Some have dubbed the latest smartphones "app phones." After all, the redefinition of the smartphone from the days of Windows Mobile and PalmOS has been the sheer number of helpful, effective, yet generally simple apps that are in online markets. Now, with App Inventor for Android, there's a chance that John or Jane Q. Public can write their own.
The New York Times reported on Monday that Google has been testing the App Inventor in schools for a year. User testing, the Times said, has been done with the following groups: sixth graders, high school girls, nursing students and university undergraduates "who are not computer science majors."
Google appears to be aiming this at non-programmers who might might to build their own app. Harold Abelson, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is on sabbatical at Google and led the project, said that "The goal is to enable people to become creators, not just consumers, in this mobile world."
It sounds a lot like Visual Basic, in terms of how easy it might be to create an app. Here's how Google describes it:
To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a developer. App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app's behavior.
This is just another extension of Google's push for openness on its Android platform. While this sort of development tool might lead to a flood of noisemaking apps in the Android Market, it can also be used to create useful, simple apps.
One such example in the article is an app that is sort of an Android version of the "I've fallen and I can't get up" device. The app uses the phone’s accelerometer to sense a fall, and if the person did not rise or press an on-screen button within a time limit, the program automatically texts or calls a designated person.
The only problem is, the App Inventor for Android is in closed beta. You have to sign up here. As Google and Apple try to win the wallets of consumers, it seems Google wants to win consumers' coding fancies, as well.
One question, though: will this coding system will work on devices that allow no sideloading of apps (meaning apps that do not come from the Android Market, ahem, AT&T)? After all, you will need to test your app.
Watch a video on the new App Inventor for Android: