Analysis: Google's do-it-yourself app developer sounds promising, and sounds like something Apple abandoned awhile ago.
Harry McCracken, Technologizer
Got an idea for a smartphone app? If you've got an Android phone you might be able to build it yourself, thanks to App Inventor for Android, a new Google Labs program for Windows, OS X, and Linux that's designed to make building Android programs as easy as piecing blocks together.
Steve Lohr's story in the New York Times makes it sound sensational; here's a video from Google showing a lady creating her first App Inventor app:
App Inventor is in closed beta at the moment, and Google says it'll let folks in "soon" -- you can sign up here. As you'll see if you fill out the sign-up form, Google sees the program as an educational tool of particular interest to teachers and students.
It's an exciting idea that's more than slightly reminiscent of HyperCard, the brilliant visual programming tool that was a big deal on the Mac more than twenty years ago, and which is missed to this day. HyperCard or something similar would be a boon on the iPhone -- even Steve Jobs has says he thinks so, although Apple apparently doesn't have any interest in building such an application itself, and new restrictions in the iOS developer agreement prevent apps developed with the HyperCard-like RunRev from being distributed on the App Store.
(More and more, I think that the surface similarities between Android and iOS are less interesting than the fundamental differences in emphasis and philosophy -- and the more different the two OSes get, the more interesting they'll be.)
I still have a cranky-old-man rant about PCs getting boring when they stopped coming with BASIC and normal people therefore stopped learning how to write their own software. I can't wait to get my hands on App Inventor -- and to see whether it's capable of creating programs that anyone other than their inventors will want to use . . .