Recently I had the chance to talk with Matt Kremer, the project lead behind the Ionic Creator web app. For those not familiar with this app, it is an online design tool for creating Ionic frameworks apps. Drifty (the company behind Ionic) has a long history of developing tools like this; Codiqa (for jQuery Mobile) and JetStrap (for Bootstrap), so seeing a visual design tool for Ionic was to be expected.
I had explored an earlier version of the tool, and it had a number of rough edges. Recently, Matt has made a number of improvements to it, and spent an hour showing me the new features.
Right off the bat, Creator now supports multiple projects via a nice clean landing page. If you had used the app before, you might remember how clunky it was. Where this comes into play, is you can now have team accounts, thus allowing your designers, developers, and other team members the ability to reference the project. The team feature is a paid option for the service.
Next up is the expansion of starter templates. For those who use the Ionic CLI, you are probably familiar with the three templates available; Blank, Side Menu, and Tabs. Creator has a slightly different set of templates; Blank, Login, Signup and Tabs. Now, the Login and Signup templates are very similar. One noticeable difference is the lack of a SideMenu template. Matt explained some of the difficulties in integrating this template into the app. He is hopeful as the app migrates to leverage the v2 framework, those issues will be resolved.
In the past, I had tried to mockup a simple tab based UI and had a lot of trouble. I can say in this latest build of the tool, I was able to mockup my UI with little or no trouble. One area in particular was being able to properly set the tab’s icon.
Another improvement is the app is now smarter about components themselves. Previously, when you tried to add a checkbox and did not have a containing form element, the app would not allow it. Not only that, there was no feedback as to why you could not drag and drop the component onto the canvas. The underlying answer was there was no containing form element for the checkbox. So, Creator will now automatically add a containing form element if one is not already there. No longer do you have the appearance of the tool being broken.
Through the app, I was also impressed with the performance gains that had been made. The earlier version was quite sluggish. While there is still more to be done (isn’t that always the case?), the app has reached an acceptable level of performance for my usage.
Now, once we are done with the design, what can we do with it? Creator allows the project to be shared via URL, email or SMS, and can also require a passcode to view it. But beyond that we can reference it as a template source directly from the Ionic CLI. Simply click the export button and select the Ionic CLI option, and a unique code will be generated. Or if you prefer, you can download it as a .zip file.
As with all visual editors, there comes the question of what does the code look like? Again, I am pleased to say that Matt has done a nice job at providing a decent starting point to begin build your awesome Ionic app.
I am looking forward to the continued development of the this tool, as it is great way for my students to mock up their apps quickly. Plus, there is some more cool stuff coming that I can’t reveal yet, so stay tuned.