Google's App Inventor Lowers Bar on Android Mobile App Dev

Developing applications for mobile devices is a task that usually involves a reasonable degree of programming knowledge and skills. In an attempt to make it easier to build mobile apps, however, Google is launching its new App Inventor for Android tool.

The App Inventor for Android is currently a beta service and requires that users apply for access. As opposed to regular mobile development, which requires a developer to have some kind of IDE (define) and programming skills, App Inventor is a point-and-click visual tool for building mobile apps. With the tool, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) will have a new way to help expand its Android application ecosystem as it ramps up the competition against Apple's iPhone.

"App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge," the App Inventor site states. "This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app's behavior."

The blocks in App Inventor are pre-built components that enable Android functions. Among the blocks available in Apps inventor is one that enables users to communicate with Twitter and Amazon.

GPS capabilities are also built-in, enabling users to create location-aware apps with the tool. A sample app called ParkIT, highlighted by the App Inventor website , uses the location sensor to help users store and then find their car's location in a parking lot.

Google credit's MIT's OpenBlocks framework as being a key enabling tool for the App Inventor for Android technology. The idea behind OpenBlocks is all about making it easier for non-programmers to build application by using building blocks of specific features.

The App Inventor software will run on Windows, Linux and Mac and is a Java-powered tool. Currently, the software requires that users have an Android phone connected to their computer to test their apps, though that's a requirement that could be changing in the future.

"We haven't implemented support for the emulator in App Inventor yet, but it's on our todo list for the very near future," Harold Abelson, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wrote in a Google support forum posting for App Inventor. "We'll update the tutorials when we release the emulator implementation; I don't expect they'll need to change much."

With App Inventor, Google is also aiming to ensure that apps built with the new tool work on nearly any Android device. The most recent edition of the Android OS, version 2.2, is codenamed Froyo, though it's now available only for the Google Nexus One phone. Other Android devices from Motorola, HTC and other vendors run older versions of the Android OS.

"App Inventor has been tested and works on the common Android devices," Google's setup instructions for App Inventor states. "It generally will work on the current version of the Android operating system for your phone. There may be some App Inventor components that don't work on all versions of the Android operating system due to occasional inconsistencies, hardware differences or bugs."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Linux, developer, Google, Android, mobile apps