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iSites overhauled, now lets you publish cloud-based HTML5 iPhone apps in minutes

iSites -- a zero-code cloud-based 'app creator' -- can now generate HTML5 apps that work on iOS devices. With this new feature, dubbed 'InstantApp', you can now design a single app in your browser and publish it natively on Android and iOS, and as an HTML5 iPhone app.

We haven't looked at iSites before, but it shot to fame last year when it launched with native iOS and Android support. Self-publishing Android apps wasn't a problem because Google does very little moderation of the Market, but iSites ran into trouble with its iOS apps. Thousands of people signed up for the service after it was featured on Mashable and TechCrunch, and you can imagine Apple's chagrin as thousands of cookie cutter apps flooded its approval queue.

Genwi, the developer behind iSites, realized something had to be done -- it had to circumvent the App Store approval process. Genwi, of course, turned to HTML5 Web apps -- which can be pinned to the iPhone home screen and which can be shoehorned into almost behaving like native apps.

Read on for our experiences with iSites' new InstantApp HTML5 iOS app creator.

iSites InstantApp HTML5 iPhone app creation

Web-based app creation

In essence, iSites is simply a tool that walks you through a 'wizard' to create an 'InstantApp.' The wizard itself isn't particularly attractive and if we're brutally honest, navigating iSites is tiring and counterintuitive.

Once you've given your app a name, you have to define some content -- and except for a 'quick post' option, all content comes from feeds. RSS news feeds, Twitter feeds, Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr feeds, Flickr and Picasa feeds -- and so on. There's no limit to the number of feeds you can add. Genwi crawls your feeds regularly and caches them on its own servers, so any feed outages won't affect your app users.

iSites can cope with almost any kind of feed, including podcasts, videos, and image galleries -- but there's no way to include custom content like games or interactive elements. In this regard, iSites is great for blogs or magazines that desperately want to get on the smartphone app bandwagon.

Next, you design your app -- but as every iSites app is based off a simple template, there's only so much that you can change. You can alter the the header and status bar background color, but that's about it. You're stuck with a plain-white background and the same font as every other iSites app.

After design, you have to assign feeds to categories, which will become the various sub-sections of your app. Beyond setting which category loads up when you press the 'Home' button in the app, there's absolutely nothing to configure, though.

Publishing native and HTML5 apps

Once you've created your app, publishing it is just a matter of uploading an app icon, paying some money -- no, iSites isn't free -- and hitting 'save.' If you've paid for the cheapest option ($25/month), you get instant access to your HTML5 iOS app, and your native Android app is automatically submitted to the Market. If you pay $49 or $99 per month, you also get a native iOS app submitted to the App Store. You can make changes and re-submit your app to the App Store and Market as many times as you like.

It's also worth noting that iSites apps support monetization through in-app AdMob ads -- just submit your AdMob publisher ID, and iSites does the rest.

HTML5 iPhone apps

Enough about the app creator, though. Today's news is all about iSites' HTML5 iPhone apps -- and fortunately, they're really rather good. Genwi told us that they're "99% as fast" as native apps, and to a certain extent they look and feel just like native iOS apps, too.

The main advantage of HTML5 apps, of course, is that they evade Apple's approval process. We made a Download Squad app earlier today, and it was immediately available for distribution. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, visit the Download Squad Web app and save it to your home screen. Check out the page transitions! We've always wanted a smartphone app -- and now, with just a few clicks, we have one.

Our app isn't very good at showing off iSites' handling of video and multi-image views, though, so take a look at the Matador Network app on your iPhone and check out the image viewer; it's pretty slick.

If you don't have an iOS device, don't bother loading it up on your PC or Android browser -- it won't work. Look through our gallery instead.

Social features

Of course, like every Web service created in the last two years, iSites apps also feature extensive social network integration. Every iSites app has Facebook Connect, which users can use to leave comments and feedback on your app. There are tweet and 'like' buttons under everything, and a pop-up sharing menu (see right).

The future: Android and Chrome Web apps

The ultimate goal of HTML5 Web apps, of course, is to have apps that work across every platform and every browser -- not just iOS! For the time being, Genwi's HTML5 apps only work properly on the iPhone, but it wouldn't take much work to make them look good on Android and Windows Phone 7.

From there, it's just tiny leap to Chrome Web apps, and perhaps Firefox's Open Web Apps, too.

In conclusion, Genwi is definitely onto something good with its zero-coding-required HTML5 Web app creation. The app creation tools need a lot of work, however, and there needs to be a much wider choice of app templates -- but the concept is sound. Let's not forget that it's all about the HTML5 apps that iSites creates -- and they're great.

App creation is so simple with iSites that the only real barrier to entry is the cost. $25 per month really isn't a lot if you factor in ad revenue, and the fact that Genwi hosts the app for you.

Tags: app creator, AppCreator, apps, features, genwi, html5, html5 app, html5 web app, Html5App, Html5WebApp, instantapp, isites, web, web apps, WebApps