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

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.

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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: ÜberTech, Apps, Google, iPhone, Mobility, Software Development

Eric Lai

About Eric Lai

I have tracked technology for more than 15 years, as an award-winning journalist and now as in-house thought leader on the mobile enterprise for SAP. Follow me here at ÜberMobile as well as my even less-filtered musings on Twitter @ericylai

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29 comments
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  • RE: Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

    Android will grow into a scary dimension. Such a tool can at least trigger the interest of people to become active in creating own apps for this amazing platform. Usually such things are only the "entry drug". Sure you won't become over night an app developer but it may help to make more people stick with the platform. RIM and Microsoft will lose market share because their business model is from the last century and it seems that they are navigating in the dark. The future is open (source) and based on Linux. Let us speak again in ten years...
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  • Interesting cause Logo got me started....hmmm, ouch!

    First, Let me just say the idea is fabulous! The fact they have even tried to put something out there for the masses speaks volumes. Dont ignore the fact everyone knows that for it to be truly feature rich will take iterations... Just like when you typed your article, I'm sure!
    VB will always be the penultimate programming language that brought programming to the masses. As for Logo it's funny you mentioned it and I strongly disagree with you... I took a Logo course when I was 8 in 1989 and I am a professional developer for a Fortune 500 company that has been working with computers over the last 20 years...hmmm thanks again Logo (Love ya) and as for seconds...For seconds sounds like someones is mad he's the only Asian in his group that can't program professionally...ouch that must hurt... Try VB or the App Inventor <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/wink.gif" alt="wink"> DV from NC
    vanman314@...
    • RE: Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

      @vanman314@... Ouch, indeed. You're right, I can program my VCR and fiddle around with HTML but my days messing around with Assembly and Basic are long past. Again, I go back to Yahoo Pipes and the unfulfilled promise that soon everyone and their grandparent would be building mashups. Google's got more juice than Yahoo, but it's no slam dunk outside of the student arena.
      ericylai@...
  • Sybase?

    I think its important to mention that Eric Lai "joined Sybase in April 2010", the company that makes the product he is promoting in this article.
    Wintoon78
  • 1.3 billion Chinese think this app tool is great.

    The Android Market is going to be overrun with "This Is My Cat"-apps. Hello Kitty! Google is only concerned with the numbers game, not quality.
    zd-crap
    • RE: Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

      @zd-crap And Apple isn't playing a numbers game? is that why the App store has about 15000 tip calculators?
      anothercanuck
  • RE: Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

    I started teaching programming to my daughter using MIT?s Scratch (the base of App Inventor) and it is a marvelous and intuitive way to teach programming logic to beginners. Don?t forget you can create app?s with Flash almost without touching ActionScript.
    lrd1982
  • Allow more countries to sell paid apps in the marketplace

    Google should focus on allowing developers from countries such as Canada and Australia to sell paid apps in the marketplace. Then you will get more quality apps since currently there is no incentive to develop for android for countries outside the US and the UK.
    SK8-Wireless
  • Android is going to kill Apple

    Android will kill iPhone for a few simple reasons:

    1) You don't have to suck Apple's dick to get your application published, you don't need permission.

    2) It's an open development platform which means that we're replaying the PC versus Mac game again. PC allowed anybody to build anything they wanted, Mac wanted to control everything (both hardware and software) that ended up on their platform.

    3) Android is essentially free. I can run Android on a NAS or NAT router if I want and take all it's associated tools with me and run it there.

    Doesn't matter if iPhone is better or not, Android is cheaper and it's less restrictive.
    fuzzywzhe
  • iPhone spins Consumer Reports & now "App Inventor" is spun by this author

    Any app so long as it supports more than the original author is worthwhile.

    Eventually the biased reporting towards an Apple centric world will have to give way to reality. There is a better product out there and it is open source.

    While Apple makes a series of fine products this does not mean that they make the only worthwhile products of their types.

    Standby Steve Jobs as Google is eating your lunch and those that push the Apple upon us. Android Rocks. Those are two words that you will continue to see for a long time.

    I say go App Inventor go! I can't wait to play with it and if I am successful maybe you will read (or write) about me.

    Please make your statements with words rather than BOLD. Bold in the title or subtitle is ok, beyond that I would bet your Journalism or English instructors cringe.
    wrxSTiMULi
    • RE: Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

      @wrxSTiMULi I'm willing to be persuaded. Please send me your experiences using App Inventor to eric.ubermobile@gmail.com I'll try to write as unbiased a column as possible detailing your impressions. This offer goes to everyone.
      ericylai@...
      • RE: Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

        @ericylai@...

        Ok will do! I am no longer super experienced when it comes to programming so this should be perfect for me. It has been a while since I have had the time to play with Visual Basic and I hope to create something that would satisfy more than just myself. I am also an amateur astronomer and would love to create an app that controls the backlight and color scheme when I am out playing at night. Since I work for a large (soon to be larger) Telecommuications firm and perhaps I can create a "Enterprise" type app that will be of some assistance to my co-workers. Again, we'll see. I promise to give it an honest effort.

        After I wrote my comment to your article I sort of felt guilty in making an assumption from your mildly abrasive comments pertaining to the "App Inventor" that perhaps you were part of the iPhone fan parade. So afterward I reviewed your most recent articles and found that it is very likely that a bias supporting the iPhone shows in the subject matter you choose to base much of your writing on.

        While it is ok to have an iPhone and to be happy about it your writing should show less bias unless the title of your blog would be something like "Apple UberAlles Mobile".

        So you don't think that I am an Apple hater this is being written from my MacBook. There are 7 MacBooks in my extended family and every member of the family over the age of 12 has an iPod of every flavor.

        I find my Incredible exactly that, incredible. When compared to my Touch and what I am "allowed" to do with it it completely blows the Touch away. I can not compare it with the iPhone because the iPhone is not being sold one the "correct" service provider yet.

        The brain power that is currently behind many of the best iPhone apps will go crazy when they make the effort to see the unbridled access to the OS and the devices that is available to them. Perhaps App Inventor is the invitation needed to make that happen. As it stands now it seems as though Apple is not trying to make any friends with the demands put upon the iOS4 app authors.

        As I have read here or elsewhere, we should stop counting the apps that are available to one OS over another. When you get down to it, how many levels and tip calculators do we really need?

        When the "aPad" hits the market later this quarter it will show the true future.

        Thanks for your reply and I look forward to the competition of the OSes and the devices as it will only make life better for all of us.
        wrxSTiMULi
  • AppInventor

    I completely disagree with you.

    Like BASIC for the IBM DOS days and Visual Basic for the Windows days - App Inventor can play this rule for the SmartPhone era. One of the reasons that made the IBM based PCs so popular in those days was to ability to easily write programs using the BASIC programming language. Programs can be written relativly easy, and distributed freely. Same is true for Visual Basic - that revolutionized Windows application development

    You can read my take on it:
    http://moti-tech-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/there-is-app-inventor-for-it.html
    MotiB
    • Appsolutely

      @MotiB Agree 100% but since I'm being cheeky & corny let me add that App Inventor will take a Byte or two out of Apple. Currently Bill Gates said at a hearing there aren't going to be enough computer professionals coming out of US schools in the next 10 years to fill the needs of just Microsoft...let alone all companies requiring developers/IT folks. If this application gets some 10 year old American to not be just a vid kid but to try and develope, than Google, I salute you!!! And once more thank you to VB and Logo... ;)
      vanman314@...
  • Nobody has seen App Inventor?

    Do you do research before writing your articles? Check out USF IT department and rewrite.
    quink2495@...
  • RE: Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

    This is why we need a true search engine to discover the killer apps among the myriads of garbage mobile apps.
    Mayberry_J
  • RE: Google's App Inventor for Android: The Wrong Bet For Serious Mobile Enterprises

    Well DUH. Did anyone ever even hint that it would be any kind of bet for Serious Mobile Enterprises? You're hereby awarded the World Championship Belt for defeating that strawman, congratulations!
    ALISON SMOCK
  • So besides App Inventor and/or SUP read/contribute at...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_phone_web_based_application_framework
    tturner@...