Google's App Inventor: Escalating the Mobile Ad War?

Earlier this week, Google released tools designed to help non-programmers build their own apps on the Android platform. The move is consistent with Google’s strategy of boosting worldwide consumption of mobile data. As I wrote at GigaOm Pro today, though App Inventor is unlikely to be used by many novices to produce compelling smartphone applications in the near-future, in the long-term, it could be a game-changer.

As TechCrunch documents here, “App Inventor is essentially a two-part tool: Designer is a web page that enables users to add buttons, text fields and other components; Blocks Editor is a Java application that allows users to do drag-and-drop coding. Google has given users access powerful tools such as GPS information, accelerometers and social components.”

Google is an advertising company, of course, and App Inventor is designed to expand Android’s developer community and to increase usage of mobile data, therefore increasing Google’s opportunities for mobile advertising. Android’s growth in the ad space is now more crucial than ever, thanks to the emergence of Apple’s iAd, an aggressive play by Apple to leverage the dominance of the iPhone by delivering ads through apps and on the mobile web. Apple’s App Store teems with 200,000-plus offerings, more than three times as many as Android Market. And iOS claims more than 43,000 registered developers, according to a recent report by AppStore HQ, while only about 10,000 coders are building atop Android.

App Inventor is an obvious effort to boost production and inventory of mobile applications, which would help Google in the battle for in-app advertising it’s currently fighting with Apple. But it’s easier said than done.

Creating anything beyond the simplest (read: least compelling) apps isn’t easy with App Inventor, as TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid noted: Unless you’re looking to make an extremely basic application, you’re going to have to read through the documentation. In some cases even the existing tutorials won’t be enough.

App Inventor will surely allow some creative non-programmers to build apps that are actually innovative, but many will likely be the kinds of apps Google highlights in its video demonstration — an image of a cat that meows when the screen is touched. In other words, the most likely short-term result of Google’s do-it-yourself development kit will be an increase in the kind of third-rate apps that already plague Android Market. That’s not good news for the countless Android users already frustrated by the search for apps that suit their needs amid the stacks of crappy titles in Android Market. App Inventor will surely help non-programmers build me-too offerings for every fart simulator or sex-position manual that already exist.

Apple’s App Store has serious flaws, to be sure, but the notorious App Store ferrets out much of the garbage, even if that process seems somewhat arbitrary. Google essentially refuses to employ any filter whatsoever. Fattening Android Market with junk might not only slow Android’s recent momentum with consumers, it might make advertisers think twice about where they spend their advertising dollars. Google’s storefront is already developing a reputation as an inferior outlet for inferior apps That’s not an image advertisers want to tie their brands to.

The long-term strategy behind App Inventor, then, is simple: Create more places where Google can place ads and generate revenue, and build on Android’s momentum by opening the platform even to dilettantes. The problem, though, is in the value of the new inventory: Deep-pocketed advertisers won’t let their high-profile brands be soiled by appearing in third-rate apps; Android Market is already developing a Wal-Mart-like reputation. App Inventor could be a huge lift for Google, but only if it helps produce apps that people really use — and inventory advertisers will really pay for.

Read the full post here.

Image courtesy of flickr user Tom Raftery.

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