Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Android App Inventor

The only advantage of getting older (until I qualify for the Seniors' discount at Denny's anyway), is being able to see trends repeat themselves.

I wrote previously that what is happening with the iPhone/iPad running Apple' iOS operating system versus tablets and phones running the Android operating system, is very reminiscent of the battle in the 1990's between the Macintosh an Windows.  The Mac was clearly better at first over Windows, but Windows was cheaper and more open.  Windows won.

The same I think, is happening in the iOS versus Android world.  Only Apple products can use iOS, while anyone at all can make products using the Android system.  That's why we are seeing Android phones for each carrier, the excellent Galaxy Tab tablet, and K-Mart carrying a $149 Android tablet.  In the US, the iPhone is on one carrier, and the only tablets are the iPad and iPod Touch.

The plethora of PC's running Windows in the 90's was one reason for Windows ultimate triumph in numbers over Apple.   The other was the ability for users to create their own apps for fun, profit and to meet their own needs.

Microsoft's Visual Basic made creating Windows Apps easy for even hobbyist programmers.  And it was affordable, with Visual Basic starting at just $99.

Corporate IT shops liked VB too since they could then make company specific apps cheap and fast.  A company could afford to whip up a little app to meet the needs of a specific department and not have to buy some large, commercial app and then modify their processes to meet the software's expectation.  They could create their own software tailored to their existing business processes.

To be fair, Apple had Hypercard, sort of a pre-intenet hyperlinked information system.  Hobbyists did some amazing things with it as they built and distributed their own "stacks".

There was also a book that came out after the Mac came out, showing a fantastically powerful BASIC that was coming for the Mac.  The language never appeared, rumored killed by Apple at Microsoft's behest.  So the Mac never had the easy-to-use app production ability Visual Basic gave Windows.

In the last couple days I've been fooling with Google's App Inventor.  It is a free app that is to Android as Visual Basic was to the PC.

It's free.  It uses building blocks to let you assemble your own apps.  It has tutorials and a growing user community offering their own tutorials and help.  In that way, it is very reminiscent of Visual Basic.

I've just gotten it installed, and built the trial app.  I am very excited to get going with it.

I don't see myself creating apps to submit to the Marketplace (you can't yet put App Inventor apps there),.  My wife though, needs some very specific data gathering capabilities for her job.  I see a app that can do that for her.

Microsoft too remembers their roots, although hazily.  Users can create their own apps for the new Windows Phone 7 using the latest version of Visual Basic.  The problem is that long about version 6, Visual Basic got as complicated to use for hobbyist programmers as Java or C++.  And you can only develop phone apps using Visual Studio 2010 Professional, Premium or Ultimate editions.  They cost about $700 and more, a far cry from the accessible $99 Visual Basic once was.

Update : I am saving App Inventor resources I find to my Public Bookmarks.

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