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Google's Android App Inventor: Help or Hindrance?

Google's Android App Inventor: Help or Hindrance?

Got a great idea for a mobile application? You may be able to make it a reality, using Google's App Inventor for Android -- even if you've never written a line of code. Some Android enthusiasts are wondering whether this is a good thing, however. It good be a real boon to the Android ecosystem -- or it may just litter the landscape with a lot of useless junk.

By Katherine Noyes
07/13/10 5:00 AM PT

Google's new App Inventor for Android may be a dream come true for amateur programmers with big ideas for the next mobile app. Whether it will be as beneficial for professional developers, the Android Market or the platform in general, however, is much less clear.

On the one hand, putting development capabilities in the hands of the masses could dramatically accelerate the growth rate of the Android Market, making it more competitive with Apple's App Store; that, in turn, could serve to increase consumer interest in the Android platform and enlarge the potential audience for all the apps created by real developers.

On the other hand, there's the potential that the technology's do-it-yourself approach could "dumb down" Android apps and flood the Android Market with inferior offerings.

'Negative Effects'

"Companies are usually praised for making things easier and more accessible, but this is one case where Google's openness is probably going to have negative effects," Andrew Kameka, managing editor of the Androinicablog, told LinuxInsider.

"Android and iPhone both have far too many apps that have practically no value, and this is just going to expand that," Kameka added. "Do we really need more soundboards, cat photos and 'Twilight' wallpaper apps?"

The worthwhile apps "will still require talent and programming knowledge, so the influx of Inventor-level apps will not directly discourage development," Kameka pointed out. "But in the absence of gatekeepers, it will be especially important for Google to not let the weaker apps become the most visible or prevalent types of apps."

Though "even Steve Jobs cites the iPhone's larger app totals and developer base as a sign of iOS's perceived superiority, Google and Android developers shouldn't get caught up in milestones," Kameka warned. "It's more important for Android to have unique features and innovations that the iPhone lacks or can't match. I'm not sure App Inventor does that in a positive way."

'A Great Introduction'

App Inventor "will certainly flood the Android Market with varying qualities of apps, which will inevitably increase the disposal rate of apps, potentially frustrating users," agreed Brandan Greenwood, mobile development team lead and director of client engagement with Amadeus Consulting.

Nevertheless, "it will likely be a great introduction to the Android Market for students and those looking to get the basics of application programming," Greenwood told LinuxInsider.

It's unlikely that App Inventor will decrease serious opportunities for developers, since the tool will only offer a limited number of options, Greenwood added.

"App creators will be able to have a base set of tools, but not ones that can elevate their app to the next level," he explained. "This is where developers come into play, as they can create custom sets of tools for users that are unavailable on the market.

"Developers also love to push boundaries to create new and robust technology," Greenwood added, "so it will likely not discourage them."

'The Equivalent of BASIC'

It's actually not even clear that users of App Inventor will be able to publish their apps to the Android Market, Raphael Savina, (@raphaelsavina) a contributor to AndroidGuys, told LinuxInsider.

"Many reports on the release of App Inventor got the wrong idea on what Google wants to achieve with it," Savina explained. "If you read all the tutorials and help on the App Inventor website, there is not one reference to the publication of the apps created with the Inventor on the Android Market, so you cannot assume that it is possible."

A YouTube video about App Inventor gives a better overview of the technology's goals, Savina pointed out.

Though the App Inventor seems powerful, it also "will never be as good as using Java or Android NDK and native code," Savina added. "It will only bring more developers to Android and certainly help the growth of the Android Market -- but hopefully towards quality and originality rather than pure quantity."

In short, "I think App Engine could be the equivalent of what BASIC was in the 80s for personal computing," Savina concluded. "It will help young developers to start and get passionate about creating apps for Android; once they have the passion to code, they will make great apps that I am looking forward to."

'It Will Help Drive Android'

App Inventor for Android "accentuates Google's more open approach to smartphone code and now to consumers, many of which I believe do indeed want to be creators of mobile software in addition to being consumers of it," 451 Group analyst Jay Lyman told LinuxInsider.

While there may be the potential for issues of security, scalability or simply flooding the Android applications market, "I think it will help drive Android applications and the ecosystem," Lyman predicted.

In addition, "it presents a significant contrast to Apple's iPhone development and App Store, which tend to be more tightly controlled and targeted at developers rather than consumers or average users," Lyman concluded.

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