Aug 20 AT 2:17 PM Clark Wimberly 47 Comments

Building a Twitter client with Google App Inventor

A couple days ago (and again yesterday, it seems) Google started sending out rounds of invites for its new App Inventor beta. Google App Inventor is a web-based, drag-and-drop Android application building tool.

Using App Inventor for Android you can easily develop in real-time on a live device (as you build the app it is rendered live on screen). Making changes in the designer or blocks editor (more on those in a bit) instantly updates your device, ready to test.

Before you get started, there is a minor amount of setup (including installing some App Inventor helper software on your machine) but the process seemed fairly simple. There is also a great selection of tutorials up already, featuring complete instructions to build numerous different apps.

blocks editor

the blocks editor

How App Inventor Works

I cover most of this in the video, but for the skimmers I thought I’d quickly try to sum it up in writing. App Inventor is composed of two basic pieces: the designer window and the block editor. The design page is where you actually construct the interface, name elements, etc. The blocks editor is much more fun, featuring a drag-and-drop building block style for creating functions (making your app actually do something).

As you build and edit in the designer, the blocks editor will automatically update, adding new blocks and functions. The blocks are clearly and logically labeled, making building with them a breeze.

Let’s get building!

The recording ended up running a bit longer than YouTube allows (about 20 minutes total) so I had to split the file in two. You can find both parts below or click over to Vimeo to watch the whole thing.

The Aftermath

While tinkering with App Inventor has been a blast, it’s also been bring back weird flashbacks of building horrible WYSIWYG pages with Geocities. In a way, I’ve highly enjoyed it. That feeling you get when you make something work for the first time, even if completely assisted by a 3rd party, is something worth experiencing. On the flip side, I worry about every yahoo online releasing a flood of fart apps and soundboards.

For the time being, App Inventor apps aren’t allow in the Market. You can’t even set a custom icon. Given those two facts, I’d assume for the time being that we are safe from an all-out, mediocre app assault. But we want to hear what you guys think.

As a learning tool I think it is top notch and I’ve already seen numerous people on the mailing list claim that App Inventor spurred them into learning real development techniques, which I think is totally great. See you guys in the Market!

Clark is a developer living in Austin, Texas. He runs ClarkLab, a small web firm with his wife, Angie. He's a big fan of usability, standards, and clean design.

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