App Inventor for Android, VB Revisited

Google announced a new product today, App Inventor for Android.  This is a development environment for creating applications on Android, only you don’t need to be a developer, says Google:

You can build just about any app you can imagine with App Inventor. Often people begin by building games like WhackAMole or games that let you draw funny pictures on your friend’s faces. You can even make use of the phone’s sensors to move a ball through a maze based on tilting the phone.

But app building is not limited to simple games. You can also build apps that inform and educate. You can create a quiz app to help you and your classmates study for a test. With Android’s text-to-speech capabilities, you can even have the phone ask the questions aloud.

To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a developer. App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app’s behavior.

Here is App Inventor in Action:

Is this the new Visual Basic?

I think we saw this before with Microsoft’s introduction of Visual Basic.  Visual Basic was an environment for just about anyone to create applications for Microsoft Windows.  Sure, it was used a TON and created a rich marketplace but it also created a lot of really bad software with really poor code bases which were hard to maintain.  I think a few readers probably still have their fair share of VB 6 code out in the wild.

I saw so many applications created by dragging-and-dropping controls on a form by business people, farm-hands and anyone else who cared to pick-up a mouse.  These applications were often toys created by mort.

Dave Winer of Scripting News, agrees this may not be the thing for the marketplace.  He certainly has seen technology come and go:

This idea of a once-and-for-all development tool is like the Divining Rod of the Olde Days. Perpetual Motion. The goose that laid the golden egg. The fountain of youth. Shangri-la. Bigfoot. The Loch Ness Monster. Cold fusion. The Singularity!

Jeff Jarvis and The Quark of Programming also offers an interesting perspective:

Will App Inventor yield lots of crappy apps? Of course, it will, just as Quark enabled sinful design and Blogger wasted bits. That is true of all such technologies that lower the barrier to entry to a former domain of priests. That’s precisely what the printing press did. As much as the web breaks down priesthoods, it created new ones. Developers are merely the latest. They say that mortals can’t do what they do. But what if they could? What if they could translate a thought not just into words and design but into action?

I imagine Marc Benioff of going positively batshit over this, enabling businesses to create apps for, say, their sales teams to manage and share information about and with clients. I imagine small businesses using App Inventor to create apps like Chipotle’s that enable customers to make burrito orders before they arrive. I imagine teachers being able to make exercises and quizzes in apps (forget the electronic textbook; give me the electronic workbook!).

I think Jeff is right, there will be a lot of crappy applications created.  This could be a huge problem too.  Let’s say the Android app store skyrockets to 1,000,000 applications, how would you ever filter out the junk from the good?  It would be nearly impossible.  As it is, Apple has a pretty stick policy to filter apps fro there store and it is still hard to find an application never mind a good one.

On the other hand, from a business perspective, this is a potential great move by Google to create a ton of new applications for their store.  In one fell swoop they can have developers and non-developers creating applications for their store.  I speak from experience, it is not trivial to create iPhone applications, certainly not something a non-developer could easily tackle.

I would love to see a tool like this succeed, but I have seen others fail.  Why should App Inventor be any different?

  • Dapacc

    I think you misread.. According to Jeff’s quote it will be good that non-programmers can create programs.. He is comparing programmers to the hierarchy who thought they were better then other people.. And as for your opinion, I must go against it. A good coder does not necessarily make a good program, and a bad coder doesn’t necessarily make a bad program..

  • Erel

    There is a new Visual Basic like development environment named Basic4android.
    Unlike AppInventor it creates native applications and it is much more powerful.
    It also includes a visual designer that displays the layout directly on the device or emulator.