Despite the belief of some skeptics that Google’s new, free development software, App Inventor, will flood the Android market with useless apps, it’s not necessarily true that this product will lower the bar for application development.
Admittedly, some of the home-grown applications people create may be frivolous or ineffective, but take a closer look at some of the iPhone apps, such as Tickle Me, which laughs when you fondle the screen, or iBeer, which shows fat lips chugging a beer. Wow, these are useful, quality products.
The point is, there is some truth to that old cliché, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Some of the greatest inventions came from average, everyday people with no formal education in the fields they exploited.
In other words, you don’t have to be a programmer to write programs, which is the thought behind Google App Inventor. That’s especially true now that many programming languages have easy, menu-driven user interfaces that are essentially fill-in-the-blank forms; that is, the “programmer” just clicks options on the screen, and the software generates the code.
And that’s what Google’s App Inventor is built to do. Once you download the application, set up your computer and phone for App Inventor, then skim through the tutorials, you should see another menu driven, point-and-click–or drag-and-drop–program that generates the code for you.
Who’s to say the pros have any better ideas for creating applications than the amateurs? For example, the DroidMuni app for Android devices displays schedules for the San Francisco transit system. ParkIt is an app that locates where you parked your car. Drum Kit is a fun and educational app that lets you select and play back drum sounds. All of these applications were created by students using Google App Inventor. Are the apps useless? Not to the people who ride a bus to work in San Francisco every day, or the employees who can’t remember where they parked their cars, or kids striving to learn how to play the drums.
So, how does this new code generator help you and your company? The potential is endless. Employees could create apps that manage their timesheets, sales receipts, expense reports, or phone records. You and your colleagues could create apps that send custom reminders of meetings, conferences, or client deadlines. Imagine an app that sends alerts to your IT staff when hardware fails, or an app that scans your competition’s Web site and sends new product information to your R&D staff. Or, more simply, you could create applications that function like macros, which record keystrokes in order to automate repetitive functions.
By contrast, creating apps for the iPhone, iPad, or the BlackBerry is left to developers with serious coding skills. As for creating apps for the planned Windows Phone 7, Microsoft released beta tools for developers today. Microsoft also touts a drag-and-drop app-creation interface in its Expression Blend 4 software, which is part of the $599 Studio 4 Ultimate package.
Although there is not an “official” release date published yet, the App Inventor site at Google Labs provides a form where you can request access to the free tool, which it says will be available in the “coming weeks”.