I just saw something really cool today. Google recently announced its AppInventor web-based application development environment for the Android platform. You know what the required skills are for using AppInventor? Well, can you point and click a mouse? If so, you’re off to the races. To me, this is what it’s all about: the code should be a means to a particular end, not vice versa. Sure, there’ll always be a need for developers and source code for smartphones, but I think this represents a great opportunity for true killer apps to appear, since the set of individuals capable of producing the killer app has now increased dramatically. Most interesting apps on smartphones today aggregate existing services and capabilities into unique use cases, creating value for the end user. Imagine being able to bypass the coding portion of this process--the focus shifts squarely onto what you want the app to do, which should be the point in the first place. Google is offering pre-packaged access to many of its services inside AppInventor, including location services, text messaging, and online services like Twitter and Amazon. Google’s intent is for this to be used as an educational vehicle to spark interest in the platform and software application development, but it certainly looks like AppInventor is capable of producing compelling and meaningful apps in much less time than it takes today. It will be interesting to see what happens over the coming months and I will definitely be experimenting with AppInventor myself, as it provides me with a convenient excuse to procrastinate on brushing up on my Java skills.
If user interfaces continue to be more and more influenced by artists and designers and applications become increasingly written by people in search of solutions to practical problems, the consumer will be the ultimate beneficiary, since the capabilities and features of the device will more closely reflect their reality than that of a bunch of engineers (not that there’s anything wrong with engineers, especially since yours truly falls into that category). Seeing this innovation occurring in an open platform is particularly encouraging since there exists a clear path for improvement and expansion of the concept. So, next time you think to yourself, “I sure wish I had an app to do <whatever>,” give AppInventor a try—I will definitely do so and would be interested to hear your experiences with this innovative tool.