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Google spins visual development app for Android

Jul 12, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Google Labs released a beta version of an education-focused, GUI-based software tool designed to let non-programmers develop Android applications. The App Inventor beta offers drag-and-drop visual programming tools for creating apps that can integrate social networking sites, make use of sensor data and speech interfaces, and grade quiz responses, says Google.

Available for Linux, Windows, and OSX desktops, App Inventor is built around pre-programmed blocks of code, which are available "for just about everything you can do with an Android phone," says Google Labs. The software is also said to provide blocks for doing "programming-like" stuff such as storing information, repeating actions, and assigning conditional actions.

App Inventor is aimed primarily at educators and students, and influenced by the work of Seymour Papert and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Logo Group in the 1960s, says Google Labs.

App Inventor for Android
(Click to enlarge)

Apps can be designed to store data created by users in a database, enabling educational apps that include interactive quizzes, says Google Labs. The software can integrate with phone functions and social networking sites, and is said to be GPS-aware, enabling the development of apps such as custom tour apps.

App Inventor's blocks editor is said to make use of the Open Blocks Java library, distributed by the MIT's Scheller Teacher Education Program. Open Blocks in turn is based on the Scratch programming language, a project of the MIT Media Laboratory's Lifelong Kindergarten Group.

Formatting screen elements in App Inventor

The App Inventor compiler translates the visual blocks language to Android, making use of the Kawa Language Framework. The compiler also makes use of Kawa's dialect of Per Bothner's Scheme programming language, which is available in GNU Linux, says Google Labs.

Google has posted some sample apps developed using App Inventor including:

  • DROIDmuni — displays schedules for the San Francisco MUNI transit system
  • ParkIt — GoogleMaps-based app that uses GPS coordinates to help users to locate their car
  • Drum Kit — Lets users play seven different parts of a full, labeled drum kit
  • Super Hero Game — Quiz game that tests Super Hero knowledge
  • Where's Speedo — Used for finding friends at large events, letting user view the location of another user on a map and set how often the app sends his or her location

Google Labs posted a video on using App Inventor, available through the link farther below. In addition, in May, Dave Wolber, CS professor at the University of San Francisco (USF), posted a YouTube video showing how he used a pre-release verison of App Inventor in his computer science class (see directly below).

App Inventor for Android, demonstrated by Dave Wolber, USF professor, on YouTube
(Click to play)


App Inventor for Android is available from Google Labs in a beta for Linux, Mac OSX, and Windows desktops. The freely downloadable software is available to users who fill out a form requesting school affiliation and other educational details.

More information may be found here.

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