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.
Now that you have a pretty basic understanding of how Google’s App Inventor is set up, it’s easy to see how simple it is to use. Google wants to remind you, however, that the program’s simplicity has very little to do with its impressive amount of power. This is important to know, because some developers believe that opening up the developing power to the masses will lead to lower-quality applications – and I can’t 100% disagree with that concern.
According to Google, apps built by novice developers can store data created by users in a database. So say for example that you’re a teacher and you have a student that misses your weekly quiz. According to Google, you can easily create a make-a-quiz app, enabling you to save questions in a quiz for your student to answer at a later time.
Google also points out some more ways that the App Inventor can benefit you. Because the App Inventor features a GPS-location sensor, users can build apps that know where they are. Meaning, they can build apps that:
Help them remember where they parked their car.
Show the location of their friends at large venues, concerts, clubs, etc.
Provide a custom tour of their new home, school, place of business, etc.
According to Google, users can also write apps that use the phone features of an Android phone by:
Writing an app that periodically texts "missing you" to family and other loved ones.
Writing a "No Text While Driving" app that responds to all texts automatically with a text that reads "Sorry, I'm driving and will contact you later.”
Creating an app that reads aloud incoming texts while you’re driving.
Also, if you know how to write web apps, you can use App Inventor to write Android apps that talk to your favorite web sites, such as Amazon and Twitter.
Those interested in using the new Google App Inventor to create multi-screen apps with the environment should know that this particular function is not yet available. Google states that if the layouts of the screens you want are the same, you can do things like switch the text and images of components to make it look like a new screen has appeared.
And for those who have already made the assumption that the App Inventor is incapable of more complex apps -- think again. True, the App Inventor does have limitations, but it can be used to build complex apps. According to Google, the language provides programming constructs like foreach, while, and if-else, in block form. High-level components and operation blocks do exist for some Android functionality, though not all of it. According to Google, there are mechanisms for communicating with web services and databases and a component development kit is being considered, which will enable programmers to build App Inventor components with Java and expand the functionality of App Inventor.
Other Information to Know
As mentioned previously, Google’s App Inventor for Android is currently in Beta, and interested parties must fill out an application if they want to be one of the chosen few granted early privileges to Google’s latest endeavor. The application asks some basic questions and can be filled out online. Google will be choosing users in the coming weeks.
Google App Inventor users who do not have Android phones can still use the App Inventor, which includes an emulator for the Android. Obviously, the emulator can’t do everything the phone can, but users can create apps, test them out, and then install them on a phone later. Google admits that the App Inventor’s interface to the emulator isn’t quite 100 percent, but they’re working on improving it. For the time being it’s serviceable and enables users to develop apps without a phone. For more information on this, check out the Building Apps with the Emulator page at the Google App Inventor site.
According to the Inventor’s frequently asked questions page, here are some other things you should know about Google’s App Inventor for Android before jumping in:
Currently there are technical limitations to being able to upload an App Inventor app to the Android Market, but Google is evaluating the best way to integrate with the Market.
As of right now, it’s not possible to bring in multiple authors on a single project. The only way to work together is to share source code. This entails downloading the source and sending the zip file to your colleague, who can then upload the source from the projects page.
You can connect App Inventor apps to the web using the TinyWebDB component, which can communicate with any service that conforms to a particular protocol.