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.