Review: Android Apps With App Inventor
April 18, 2012

Review: Android Apps With App Inventor

Derek Walter For

The Android App Inventor from MIT is one of a growing number of tools to help amateur developers learn to create apps without knowing all of the ins and outs of coding. Yet even a tool such as this can seem overwhelming.

A newly released book seeks to guide users in taking an idea and transforming it into a full-blown application. It is recommended for those who are novices to app development and want to specifically start on learning some techniques for building on the Android platform.

The book, "Android Apps with App Inventor" by Jorg H. Kloss, seeks to take someone from relatively no knowledge to being capable of building strong applications. It should probably be seen as the first of successive steps, however, for anyone who wants to build on Android apps on a commercial level.

The online App Inventor tool got new life earlier this year when it was picked up by MIT. As part of Google CEO Larry Page´s efforts to streamline the company, its App Inventor product was one of several that got the ax. However, it open sourced the code, and MIT came in to carry the product forward. With that support it has a fairly bright outlook with an active community.

App Inventor is still very much a beta product. Those who have higher aspirations for their coding strategies may wish to just head straight for learning a programming language. Others that are on the fence or just exploring building mobile applications will find the ideal tool to toy around with.

Android Apps with App Inventor has a solid introduction, taking readers through the many iterations of the Android operating system, beginning with 1.1 and finishing with version 4.0, dubbed, “Ice Cream Sandwich” (all major versions of Android are given a code name after a dessert, continuing in alphabetical order).

Google has made some minor improvements since then, bringing the current version up to 4.0.4. However, nearly all the material in the book should be relevant given that any changes since publication have been minor stability fixes.

The book walks users through the development environment and explains the various tools found in the App Inventor. Creating an account, downloading the necessary software and ensuring you have a phone ready for tinkering are all covered.

In fact, true novice users may even find this book a little much to swallow. It is a middle ground between a super friendly “For Dummies” book and an academic-level computer science text. Anyone who is tech savvy and familiar with the terms and concept around mobile devices should be fine. Someone who is still feeling their way around mobile technology and does not feel like they have mastered their own device may want to start with something more user friendly.

There are some good how-to projects and exercise to warm up on the way to more complex app development. By the end of the book readers can dabble with multimedia tools and learn how to add animation, GPS tools, and other advanced features.

The text includes plenty of tables and visual guides to supplement the material. The App Inventor has some powerful features hidden beneath the DIY interface. Those who want to acquire some more technical knowledge will fortunately find some of that described in the book as well.

Currently users who complete an application in App Inventor are not able to upload it directly to Google Play for distribution (the former Android Market). However, the FAQ section on the MIT help site says, “We are actively working to resolve this.”

It is unclear if users would be able to charge for applications when this functionality is available. However, it is clear that MIT is actively seeking to build the platform.

More advanced users would likely be able to download their application and then transfer it to Google, though this would take technical knowledge outside the scope of the book or the site´s native tools.

In addition, those who purchase a new copy get a 45-day trial of an online version through Safari Books Online. The contents of the book cannot be downloaded into an eReader or eBook app — they must be viewed in a browser.

In all, Android Apps with App Inventor is a useful book for a budding Android developer. It is a very helpful guide for someone seeking to learn the basics of building mobile applications for the Android platform.

Sign up for MIT App Inventor: