Create Your Own Android Apps

Back in July Google released a beta of App Inventor, which is a web-based, visual programming environment for creating Android apps. Up until today the app was only available via an invite, but it is now available to all who are interested in creating Android apps. The site for App Inventor is appinventor.googlelabs.com.

To use App Inventor you need to install software on your PC, then check the configuration on your phone. The Setup instructions then guide you through the process of creating your first application. Google also provides a set of tutorials to help you learn how to create apps.

App Inventor has two parts, the designer and the blocks editor. The designer is what you use to create the user interface for the application. You drag and drop objects like buttons, labels, and text boxes onto the form that represents the app on your phone. The designer runs in web page, while the blocks editor, which is what you use to specify what the app does, is an application that runs on your PC.

You drag and drop different blocks that represent program actions like events (for example when a button is pressed) and what happens when the event occurs. The blocks are designed to fit together, much like pieces to a puzzle, to represent a relationship between instruction and another. The blocks editor is a Java program that you download from Google’s servers every time you start it. One thing I found is that Chrome does not automatically run the Java program, you need to find the directory where the downloaded file is stored and double click to start the program.

As you are developing you can either have the application run on a phone or in an emulator. When you are done you can package up the application and install it on a phone or save it to a PC. The screen shot shows an application that I created in about 20 minutes. You will not create small apps using App Inventor, the app that I created takes up 3.94 MB of storage space.

I think App Inventor is interesting for a couple of reasons. First is that it is a visual development tool, designed to run within a web browser. Second is that it appears to be simple enough that anyone who wants to take the time to create an app can do so. I don’t think App Inventor is intended to create apps that you are going to sell in the Android Market, though I am sure some people will do that, instead it harkens back to a time when computers included programming languages so that users had the ability to create programs for themselves. I am looking forward to playing with App Inventor over the holidays.

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