9 Comments

Summary:

Tablets and smartphones are very personal devices, but software for them is built for the masses. What if you need a very specific app on your Android phone? You could build it yourself with the MIT App Inventor even if you have very little programming knowledge.

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In this age of app stores for mobile devices, we have hundreds of thousands of choices. Even so, the “perfect” app is one that meets an individual’s specific needs. And in a sea of apps, such a solution may not exist. But could you make it yourself? Perhaps, thanks to Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the MIT App Inventor.

Back in 2010, Google introduced a simple programming interface to create Android applications. My son and I kicked the tires of the App Inventor and found it to be relatively easy to use, even for those without a programming background. The App Inventor allows for drop-and-drag development with all of the objects — buttons, links, images and such — already programmed with basic functionality. You simply need to put the puzzle pieces together, as it were, and add logic or specific features.

Google eventually announced plans to turn the App Inventor over to MIT, which was fitting, as some elements used to build the App Inventor already have ties to MIT. This past weekend, the university announced that after two months of closed beta testing, App Inventor is now in an open beta for all who have a Google ID.

Will you be able to create the next Angry Birds and retire rich by making software in the App Inventor? Not likely. But our smartphones and tablets are very personal devices that serve our individual needs. As such, I see truly customized apps, even simple ones, as part of our mobile future.

Recently, I had the need to create a simple but specific app to track an attribute of the running I do regularly. I turned to the Python programming language — ironically, learning about it through an MIT online course — to build the solution. I completely forgot about App Inventor, which likely would have cut hours of time off my little project and wouldn’t have required me learning all of the Python syntax. Sometimes plug-and-play can be a powerful solution.

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  1. Rémi Jullien Monday, March 5, 2012

    This is on my todo list of things to try as soon as possible.

  2. It’s ironic that with Android and iOS slates trying to steal the thunder from PC sales, at the end of the day you STILL NEED a PC to create mobile apps for these devices. Makes the entire Post-PC argument fall apart.

    1. We’ll soon enter the era where we can develop applications directly on our android device (tablets would probably be more practical due to their screen sizes). But it would still probably be easier to create mobile apps on PCs.

    2. First of all, the user:developer ratio is tiny. Second of all… https://market.android.com/details?id=com.aide.ui

      1. *developer:user

  3. William Haven Monday, March 5, 2012

    See also Infinite Monkeys simple app generator
    http://infinitemonkeys.mobi/

  4. This is the way mobile apps are bound to go, with every small business having their own functional app, just like having a website is the baseline today. It took free tools like WordPress and SquareSpace for that to happen.

    I’ve tried both AI and IM, and I prefer the Infinite Monkeys platform (www.monk.ee) As a non programmer, it’s just easier to figure out and does 90% of what I need (and is free) – I’m sure I could probably do a lot more with the Google / MIT platform, but it’s really a clean sheet of paper and you’re starting from scratch.

  5. Has anyone tried this online course? http://androidapptraining.com

    It’s to learn app inventor

  6. Kurt Alexander Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    When I first tried App Inventor, the first thing I thought of was “Scratch” the kids logic builder activity on the OLPC-XO (One Laptop Per Child) – which coincidentally, is another MIT project. The interfaces are so similar, and they both offer the chance to learn developing, but they’re both pretty much useless at actually building something.

    If you want to actually build your own mobile app quickly and without coding, it’s better to use something that is actually in the business of making apps – like BuzzTouch (http://www.buzztouch.com/) or my favorite: Infinite Monkeys (http://monk.ee), both of which are still free like AppInventor, but have enough meat to them to be able to create a good small business / project app without starting from scratch. C’mon GigaOm, you’re usually ahead of the curve on these!

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