Google App Inventor Saved by New MIT Center

Google funds the new MIT Center for Mobile Learning, where its App Inventor for Android open-source programming tool will live on.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is funding the newly launched MIT Center for Mobile Learning, whose first task is to rescue App Inventor for Android, which Google has decided to abandon.

Financial terms of Google's investment in the MIT Center for Mobile Learning were not made public.

App Inventor for Android is a tool people without programming knowledge can use to build applications for smartphones based on Google's Android platform. App Inventor, which has about 100,000 educators, students and hobbyists on board, lets users visually fit together puzzle-piece-shaped programming blocks in a Web browser.

Google CEO Larry Page earlier this month opted to stop development on App Inventor by the end of the year. Google said it would open the source code to the public and vowed to explore "opportunities to support the educational use of App Inventor on an open-source platform."

This took shape in App Inventor being a good starting point for MIT's new center, which will focus on the design and study of new mobile technologies and applications to augment learning.

MIT researchers will use App Inventor to construct "location-aware learning applications, mobile sensing and data collection, augmented-reality gaming and other educational uses of mobile technologies," according to a statement.

The MIT Center for Mobile Learning has three directors: Hal Abelson, the MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science who proposed an idea that prompted the development of App Inventor when he was on sabbatical at Google in 2008; Eric Klopfer, associate professor of science education; and Mitchel Resnick, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research.

Abelson said in the statement that his idea for App Inventor sprung from Resnick's Scratch software programming platform with the core code for its programming blocks coming from Klopfer's lab, which trains MIT students to be secondary school science and math teachers.

"The new Media Lab initiative completes the circle," said Abelson. "For me, it's a terrific experience of starting with an idea, finding visionary industry leaders willing to make it a reality, then bringing it back home to MIT so I can work on projects I love, together with colleagues I admire."

Google, meanwhile, found a way to save App Inventor as a development tool for computer science students and researchers, without having to shell out money to fund it every year.

It's as good a way as any to make use of assets that would have otherwise been banished to open-source obscurity.