Google App Inventor: Non-Developers Can Easily Create Android Apps
Google recently released a beta version of their latest endeavor, the App Inventor, which enables everyday Joes with absolutely no developing experience to create their very own Google Android apps. According to Google, their system is so easy because instead of writing code, users are actually visually designing the way their app looks using blocks to specify the app's behavior.
So far the most popular type of apps to be built by novice developers are games, though the App Inventor doesn’t limit those unfamiliar with the developing process to just games. App Inventor users can also build informative and other types of educational apps. For example, teenagers can create apps that help their classmates study for tests, and with the Android's text-to-speech functionality, the phone can ask the questions out loud.
Google and Apple seem to be in a fierce competition to win the hearts of developers (and non-developers alike), but with the addition of their new App Inventor, Google may take a slight edge over Apple. Not only is the Android Market an open platform for developers, but many are now speculating that we’re going to see a wide array of specialized apps built by non-developers. Pete Cashmore over at Mashable believes that this expansion in the number of apps available for Android may come at the cost of quality. “We’ll see thousands of new Android apps,” Cashmore wrote, “but will they be of a cookie cutter nature, offering very little value?”
When asked why they created the App Inventor, Google cited the fundamental shift in the way people are using their mobile devices. “Smartphones, including Android devices and the iPhone, help provide users with a fully-featured Internet in their pocket. As people become more comfortable accessing the mobile web, we want to help them create mobile services and applications that allow them to engage the mobile space as developers regardless of their computer programming knowledge,” Google said. “App Inventor for Android is an experimental program that allows us to do just that. For educators, App Inventor has become a powerful tool for exposing students to the world of computer programming and helping them become creators of technology rather than just consumers of technology.”
Deconstructing the Inventor
It appears as if the Android platform will never really be done; it’s a constantly evolving software and hardware environment with only one recognizable constant: innovation. Given this, it wasn’t too shocking that Google launched their new development environment for Android -- aka the App Inventor.
Some have complained that the Inventor looks a little too much like Legos, but the bright colors and simplistic design make the Inventor less intimidating and easier to follow. Let’s start with the basics. There are two main pieces to the App Inventor development platform, with the first being a browser-based tool featuring a screen builder. This particular tool enables users to create a sort of inventory of screens and widgets that work together to graphically construct an application. According to Linux Magazine, this is a partial list of the available widgets that can be “drag-n-dropped” to a screen in the App Inventor:
Once an element is added to the screen using the tool, the screen of the phone is immediately updated. In other words, it’s updated in real-time. Technically what the Google App Inventor is capable of isn’t really coding, but the Inventor’s version of coding is accomplished in the Android Blocks application, which must be installed onto the user's desktop or laptop computer. Essentially, this is the Lego-like piece, but as pictured here, the actual workspace where coding logic blocks are placed is clear:
and the blocks are actually selected from one of two available palettes.
The first palette is “built-in blocks,” which include items such as variables, strings, math, control logic, and colors, among others.
The second palette is “My Blocks,” and for each element added, there is a selectable entry with “events” and “methods” available, though it depends on the element chosen.