Google opens public beta for simple Android apps

The company has opened up its App Inventor WYSIWYG programming tool, trialled over the past year in US classrooms, to public registration
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Google is to release the first beta of App Inventor, a tool to help the general public develop applications for the Android mobile operating system.

The company opened up registration for the tool over the weekend. According to the App Inventor site, the WYSIWYG tool — already trialled in US classrooms over the past year — can be used by someone with "no programming knowledge", as it allows the user to build their app modularly with predefined 'blocks' based on the Open Blocks Java library.

A Google spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Monday that apps created using the tool will not be submittable to the Android Market at first, as App Inventor's initial focus is as a "learning tool".

"We're seeing a fundamental shift in the way people are using their mobile devices," the spokesperson said. "Smartphones, including Android-powered devices and the iPhone, help provide users with a fully-featured internet in their pocket. As people become more comfortable accessing the mobile web, we want to help them create mobile services and applications that allow them to engage the mobile space as developers regardless of their computer programming knowledge."

More details were made available on the app's site. "The App Inventor team has created blocks for just about everything you can do with an Android phone, as well as blocks for doing 'programming-like' stuff — blocks to store information, blocks for repeating actions, and blocks to perform actions under certain conditions," the site reads. "There are even blocks to talk to services like Twitter. App Inventor is simple to use, but also very powerful."

App Inventor gives programmers access to handset functionality including GPS location, accelerometer information, the telephony features — one suggestion on the site is an app that periodically sends text messages — and connections through to web services such as Amazon or Twitter.

"The educational perspective that motivates App Inventor holds that programming can be a vehicle for engaging powerful ideas through active learning," the site notes. "As such, it is part of an ongoing movement in computers and education that began with the work of Seymour Papert and the MIT Logo Group in the 1960s."

The tool only allows its users to create fairly simple apps, a Google spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Monday, explaining that App Inventor "leverages a small subset of the functionality that's available in the Android SDK". Google Labs provides a series of tutorials to help people learn how to build apps using the tool.

Nokia also has a simple app creation tool called Ovi App Wizard for its Symbian smartphones, although that tool only lets people create apps based on RSS and Atom feeds. Apple insists that all iOS apps be written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript.

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