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App Inventor


May 25 2011

App Inventor: Create Your Own Android Apps

By David Wolber, Hal Abelson, Ellen Spertus, and Liz Looney

App Inventor: Create Your Own Android Apps describes and shows people how to use a new web application platform which has the goal of allowing non-programmers to be able to make Android apps. This book is for people who have never programmed before who wish to develop Android apps. "App Inventor" should not be confused with the Android SDK, which is geared towards professional programmers who already know Java, nor with the Android NDK that uses C++.

Computers have made a lot of progress in the last three decades. We have moved from machines that can only work with 80 column text using a fixed-width font to machines with sophisticated graphical user interfaces. This transition has been done piecemeal, starting with the transition from the Apple II to the Macintosh, followed by the transition from DOS to Windows for business computers, which was then followed by the transition of the Internet from Usenet and other text-only applications to graphical web browsers.

The only technology that hasn't made this transition is the interface used by programmers. Programs are still made using the paradigm of an 80-column terminal with a fixed-width font.

App Inventor breaks this programming model. Programs are developed with a mouse; the program structure is described using graphical components resembling pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The App Inventor book walks you through the process of using this platform, starting with a simple "Hello, world" application and finishing with advanced topics such as using Android's web API.

One issue I had with the system is that App Inventor needs a fast computer with a large screen to function well. While I was able to build basic applications on my test system (an Atom N455 Netbook with a small 1024x600 screen), the emulated system I was developing on ran very slowly and developing applications required a lot of switching the window between the web page with the application and the Java-generated page for programming the application's logic.

I might have had better luck running the system using my 64-bit Linux system which runs the Android SDK noticeably faster, but unfortunately I was unable to synchronize App Inventor with its included Android emulator in Linux.

App Inventor shows a lot of promise, and the O'Reilly book does a good job of describing how to use this development toolkit. Unfortunately, the technology is a little too cutting-edge to use with the low-end computers many people have today. Only get this book if you have tried out App Inventor and it runs well on your system.

To post a comment about an entry, send me an email and I may or may not post your comment (with or without editing). A digital copy of this book was given to me because I am a member of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. The above image is part of the book's cover.