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Amazon uses spreadsheet interface for Honeycode no-code tool

Amazon Web Services has delivered a new no-code tool called Honeycode. It is a fully managed service with a spreadsheet user interface for non-programmers to create apps.

If you know how to use a spreadsheet, then you have all you need to build apps with Amazon's new Honeycode, an app dev tool that requires no coding to create mobile and web applications.

Amazon Honeycode is the result of a secret, multiyear project that Amazon has been working on under the auspices of software dev tools guru Adam Bosworth, who left Amazon Web Services in February of this year after leading Honeycode nearly to fruition.

"We picked the spreadsheet metaphor as a user experience/user interface that the target user was likely to know well," said Larry Augustin, a vice president at AWS. "Spreadsheets have been around for decades now and people know how they work. In fact, people can write some incredibly powerful capabilities in spreadsheets today. We said, let's take that capability for those users and enable them to turn that power that they're used to in spreadsheets into building apps."

Demand for new applications continues to grow at a rapid pace as enterprises move to digital environments, but most companies' professional development staffs are already taxed to the limit creating enterprise-class, scalable apps. Amazon Honeycode enables departmental users such as business analysts to build apps with no coding.

With Honeycode, users can create apps to handle business functions such as managing field agents or purchase order approvals, scheduling weekly events, reporting employee or team activities, following customer activity, surveying end users and other activities, said Meera Vaidyanathan, a general manager at AWS.

Amazon Honeycode uses an AWS-developed database underneath the spreadsheet interface. This enable users to sort, filter and link data together to create data-driven, interactive applications, Augustin said. 

Eating their own dog food

AWS has released a beta of Honeycode after intense "dogfooding," or using the technology behind Honeycode to create the Honeycode product itself, she said. The company did extensive user testing and usability testing through internal alpha and beta programs across a broad range of users and departments at the company, according to Vaidyanathan.

"We wanted to make sure we could address a broad range of use cases from the simplest to the most complex," she said. "Because you want to be able to build more complex apps where there are lots and lots of tables that are interlinked -- lots of automation, lots of conditional logic, those types of things. So, we've done a fairly thorough vetting across a wide range of use cases."

Applications built with Honeycode will be able to scale on the AWS cloud platform. They also can be evolved incrementally to become more sophisticated over time, Vaidyanathan said.

Honeycode breaks from low-code/no-code tradition

The tool's spreadsheet interface is somewhat unusual, as most low-code/no-code tools follow a workflow or mobile UX metaphor, said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at Intellyx, in Suffolk, Va. "As such, AWS is targeting it at the Excel power user -- not necessarily a professional developer, but someone who is adept at working with Excel formulas."

Jason BloombergJason Bloomberg

Honeycode is "within the reach of the power user to be sure, but awfully code-like for the average business user," he added.

The tool enables users to create components such as dashboards that are updated in real time as the underlying data changes, he said. And as a fully managed service on the Amazon cloud, users do not have to deal with servers or other hardware or software infrastructure even as apps scale to the point where their apps scale up to 100,000 rows in each workbook of the spreadsheet interface.

Late to the game; not disruptive

However, some observers see Amazon as late to the game after Microsoft and Google have introduced low-code/no-code tools -- PowerApps and AppSheet, respectively -- that have gained traction. Google acquired AppSheet in January.

They've entered the market, but they definitely aren't disrupting it with this product. It has the feel of a prototype.
John Bratincevic Analyst, Forrester

"It's significant that Amazon put this out, because they were one of the big companies that hadn't gotten into low-code yet," said John Bratincevic, an analyst at Forrester. "It's also significant that it's aimed at businesspeople, which validates that hypothesis that businesspeople building apps is a big deal. But the product itself is not disruptive. They've entered the market, but they definitely aren't disrupting it with this product. It has the feel of a prototype."

AWS kept the details of Honeycode under wraps until now, not even naming the product until after it used the underlying Honeycode technology to create a voting app to name the product. But, overall, AWS did not focus on the competition when building Honeycode, Augustin said.

In fact, AWS went out of its way to build a true no-code tool that did not require or even allow for extra coding to get certain tasks done, he said.

"When I think about the space, particularly I think about low code as enabling developers to more quickly create some components and then you enable add-ons via code," Augustin said. "We focus very heavily on the no-code aspect of this."

AWS' target audience line of business users, including business analysts and project managers, he said. "We wanted to enable them to create applications, to help themselves without need for coding," Augustin said.

Overall, Honeycode is still in beta, and it shows, observers said.

"Its security and integration capabilities are still superficial, for example," Bloomberg said. "My guess is that Amazon is waiting for customer feedback before committing to a solid product roadmap."

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