Amazon Honeycode review: No-code has its limits

Amazon’s no-code app builder makes quick work of creating simple apps and integrations. Creating useful ones will require help from a programmer, a DBA, or IT.

Amazon Honeycode review: No-code has its limits
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At a Glance

Amazon Honeycode is a spreadsheet-oriented, no-code development platform that builds mobile web and web apps. The spreadsheet includes both data and formulae, and has some of the functionality of a database table. For building an app from the spreadsheet, Honeycode has a palette of user interface objects such as lists, input fields, and buttons. It also has a palette of events and actions.

Honeycode currently offers 18 app templates to help get you started. These range from the canonical “to-do” app to a budget approval app with workflows.

For integration, you can use Zapier, Amazon AppFlow, and Honeycode APIs. Of course, once you’re using APIs you’ve left the realm of no-code far behind.

As a low-code/no-code app builder from a major cloud provider, Amazon Honeycode competes directly with Microsoft Power Apps on Azure and Google Cloud AppSheet. It also competes with about 400 other low-code/no-code app builders.

Given that Honeycode is a no-code development platform, my goal for this review was to determine how far it can go, where it runs out, and how people can progress from there. When a non-programming team hits a wall with Honeycode, can they continue the project by bringing in programmers for small extensions, or will they have to start over with a completely different system?

Work backwards in Honeycode

Amazon suggests that you work backwards when designing a Honeycode application, as shown in the figures below that I clipped out of one of their tutorial videos. Essentially, they are advocating the classic software development strategy of designing top down and implementing bottom up. Since they expect their users to be completely computer-illiterate, they explain this in a cartoon-y video. Somehow this seems paradoxical to me: Most novice developers take a long time to learn to design top-down and implement bottom-up instead of building higgledy-piggledy.

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Amazon suggests working backwards to design a Honeycode application. Read this image from right to left to see the intended final app and the steps needed to get to that point.

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The two tables shown here hold the data being collected and a pick list used to limit the choices.

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Once you’ve defined the underlying tables, you can use them to create a form with information fields, an input field, and a field that pops up the pick list.

How useful is Honeycode?

Like almost every low-code or no-code development platform, Honeycode claims that everyone can use it, that it can build custom apps without the help of programmers or IT, and that it can replace the use of generalized applications such as spreadsheets and project management apps.

No, not everyone can use Honeycode. Power users, the folks who write Excel macros for their peers to use, probably can. Most ordinary users probably can’t, because they simply don’t know how to think in terms of development or databases or user interfaces. Casting development as a drag and drop exercise might make the individual steps more palatable to a non-programmer than writing code, but ultimately it doesn’t lead them to a useful overall design.

And no, you’ll always need the help of programmers, database administrators, and/or IT at some point, even if you develop the skills to build Honeycode apps within your team. Your company already has a directory of employees and their departments: Why wouldn’t you use that to implement your app’s permissions and support integrated log-ins? You’ll need a programmer to help you call Active Directory, LDAP, or whatever other directory service APIs your company uses. Honeycode supports AWS Single Sign-On (AWS SSO), which in turn supports most popular enterprise identity  providers.

Your company already has databases of products and sales and customers: You’ll probably need at least some of that, and you won’t get it without permission and help from DBAs and IT. Without any of those capabilities, you’ll be using Honeycode to build toy apps.

Honeycode workbooks, tables, teams, builder, and automations

With my personal skepticism aired, let’s discuss how Honeycode works. Honeycode workbooks are containers for apps, data, and automations. Tables are where you store data and build data relationships. Teams are the makers and users of apps. Builder is where you make apps.

Apps and data are obvious. Automations have three basic parts, namely triggers, conditions, and actions:

  1. A trigger determines when an automation should start.
  2. A condition determines if and where the automation should run (optional).
  3. An action determines what Honeycode should do.

Teams are obvious. Honeycode tables contain rows and columns. Tables support standard formats, such as numbers, currency, accounting, and date and time. But you’ll also notice some unique Honeycode formats, such as rowlinks and contacts. Table cells can also contain formulas, and Honeycode tries to help you to create formulas.

The Honeycode Builder is essentially a drag-and-drop designer with properties panels. You can use Builder to do the following:

  1. Create and style app screens for mobile and web.
  2. Add data, logic, and customization to your app.
  3. Personalize who sees what and when.
  4. Automate workflows and projects.

Properties apply to data, displays, and actions, and each of these types has its own format of property panel. Wizards are shortcuts to help you make apps and quickly manage data.

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The A_Tasks table shown appears to be a simple spreadsheet, although when you dig deeper you’ll see subtleties. For example, the Priority column is a row link and pick list, fed from the M_ Priority table. Note the icons for Wizards and functions at the far right above the source list.

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One way to add an object to a screen is to drag it from the objects panel onto the screen. Then you can edit the object’s properties.

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Wizards can quickly create table summaries, pick lists, notifications, and other objects of interest.

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Honeycode templates can generate an app quickly if you are lucky enough to find one that matches what you need to create.

Honeycode templates

Templates are the fastest way to create apps with Honeycode if your desired app is similar to an existing template. All template apps come with sample data and the necessary tables, app screens, formulas, and data organization needed to jump-start your own app. The tables are populated with starter data that you’ll want to update to suit your particular use case.

Honeycode APIs and webhooks, Zapier, and Amazon AppFlow

There are four ways to extend Honeycode apps beyond what you can create from its no-code Builder: the Honeycode APIs and webhooks, the third-party integration app Zapier, and AWS’s integration app Amazon AppFlow.

The Honeycode documentation recommends using Zapier or AppFlow if they support your desired connection target, since neither requires writing any code. There are limitations, however. AppFlow has a limited selection of integrations and only supports Honeycode as a data destination, although it can move multiple rows of data at a time. Zapier supports more than 3,000 integrations and supports Honeycode as both a data source (using Honeycode webhooks) and a data destination, but it can move only one row of data at a time.

The Honeycode APIs are defined in terms of a REST interface. They support 12 actions, 24 data types, and nine SDK languages, including the command line. You’ll need to enlist a skilled programmer to use Honeycode APIs.

In Honeycode, whenever an automation occurs (e.g. something in an app or a table changes), you can add a webhook to move the data from Honeycode to another online service. Webhooks require you to supply a destination URL, a payload value expression, and a payload key. The UI can help you define the payload value expression.

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Honeycode allows you to trigger a webhook as one possible action. Defining the payload value requires being able to write a simple Honeycode expression or formula. If you enter a “=” in the payload value input box you’ll get a dropdown of possible variables.

To summarize, Amazon Honeycode is a no-code app builder that runs on AWS and creates both web and mobile web apps. Its 18 templates can make quick work of creating small apps for common small-team tasks such as employee onboarding and purchase order approvals. You can also create apps from scratch or from existing CSV files.

Because Honeycode is a no-code builder, users will quickly find its limits. To go beyond what Honeycode can create itself, you can integrate with other apps by writing code to use its APIs, by creating actions that call webhooks, or by using Zapier or Amazon AppFlow, which are no-code integration products.

Cost: Basic: free (2,500 rows per workbook, 20 team members). Plus: $19.99 per month for 10,000 rows per workbook, 20 team members, SSO, plus $9.99 per month for each additional member. Pro: $29.99 per month for 100,000 rows per workbook, 20 team members, SSO, plus $19.99 per month for each additional member.

Platform: Amazon Web Services.

At a Glance
  • Amazon Honeycode is a no-code app builder that runs on AWS and creates both web and mobile web apps. Graphical templates make quick work of creating simple apps. Creating useful apps will require coding or help from technical staff.


    • Graphical app builder
    • No coding required for basic functionality
    • Can integrate without code using Zapier or AppFlow
    • Can integrate with code using Honeycode APIs and webhooks


    • Very limited core functionality
    • Creating useful apps will require help from a programmer, a DBA, and/or IT

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