Google is preparing to disband Google Labs in the near future and, in the process, some of its projects are getting called up to the majors while others will be given their walking papers.
Among the projects falling into the latter category is Android App Inventor. We were introduced to App Inventor a little over a year ago and told it would bring Android development to the coding illiterate. It offered a simple WYSIWYG interface that allowed you to drag-and-drop blocks around the screen to create whatever your heart desired with nary a bit of Java code in sight. I played around with App Inventor briefly myself. But Clark, as the resident AAM expert, took the time to guide you all through the process of creating a Twitter app.
People were pretty interested in App Inventor when it first hit the scene, so what went wrong? For one, App Inventor apps could never be uploaded to the Android Market, which was a disappointment to many potential users. I understand a flood of completely amateurish apps in the Market wasn’t in Android’s best interest, but some support for sharing the apps you made might have contributed to more community interest in the project. Not being able to create a custom icon for your app was yet another indication that this tool was basically designed for just mucking about on your own rather than creating something for others (this issue was corrected in a later update). And that significantly narrows the audience.
While App Inventor didn’t ever really catch on with mainstream users, it did establish a foothold in the education market–something that was often readily apparent if you followed the App Inventor Google Group. Many instructors saw App Inventor as a gateway drug for students that might have been intimidated by the prospect of coding. Once seeing a piece of software they created actually running on a phone, they could be inspired to get their hands dirty with Java or (god forbid) Objective-C.
As for what the future holds? Google will no longer be the caretaker for App Inventor. But they are “exploring opportunities to support the educational use of App Inventor on an open source platform.” Based on the feedback I’ve seen from educators in the App Inventor Google Group, I hope it does find a home somewhere as it certainly has a strong–if not ultimately huge–core audience.
Did any of you use App Inventor? What was your experience with it? Where would you like to see it go if it is taken up as an open-source project?
P.S. If you are interested in drag-and-drop software creation there is also an interesting program called Illumination Software Creator from Radical Breeze that will let you build apps for Android, among others. Unlike App Inventor it provides the full Java code in a format that can be exported to Eclipse and should, therefore, be able to be uploaded to the Android Market. The catch is that it is $49.95, but the guy behind it seems quite active and is definitely constantly updating the program.