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Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

Summary:Google's App Inventor for Android is the latest free DIY tool that is supposed to bring Programming To The Masses. It probably won't, and here's why.

Google on Monday rocked the mobile development industry with news of its App Inventor for Android, a tool to help non-programmers create apps that run on its smartphone operating system.

This is obviously big news in the mobile consumer space, though the long-term impact is not clear at all. And for enterprises investigating the right way to mobilize, Google's App Inventor for Android isn't even an interim or band-aid solution.

Sure, some will argue that App Inventor is a "game-changer," being the latest free/cheap, easy-to-use product from the Magnificent Minds in Mountain View that is wresting things out of the hands of the IT department.

They will compare it to Google Docs and Google Calendar, which small departments and businesses are embracing for quick collaboration instead of waiting for the corporate developers to fiddle with SharePoint.

Similarly, departments will embrace App Inventor as a quick, tactical way to deploy their mobile apps - or so the argument might go.

I don't see it. For one thing, DIY programming tools never live up to hype. This goes all the way back to Logo, the Apple II programming language that was supposed to turn 70s-era elementary school kids like me into coders (it didn't).

More recently, Yahoo Pipes was released three years ago as a free drag-and-drop Web mashup creator. Web 2.0 guru and book publisher Tim O'Reilly called it a "milestone in the history of the Internet." Since renamed the more-techie sounding Yahoo Query Language, the tool is still talked about in respectful tones, just not as the Thing That Brings Programming To The Masses.

Second, no one's yet seen App Inventor. But the easier that it is for non-techies and students to use, the less capable it will inevitably be at implementing deep business logic and processes. That's what tools such as the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) can provide.

Third, App Inventor for Android is, obviously, just for Google's OS. Problem is Android today lags behind other platforms inside the enterprise. RIM is huge, and iPhone is growing fast. And there's plenty of Windows Mobile still running out there.

Unlike the PC market, most enterprises are going to have to support multiple platforms. That's where a Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) such as SUP comes in. Writing apps once to run on multiple platforms helps companies save time and money. So does integration with biz apps such as SAP or device management tools such as Afaria - both of which SUP happens to enjoy, and which we are rapidly building up with more capabilities.

That's not just my opinion. Gartner analyst Bill Clark recommends MEAPs, advising enterprises "not be fooled non-comprehensive suppliers. Many companies offer mobile device management, application connectors, thin-client products that require persistent network access, or standalone development environments, without the full suite that Gartner requires by its definition."

Gartner predicts that more than 95% of organizations will be choosing MEAP or packaged mobile application vendors as their primary mobile development platforms through 2012.

Google's open 'Dev Kit For Dummies' approach may help Android catch up to the iPhone in the app race (its 100,000 Android apps lags the iPhone's 255,000). Just don't expect it to be a meaningful part of your business's mobile app development strategy.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Apps, Google, iPhone, Mobility, Software Development

About

Eric Lai tracks the latest news and trends in enterprise mobility. A veteran tech journalist most recently covering enterprise software for Computerworld, Eric joined Sybase, an SAP company in April 2010. Eric's views are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of SAP. This blog is sponsored by SAP.

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