App Inventor Returns to MIT
App Inventor Returns to MIT
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Google recently dropped App Inventor and stated that it would go open source. Now we know where it is going - back to MIT and this isn't necessarily all good news...

App Inventor is the creation of Hal Abelson while he was on a sabbatical at Google. MIT is also the source of the Scratch programming language and the line of graphical programming languages, including Lego Mindstorms, that App Inventor is an example of. It is in this sense that App Inventor is returning home after being ejected from the soon-to-close Google Labs.




However, Google hasn't entirely bowed out of the picture because it is supporting the new MIT Center for Mobile Learning, part of the MIT Media Lab, which is taking over App Inventor as an open source project. Google's contribution is far from long term and is described as a gift to set up the center. 

"The Center, housed at the Media Lab, will focus on the design and study of new mobile technologies and applications, enabling people to learn anywhere anytime with anyone. Research projects will explore location-aware learning applications, mobile sensing and data collection, augmented reality gaming, and other educational uses of mobile technologies."

Some are saying that this development makes the negative feelings created by Google's dumping of App Inventor go away - essentially everything is OK because MIT is in charge. This is partly true, and certainly all that the 100,000 or so educational and enthusiast users could have ever hoped for. What it doesn't do, however, is inspire confidence that the graphical programming approach is for the mainstream.

For example, would you use Scratch to even prototype a serious application?

The answer has to be no but mainly because of its association with teaching programming to the under fives rather than because of any technical shortcoming. Some commentators have argued that App Inventor is little more than a toy capable of being used to teach programming and not capable of being used to create anything but the simplest of applications.

If you look at the specification of App Inventor this clearly isn't true and it represented a potential truly RAD development system for Android. If Google had any faith in this future for the system then it could have promoted it as such - perhaps with an open source version and an App Inventor Pro version for developers.

At MIT, assuming that the funding keeps coming, I'm sure that App Inventor as an educational tool is secure. What is a shame is that we have missed the opportunity to see if graphical programming can make it out of the classroom and into the real world.


More Information

MIT announcement of the Center for Mobile Learning

lHal Abelson's Google blog announcement

Google drops App Inventor

Getting started with Android App Inventor

App Inventor: Create Your Own Android Apps

Easy Android Apps



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