Google has just announced something called App Inventor for Android - a ‘drag and drop’ environment that allows non-techies to build applications for Android phones. Naturally it’s a cloud service, it’s in beta and will be available very soon. By Ian Scales.
This could be an important move for Google as it attempts to push Android past Apple’s iOS to become the app platform of choice for aspiring developers and relatively ambitious users alike (see - Apple to drop: will lose app store leadership by 2015).
It’s a graphical apps-building environment (Google has abolished the ‘p’ word) and seems to have had its genesis in educational software. It uses the Open Blocks Java library that is distributed by MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program.
‘Open blocks’ provides a nifty way of assembling an app using a big screen on either a Mac or a PC (though I suppose you could also compose your apps on a tablet or even a Dell Streak).
It looks good too - there’s a video demo here.
According to the New York Times, which broke the story, Google thinks thinks many users increasingly want to make their own little apps to do specific things, in much the way that PC applications such as spreadsheets have ‘macro’ languages so that users with just a little facility for programming can automate specific tasks.
To that end, Google is keen to make the visual macros - which can be made to do things like run quizes, automate text or email responses; or interact with the various phone censors to do things locate a parked car - easy-to-use and idiot-proof and the ‘block’ approach is a nice one for this since only compatible instruction blocks can be clicked together.
It will be interesting to see whether Apple thinks the Google approach - which, after all, is another step down the ‘openness’ path for Google - is something it would be prepared to copy. After all, if the open app store espoused by Google is risky in terms of exposing the user base to rogue (or just seriously buggy) software, then a brisk trade in these apps is even more likely to visit frustration on anyone who downloads one and finds it doesn’t work.
On the upside, Google no doubt hopes the tool will kick-start the discovery of the ‘inner geek’ for many children and young adults. These, it hopes, will naturally go on to develop for Android, just as Microsoft Basic was one of the reasons that so many 1980s geeks ended up pledging fealty to MS DOS and then Windows.
App Inventor can access all the essential goodies within Android including the device’s sensors, GPS and text to speech system. A small software download is required to sync the computer to an android phone and to the web-based development tool.
please sign in to rate this article