sharetribe, Softr
If free-form no-code tools are like a blank canvas, these tools are slightly more defined in what they let you do – more akin to using lego blocks to build your app. They’re less customisable by nature, and often come with pre-determined logic that you can quickly tap into to start building your app. That makes them more suited for people who have a pretty set purpose in mind, with relatively simple functionality and who want to get moving quickly.
For example, Stacker is perfectly set up to create apps like customer portals, CRMs and dashboards. If you want to create a customer portal in Stacker, all you have to do is connect it with the place you're getting your data from (like Airtable or Google Sheets), hit a few buttons and your app appears. You can then customise it with whatever branding you like. If you wanted to create a customer portal on Adalo (a free-form builder), you’d have to design it from scratch.
That makes them easier to get started with and easier to produce a successful product with – but it can only build the kind of applications that it’s made for.
Bucket 3: Automation tools
EG: Zapier, Integromat/Make, Processica
Automation no-code tools are slightly more straightforward in what they let you do. They basically enable you to connect one or more services or platforms together (eg, Airtable, Facebook, Gmail, Webflow…) so that when something happens on one service (aka, a trigger), something else automatically happens on the other (the actions). You can create automations across the services you use for your entire business.
So when someone signs up to an email list on your website (trigger), they automatically get a welcome email from you (the action).
Or when a customer books a demo call in Calendly, it automatically enriches a new customer profile on customer data-collection tool ClearBit, sends a new message to a specific channel on your workplace Slack, and creates a new lead item on a CRM tool like Salesforce. That sounds kind of complex but it’s actually pretty standard practice with automation tools.
Automation no-code tools differ by the number of integrations you can make between platforms and the complexity of the actions they let you take. For example, Zapier lets you create integrations between tens of thousands of platforms, but lets you create less complex actions. At the other end of the scale, some tools have artificial intelligence that can, say, read an email, decipher what it means and then send it down one of 5 or 6 different routes depending on what the email says.
Bucket 4: Productivity platforms
EG: Airtable, Notion, Coda, Rows, Trello
There’s a broad range of productivity platforms out there which fall into the no-code category to varying degrees. You’re able to bring your documents and data to one centralised, collaborative space, and then create different ‘mini-apps’ for whatever purpose you need.
There’s a fairly broad range of what you’re able to do with these kinds of tools. A project management platform like Trello, for example, really performs one function and all Trello boards look the same in terms of layout. Something like Notion is far more configurable. You can add all kinds of different content and integrate it with different services and platforms, like Google Docs for example. You’re able to design it how you want.
Bucket 5: SaaS tools
EG: Shopify, Typeform, Convertkit
And finally, we have a little something called software as a service (SaaS) no-code tools. We’ve moved quite far from those free-form no-code tools that require you to build from scratch. These tools don’t require you to build software yourself; instead, they enable you to easily carry out technical tasks that were previously quite complex to create, without coding.
Think about creating surveys, setting up an online shop, or creating an onboarding form for new customers to fill out. There’s only one outcome you can get from these tools, and they often take care of pretty common and commoditised tasks that most businesses will rely upon. We wouldn’t be surprised if you’re not using a few of these already.
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