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Show HN: PencilCase – an iOS app studio that transforms designs into apps (pencilcase.io)
52 points by metatation on March 26, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 29 comments

This is an interesting concept. But I can't help but think it looks like it's focused on UI design interaction, and not necessarily full app design. What provisions are in place for persistent storage, push notifications, or access to an external API?

Our goal is definitely to allow full app design. Currently we unlock most of these more powerful features by allowing you to write JavaScript. For example we expose a key value store and web request API. Our goal is to liberate these things so that they can be used by anyone though. Our unique Behaviours feature gives good insight of how we are starting to unlock things that would normally be very difficult for non developers. Hope you give it a chance and see the potential!

This looks great! Does it allow access to the native APIs?

Devs here. We use JavaScriptCore to expose native Objective-C APIs. This gives you access to any API we expose right in PencilCase: Studio. To go beyond that we allow exporting to Xcode.

Can you justify the subscription model? To me this is a major turnoff.

Not arguing with fit2rule--he/she can buy what he/she chooses--but I think a subscription model is Just Fine.

If I'm making money or even pursuing a hobby, $300/yr is completely worth it.

But FWIW, I'd be happier about having $40/month-billed-monthly and $300/yr options.

The advantage of subscription is that everyone is always running the latest and greatest. Typically software will instead charge for major version releases in the future which segregates your users and increases support costs. This is not good for anyone. Interested why this is a turnoff for you though. What would you like to see instead?

I'd like to buy it once for a fixed price, use the heck out of it, and purchase an upgrade offered to me as a loyal customer, when it happens, if I want to.

Milking money out of me on a regular basis, adding to a line-item in my budget, feels predatory - as a developer, this turns me off because it doesn't actually benefit me in any way - I'm paying for your inability to fund yourself through multiple iterations of software development cycles. Put a fixed price on the product, charge for upgrades when - and most importantly: if - they happen, and it would be a done deal in my case. But right now, I don't want to have to deal with your regular charge against my credit card. Too much hassle, and you haven't been in business/released enough software, long enough for me to believe its going to be worth a year of charges.

When you buy software for a fixed price, you've just bought a depreciating asset (relative to upgrades) with no way to adjust spend and fine-tune your ROI based on anticipated or unanticipated changes to your usage.

What I'm trying to say is that your "return" from this product is obviously contingent on how much you use it/what you make with it. If you have 95% confidence that you'll produce enough to net a positive ROI over and above the fixed price, then yeah it's more convenient to buy it once. But especially for a new product like this, I much prefer a subscription model because I have more control over my costs and I can't yet anticipate my true benefit. It's a win-win: software maker gets to push frequent updates and ensure a constantly improving experience, and user gets to check-in frequently and re-consider if they're not getting enough value.

So you can buy this software for 24.99, and then after a month of use, decide not to use it - cancel your subscription - and the software then becomes useless to you. You've just lost 24.99 and end up with nothing to show for it.

If you buy this software for 299.00, you can use it for a month and then decide its not for you - you've lost 299, but you've still got the software on your system, and can change your mind 3 months later, if you need to, and still have a valid, working tool.

I dunno, I just don't like the idea of having to be beholden to a company, every month, for the right to use a developer tool that I'd be happier having a permanent installation of .. it reeks of the trappings of a walled garden, and even if the bells and whistles are worth the hassle, the politics of the situation just rubs me up the wrong way.

I'd be much happier buying a tool I'm going to use, at my own discretion either regularly, irregularly, or not at all (my choice), than have to ask permission to use it every month. Its the asking-of-permission, expressed as a subscription model, which is the core of my disinterest.

(I've signed up for a 14-day trial, anyway, because the tool interests me enough to warrant further investigation, but unless I find some serious bells and whistles, I'm quite sure I'll be throwing it away after the trial..)

In your example, you've just paid for 3 unnecessary months of use between when you "decided it wasn't for you" and "changed your mind." In a subscription model, you'd just resubscribe.

I can understand your unease given how subscriptions have been abused by unscrupulous parties in the past, but there's much less friction in cancellation these days. Ultimately I'm just finding it hard to understand why you'd deliberately create a fixed cost for yourself. I'd rather have the ability to consume a product when I need, and pay for that and no more.

I'd rather have a fixed cost than a continuing cost. Why is it better to be paying for a tool every month rather than to own the tool, outright? I'm not seeing the argument for having to keep paying for a tool that you'd be using, if you choose to use it?

If your argument is that the subscription model allows uncertain developers to get involved, I would argue that tools like this should be purchased by those who are certain they are going to use them. Otherwise, the only benefit is to the tool-maker - and that's the case here. The subscription model only really benefits the producer of the product - not the user, who is ultimately only able to keep using the tool as long as they are paying for it, on a regular basis. Meh. No thanks!

Hi, another dev here. Thanks for sharing your views, I can see that subscription is a big pain point for you and I understand your frustration. There is always a trade-off when choosing between a subscription model versus a fixed price model and when looking at where we wanted to take the app, subscription made more sense to us. Thanks for taking the time to give the free trial a go despite your reservations. If you like it, we're happy, if not, we appreciate you taking the time to give it an evaluation and welcome any feedback you may have :)

My feedback: your subscription model has completely soured me to your product.

I get that you have your reasons for choosing the economic position to support your own continued developments; I think you're passing the problem on to your customers though, and that just makes me think less of your effort as a whole.

I'll enjoy checking PencilCase out, but I definitely won't be purchasing it.

...we get it. I agreed with you three comments ago but now you're just beating a dead horse.

To offer a counterpoint to fit2rule's comment, I'm probably smack in the middle of your target demo (currently employed as a business analyst, technically competent but not a programmer, have entrepreneurial ambitions, etc...) and I think your price point and subscription model are abundantly fair. I've paid a lot more for a lot less over the years. Don't see myself shirking at $25/mo when it's (potentially) core to my business.

I haven't tried PencilCase yet, but it looks like a great product with solid implementation. Good luck to you guys.

Hey, I'm another one of the developers, thanks so much for the kind words! I agree, it sounds like PencilCase would be a perfect fit :) We definitely want anybody to be able to use PencilCase: Studio, even if you aren't a programmer.

Question for the developers: It looks like the iOS app allows you to download apps built with the desktop tool, which supports evaluation of Javascript snippets. Isn't this against the App Store policy for the download and execution of arbitrary code?

Hi, one of the devs here! You're correct, PencilCase: Player can evaluate JavaScript using the JavaScriptCore framework included on the device. The App Store already has a lot of apps available that allow exactly this or other very similar options (Python, Lua, etc.) and we look forward to seeing how people take advantage of this ability.

The difference I'm specifically curious about is the issue about 'downloading' arbitrary code and evaluating it. Current app offerings don't have this support because Apple has forbidden it in the past unless the evaluation goes through the Javascript context of a web view, which doesn't appear to be the case for PencilCase. I guess I'm curious if they have relaxed their restrictions in this case, are unaware of that feature, or something else.

Yeah, App Store guidelines can be ambiguous, and JavaScriptCore becoming a public framework could be seen as an endorsement of this type of functionality, but we don't have any information that you wouldn't.

Not if it runs in with JavascriptCore I think.

The gif looks like it does some of what Xcode does...

like flash studio right?

I think that's a valid comparison. If Flash Studio was designed today for mobile with some inspiration from HyperCard (specifically how it allowed non developers to build great software). We think our When & Then system is category defining.

new visual basic / Delphi?

Another tool for designing native iOS apps is Neonto Studio. It supports Android too:


Neonto's generated code is "runtime-free" -- there's no framework or other intermediate runtime layer, so everything in the design is translated to the platform's native concepts. There's also an elaborate plugin API for adding new tools and capabilities.

(Full disclosure: I wrote most of the code in Neonto Studio.)

No pricing?

It's still in beta, so free download.

The plan is to keep 1.0 free as well, and focus on selling services and plugins rather than traditional software licences. (Not 100% sure if that will happen though, but it's what I'm personally pushing for.)

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