Everyone talks and tweets about low-code platforms these days, but what is “low code,” really? This question popped into my brain when I was writing my previous post on the planning philosophy of app development. So I did some research on the origin of low code, and this is what I found.
Basically, a low-code app development platform consists of two developer-facing parts:
1. Graphical User Interface (GUI): A drag-and-drop environment used to create the user interface
2. Programming language: A scripting language that helps you execute business logic
We’ll look at how these two parts evolved separately before merging to create the low-code platforms of today.
Evolution of programming language – Power
To understand what low code is now, we need to start with programming languages. A drastically simplified definition for a programming language is “a set of instructions given to machines to get things done.”
As most of us know, a computer only understands binary numbers—1s and 0s. The programming language is like a bridge between humans and machines. At the onset, these languages were basic, with limited capability. They started with words like Write, Display, etc—the best that the technology of the times could support. For example, in PASCAL, the command Writeln “Hello Genius!” would translate to a binary instruction to display “Hello Genius!” on the screen.
Now the question arises: Why were these languages not designed to imitate speech from the beginning? As I mentioned earlier, this was due to the limits of technology at the time. When microprocessors arrived on the scene, hardware capability increased manyfold, which led to faster processors. Also, language design—the field of designing programming languages—evolved to a stage where more could be achieved using less code.
The GUI movement – Simplicity
The GUI, or Graphical User Interface, was another technology that evolved at the same time, serving as an alternative to text commands. It enabled users to interact with the machines using graphical interfaces, an easy and user-friendly substitute to typing in commands. The progress in this domain, too, had to wait till the arrival of the Messiah microprocessors and advancements in display technology—yes, your screens. After the advent of microprocessors and the evolution of screens from monochrome to today’s color LCDs and OLEDs, GUIs improved immensely.
Over time, GUIs were developed specifically for different domains. ATMs have interfaces that cater to financial transactions; mobile phone operating systems cater to communication, etc.
Rise of the low-code platform – A union of power and simplicity
The domain-driven design methodology led to the rapid evolution of hybrid development platforms, which, in 2014, Gartner, Inc. named “low-code platforms.” These platforms combined the simplicity of graphical interfaces and the power of programming languages to enhance user experience.
Not only did these platforms reduce the amount of code needed to create an application’s interface, but they also bypassed many other steps, like setting up a framework, linking to databases, etc. Zoho Creator is one such platform, operating in the domain of business process automation. Through decade-long research into the ways businesses work, we’ve evolved Creator from a database management system to a full-blown business solution development system.
If the current trends in this field are anything to go by, the interfaces of these platforms will journey towards empowering users with increasing simplicity. The low-code platforms of today are becoming more intuitive with each release because the machine learning field itself is growing. The evolution is so rapid that, in less than 5 years, we can expect to see platforms that build apps on voice commands. Imagine Siri or Google Assistant assembling modules to make an app for you. Who knows? As we say here at Zoho Creator, “The possibilities are endless.“