This week, Google released a new Google Labs project - App Inventor for Android. The product is designed to let anybody (as in non-developers) create Android Apps. This could go one of several ways. It could fade away into the graveyard of Google Labs projects that never became full-fledged products, it could get a handful of users, or it could change the web, the mobile industry, and user interaction with both very significantly.
Would you create your own mobile apps if you didn't need developer skills to do so? Let us know.
It's a simple concept, with enormous implications (even for non-Android users). The introduction of App Inventor has provoked a great deal of discussion around the web and with good reason. The product basically puts app creation into the hands of everyone (though you will still have to learn how to use App Inventor itself, as Jason Kincaid points out. Think Dreameaver for apps.) Businesses will be able to create apps on the fly. Consumers could be able to create apps that cater to their personal preferences, and therefore make their devices more useful.
"To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a developer," says Google. "App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app's behavior."
Simplification often leads to wider adoption. Look at what blogging platforms did for online content creation. Look at what Twitter is doing for news consumption (essentially what RSS has been doing for years). If people have a simple way to create apps quickly that can be used by users of any Android device, they are probably going to take advantage, and those apps will get users, and inspire more app creation.
Too Many Bad Apps?
Users ultimately decide what apps to put on their phones. It's not like using the web. Your Android device is not going to be spammed with so-called bad apps. Android is an operating system, not the web. You don't use Android like you use the web, you use the apps themselves that you decide to use like you use the web.
Still, bad apps are going to exist regardless. In a discussion about this on our Facebook Page, a fan called these garbage apps. However, what one person might consider garbage, someone else might love. One person's garbage may even be garbage to everyone, except for the creator and one other person, but if that garbage can deliver a useful and personalized experience for these two people (or perhaps between these two people, doesn't that make Android all the more useful? Especially when you consider that there may be thousands of these two (or more)-person scenarios? That's personalization. You don't have to use my app but it's perfect for me or for me and my friend to use. You can have your own. In this respect, it's not much different than creating a web page.
If an infinite number of people have access to app creation, how can that not inspire innovation? Even if there are tons and tons of "garbage" apps as I'm sure there will be (yes, there will be plenty that aren't even useful to the people who created them), there will also be some that are useful, popular, and possibly even revolutionary. This is a chance for people with great ideas (that may lack in developer skills) to shine.
Maybe these apps won't be as sophisticated as those created by the real developers, but maybe they will encourage the developers to make better versions. MG Siegler made a great point in that maybe App Inventor gets non-developers messing around with app creation and they become more interested, actually learn the skills and make their own app ideas more sophisticated and innovative.
This is About More Than Just Android
It's hard to say whether Google's competitors in the mobile space will follow the precedent Google is setting here, but there's no question that they have to take notice. Even if they don't all immediately jump on it, some may. The more that jump on the bandwagon, the harder it's going to be for others to stay off. For example, let's say down the line, Android, BlackBerry, and Microsoft offer products that follow this concept of simplified app creation. They're going to not only have the ability for users to create their own apps, they'll potentially have a much greater amount of apps for users to access than other competitors like Apple.
This is very much about phones, but really that's only part of the picture. You're going to see more and more Android-powered devices become available eventually. Tablets. Google TV's Android integration (which also has massive potential in itself). How about devices that will initially be powered by Chrome OS (like Netbooks)? Google suggested at its developer conference in May that Android and Chrome OS could conceivably merge one day (just a possibility). Who knows what other devices or appliances Google will put Android into in the future?
Will People Create Their Own Apps?
There are a lot of unknowns about this product right now. It's not only in beta, but it’s in Google Labs. There's a chance it won't ever become a full-fledged product, but it seems like too big of an idea not to, if you ask me. That said, there are probably plenty of details Google itself doesn't have worked out yet, and there is no doubt that Google would put in a significant amount of time into ironing them out as they see fit to make this a better product. It will be be improved upon. We're only in the first week right now. The more people use it, the more they will share their experiences with others, and more will be learned. Bugs will be fixed. People will get more used to it.
Maybe nobody will use App Inventor and none of this will pan out (we are after all, still waiting for the potential of other Google products like Buzz and Wave to be realized). But it could. How many people use programs like Dreamweaver to create web pages? How many people use social media to create profiles and content? WordPress or other blog platforms to publish blogs? If there is one thing we've seen over the past decade on the web, it's that people like to create, for better or for worse. The easier that creation process is made, the more people understand it, and the more people will take advantage. That's what I think. What do you think?
Is App Inventor a potential game-changer? Do you like the idea of anybody being able to create their own mobile apps? Share your thoughts in the comments.