Monday, February 5, 2018

ViziApps Studio’ Logic Builder(TM) – the Continued GUI-izing of Authoring

Authoring tools for new technologies typically start code-heavy but follow the same trajectory over time – tasks that required working in the code can now be handled through a point-and-click GUI. The result?
  • Less technical authors can create outputs nearly as powerful as those by more technical authors, so the market expands. (The first online help conference I attended, in 1991, before GUI tools like RoboHelp and Doc-to-Help made an impact of the market, was attended by every online help author that the organizers could find in North America. There were 12 of us. In 1994, after GUI tools had appeared, I gave a speech on help authoring to the STC’s Boston chapter. There were over 100 attendees.)
  • Technically-oriented authors, and programmers, can create outputs faster because the GUI simplifies tasks like interface design. Authors can still do these tasks in code if they want to, but they don’t have to.

My example comes from online help, but it applies to another technology that technical communicators can get involved – app development. Technical communicators often don’t see themselves as creating apps, but we didn’t see ourselves as creating online help and web pages in the early 1990s either.

Technical communicators have shied away from apps because of the technical skills required. But just as with online help and the web, new app development tools hide the code behind a friendly GUI, making it more inviting to step into this space. An entire set of app development tools known as “low code/no code”, DIY (Do IT Yourself), or RMAD (Rapid Mobile App Development) tools has appeared in the last few years. (Look for a post about these tools in the near future.)

In this post, I’ll present an example of such GUI-izing in an RMAD tool called ViziApps Studio – (Note – I’m certified in and provide training and development support for Studio.) Studio offers a full suite of predefined actions that you can use to complete a mobile app. Some are simple menu picks, like creating a button that can jump to a specific page in the app. Others support bar code scanning and enable maps and geo-location services. In many cases, these predefined actions may be all you need for your app.

But what if you need more advanced actions that are not predefined. These require JavaScript. The Studio makes it easy to add JavaScript to an app, but you have to know JavaScript in the first place. What if you don’t? That’s where ViziApps’ Logic Builder comes in.

Here's a screen shot of Studio’s old actions dialog box:

It looks straightforward. To jump the user to the previous page, apply that action. To jump the user to a different page, select “Go to page” and specify the name of the target page. No Javascripting.

But what if you want to add a button that, when clicked, clears all entries in all fields on a page? There’s no predefined control for that so you have to write the JavaScript and attach it to the button. Or if you want to perform some arithmetic, like calculating the discount on an invoice? Again, there’s no predefined action for that so you have to, again, write the JavaScript and attach it to the button.

That’s where Logic Builder comes in. Logic Builder lets you add the predefined actions – those that don’t require JavaScript and many of those that do. Here’s the main Logic Builder screen.

Let’s say you want to add a “clear all fields on this page” action to a button. Select the Field Action options. Here’s the result. (The next three images extend off the right hand side of the page. It was the only way to make them large enough to read the screen content.)

Now select the “Clear all the fields on the current page” option. Here’s the result.

Need to specify which page to clear? Select the “Clear all the fields on a page” option and specify the name of the page from a pulldown. No Javascripting.

Want to perform an arithmetic operation? Select Math and Arithmetic Operation. Here’s the result where you can define the operation. Again, no Javascripting.

Will Logic Builder eliminate Javascripting in a project? It depends what you want to do. But Logic Builder will eliminate a lot of it, perhaps all of it. Things may get a bit complicated when you specify field values for some actions – e.g. what’s an array? Or an If-Then-Else? But many business apps may not need these features. If yours does, there’s reference material and training available.

Logic Builder offers many other actions, including:
  • Navigation – to move around an app.
  • Data management – to retrieve data from or write it to a database.
  • Device action – such as making a call or taking a photo.
  • Popups – to link to a web page or display an alert.
  • Dates and times – to retrieve dates or parts of dates or times.
  • Logic – to perform tests on data and take different actions depending on the results.
  • Math – to perform mathematical calculations.
  • And more.

Each category can be expanded to include new actions, so this feature is extensible to meet future Javascripting needs.

The appearance of Logic Builder and similar GUI authoring features are making it easier for technical communicators to create powerful business apps. App development can become one more skill in your skill set.

NOTE: Logic Builder is in a limited beta release as of February 5, 2018. I’ll post a note when it becomes fully available. 

Logic Builder is a trademark of ViziApps, Inc.

No comments: