“No-Code” is hot and one of the largest “No-Code” platform is Bubble. I’ve been playing around with Bubble for a while, building multiple real-world applications over a 12 month period. So my opinions are rooted in reality and not your usual “I played with a plugin for 2 hours and so am now expert” (you know exactly the kind of articles I’m taking about there, right?).
Before I get into the meat of things, lets talk about that term “no-code”. There is no definitive definition for it – everyone and their brother seems as if they’re applying the term to their platform.
Bubble is a no-code platform as is Zapier. But, from my perspective, Zapier is a no-code component, not a platform. Bubble is one of a few TRUE no-code platforms because it offers an end-to-end development experience. You’re not going to build entire apps on Zapier but you will on Bubble.
Some other true no-code platforms are Bildr, Webflow, Wappler and Retool. But Bubble was the original among modern options and, right now, has the deepest and most battle-tested set of functions.
What Does Bubble Do?
It takes a bit of time to wrap your head around how Bubble works and to understand the power of the tool. For me it took a good 30 days or so (but that’s probably because I was only able to dedicate a bit of time each day to it.)
The best way to compare it to WordPress is to talk about a hypothetical project.
Lets assume you want to build out a marketplace where you’re looking to match buyers and sellers, taking a commission after each match is made. This can be a marketplace like Upwork, Uber etc.
In WordPress you might start with a plugin like WCVendors, a theme, a pagebuilder and a few utility plugins. Depending on your level of expertise with code, you might start to write a custom WordPress plugin to create new features, add fields, throw in some CSS for styling etc. Plus, of course, the payment issues. You may or may not add in other plugins like Advanced Custom Fields and so on.
You need to be a coder to pull this off in WordPress and to make sure that all your plugins and other components present a united, seamless front to your end user. Your average user who is an expert in, say, Excel just can’t do this.
In Bubble though? They’ll be right at home.
Here’s how it works in Bubble.
You’ll purchase a basic template in Bubble (advanced Bubble builders will just start from a blank page) and add in a few plugins for things like Stripe integration (which is a Bubble provided add-on). Then, you’ll point and click to add new fields, formulas, modify colors, add images, create new workflows etc. For the most part you’ll never see a code editor – you’ll see a formula editor just like you might in Excel.
And both the end user and your admin will end up with a single, unified UI.
What you will produce in Bubble will look and feel as if it was a single, cohesive work, with exactly the flow you want and few extraneous features.
And you would have done it without once entering anything the looks like a code editor.
In WordPress you’re likely to have vastly different experiences for the end user and the admin and you’ll spend a lot of time hiding things the admin should never see. And you probably would have only achieved this with a whole bunch of code.
What About “real” Developers
There is room for “real” developers in Bubble – building plugins, templates and using the API Connector to talk to REST APIs for integration with the thousands of api-enabled tools out there. But even the API connector is accessible to a power-user, without writing a lick of code.
Where Does Bubble Fall Down?
There is no equivalent of WooCommerce, EDD etc. in Bubble. Most Bubble templates for stores are basic. So a lot of time might be spent on building out functions that you would otherwise take for granted in WordPress. Or you might end up integrating with an SaaS service that provides similar functionality – the Bubble API connector can make this easy (once you understand how it works).
The Bubble marketplace is only about 3 years old so most things aren’t feature rich yet. WordPress runs rings around Bubble in this area.
And when you purchase a template, there is no easy way to upgrade to the next version – a process that WordPress excels at.
For experienced developers, many things will be an exercise in frustration. Version control? Barely exists. Inheritance & reuse? Nope – you’ll sometimes find yourself duplicating a lot of formulas and workflows.
(One of the things I really missed was seeing what another developer had changed overnight. With WordPress, you can version control a plugin or theme code. So when a developer makes a change it’s easy to see and review. This is almost impossible in Bubble.)
Responsive design in Bubble is a PITA. It’s not a WYSIWYG platform. You’ll spend a lot of time figuring out your way around this.
There are also performance tradeoffs that you need to consider when building Bubble apps.
And it is EXPENSIVE – see the section on pricing later…
Where Does Bubble Excel?
Bubble excels in allowing users to customize things that are a PITA for WordPress users. Add a field to a screen? click-click-click, done. Custom validation? Click-click-click-type-click. Make a sequence of things happen after the user fills it in? More clicks. Change colors in response to user entries? Piece of cake, no code.
Can you do all that in WordPress? Sure. But you need a plugin. And some CSS knowledge or another plugin or maybe some JS skills. With Bubble, it’s all integrated into a single, powerful point-and-click UI.
If a user needs to schedule a sequence of things to occur such as approvals and so on, they can do it in Bubble without writing any code. Registering users, providing custom login and account screens are easily built out by users without requiring plugins or other tooling.
The ability for your average user to customize things without new plugins or without leaving the environment is where this platform puts WordPress to shame.
I have created some highly custom apps in a couple of weeks that would have taken a good month or more of solid coding in WordPress. Though, recreating things that I know are easily available via WordPress plugins did get really annoying sometimes.
And Bubble is far easier to use than WordPress when building apps that will primarily run on mobile devices.
The Ideal WordPress-Developer-to-Bubble Convert
When I think about WordPress developers, I think of four “personas”.
- Persona #1: Developers who use themes and plugins only
- Persona #2: Developers who use themes and plugins along with some basic CSS and perhaps some php code snippets
- Persona #3: Developers who will create their own themes but not full-fledged plugins
- Persona #4: Developers who will create their own themes and plugins
I believe that Bubble’s Ideal WordPress developer convert matches persona #1, #2 and #3. Persona #4 will simply chafe at the limitations but might relish the challenge of making it do things it otherwise couldn’t do by writing custom APIs and such.
Bubble is expensive. With WordPress, you can deploy your site for as little as a few dollars per month. And, if you like, you can get your own $10.00 per month server and deploy multiple sites. On Bubble, each site or app will cost at least $29.00 per month.
And for anything of consequence you’ll be spending $120 per month for the professional plan. As your users increase or the complexity of your app increases, it is possible that your monthly cost will skyrocket.
It ain’t cheap. Especially if you want to experiment and launch multiple sites or apps to see which one sticks.
If it wasn’t for the cost I suspect I’d be building most new apps in Bubble, reserving only the most complex for WordPress. Seriously, it’s that good.
When you build with Bubble, you are LOCKED INTO THE PLATFORM. As in you are completely handcuffed.
You can’t copy the app to a new host – if you want to leave you’ll have to completely rebuild it.
This means that you are at their mercy when they increase price or if the platform goes off-line for any reason. Or if they are hacked.
The trade-off for ease of use is loss of control.
Bubble does not make the other functions that surround software development obsolete. Developing functional specs, technical specs, prototypes and doing QA and walkthroughs – these things do not go away. However, it does have the potential to substantially reduce the amount of time it takes for the actual “coding” of an app and to reduce the time between iterations.
So when someone says “no-code” will cut your development time by 50%, take it with a grain of salt. For an all-in, end-to-end project, it might cut about 20% of the time at most, since all other considerations do not magically disappear.
What Does This All Mean For WordPress
If you want to see where WordPress’s GUTENBERG (block editor) will end up in a few years, look at Bubble. Bubble (and other similar emerging tools) are the greatest competitive threats WordPress faces and, for the first time, are CREDIBLE threats. Unless Gutenberg is expanded substantially or something similar is created for WordPress, many users who would normally use WordPress for basic apps will likely end up on these no-code platforms.
Or, as Gutenberg starts to eat away at the WordPress page-builder market, those developers might find that building out Bubble-like functionality will allow them to continue attract users.
For now, because of WordPress’ massive ecosystem, its position is secure. But unless it evolves rapidly and offer similar ease of use in its tooling, WordPress will stagnate and then fall, making way for new tools – just like past generations of tooling (anyone remember POWERBUILDER?)
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