Google July 12 launched App Inventor for Android, a tool people without programming knowledge can use to build applications for smartphones based on the company's open-source Android platform.
While Android was designed for software programmers who speak geek, App Inventor is a sort of software Lego set for amateur programmers who can sign up to use the tool here with a Gmail account.
Instead of writing code, users will drag and drop blocks, which are ready-made code sets, on a programming palette to construct their applications. These blocks include images, sound, text and screen arrangement.
See Google's demo video here, in which an amateur programmer connects her Google Nexus One to her desktop PC to build an application with App Inventor.
The App Inventor Web page in Google Labs states that the tool provides building blocks for "just about everything you can do with an Android phone," as well as blocks for storing information, repeating actions and communicating with Web services.
While the Web page said users can use App Inventor to construct games or draw pictures, users may also do more useful things such as creating a quiz application to help classmates study for a test. Users may even take advantage of Android's text-to-speech capabilities, for example to make the phone ask the test questions aloud.
App Inventor also features a GPS-location sensor to let users build applications that know their location. Those who already command some Web programming knowledge can use App Inventor to write Android applications that talk to Twitter, Amazon.com and other Websites and services.
However, Google's intent is to let average consumers build their own applications for the smartphones they use every day. This is something that has never yet caught on among desktop computer users, despite tools such as Basic, Logo and Scratch.
Harold Abelson, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who led the project as a visiting faculty member at Google, said more than a year ago on Google's Research Blog that several major universities, including Harvard, MIT, University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan, were testing App Inventor.
Abelson told the New York Times that Google tested the tool with "sixth graders, high school girls, nursing students and university undergraduates who are not computer science majors."
Developers have written close to 100,000 applications for the Android platform. If App Inventor catches on among nonprogrammer Android phone users, it could boost that number considerably.
At the least, App Inventor could increase awareness of Android as an alternative to proprietary platforms such as Apple's iPhone.
The next logical leap for App Inventor would be an App Inventor Mashup Maker. In such an instance of classic crowdsourcing, Google would provide tools allowing users to build mashups, or application chimeras.