Google's App Inventor: First impressions

By Mark Gibbs, Network World |  Software, Android apps, app inventor

A few weeks ago I wrote about Google's soon to be released programming system for smartphones that run the Android operating system, App Inventor for Android, and the following week I delved into one of the underpinnings of App Inventor called the Scratch Programming language developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Lab.

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I just received my invite to App Inventor so now I can report on what it's all about. To be fair, these are my first impressions of a product that has just entered beta so what we've got here is just indicative of Google's intentions and direction.

How does it look? Well, for a system that was designed to make programming as simple as possible it's still pretty complicated.

My installation was straightforward enough but, according to the notes for Windows installation (both Linux and OS X are also supported), the driver that supports communications with your Android phone may not get installed correctly. You also need to mess around at the command line to verify whether everything is where it should be. I have no doubt that these are the sort of problems that Google will sort out in the fullness of time.

The architecture of App Inventor is complicated (perhaps even overcomplicated, as we shall see), consisting of two main subsystems, one that runs in the browser under JavaScript, the other under Java. Both subsystems communicate with each other and talk to a smartphone connected to the host machine via USB.

The JavaScript-based subsystem is a browser-based GUI development environment downloaded from a Google server (thus you need to have a Google account to play).

This interface allows you to add, modify and layout visual components (labels, text fields, buttons, pick lists, and so on) on the application screen as well as add invisible components that don't have user interaction (such as clocks, a barcode reader, text to speech controls, accelerometer sensor, location sensor, etc.).

Although this editor is supposed to run on all the usual browsers I found it unstable on Firefox, but when I switched to Google Chrome I had no problems.


Originally published on Network World |  Click here to read the original story.
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