I’ve been meaning for a while to check out App Inventor (a Google Labs project that is now being open sourced since Google is — sadly — phasing out that department). It’s a RAD tool that lets you quickly and graphically create apps for Android phones and tablets. In theory there is “no” text programming required — you just “draw” a flowchart and your interfaces. Anyway, to see what I thought I quickly hacked together a “fancy clock” after GIS’ing myself a clock face and some hands. I figured an analogue clock would be a good Hello World alternative since it is very simple but still touches on a broad range of tasks — logic, flow control, procedures, sprites and graphic manipulation, interface design, and system interaction.
On the “pro” side I was very happy with how easy it was to do this. Getting the first version running took literally minutes. After that it was just tweaking and messing around to try different things. It has a ton of potential. On the “con” side there is still a lot missing functionality, although I am certain that will come with time. My larger concern is that in their urge to dumb-down and make this accessible it seems like complex flow control could get extremely awkward to assemble. I’m not sure if that is unavoidable. I will definitely keep my eye on this tool and if I find the time I might write something a bit more ambitious (and useful). I want to say one other thing but I’m putting it in a new paragraph so it’s not missed by skimmers.
This seems like an excellent tool for teaching bright children* how to program.
And below is a video my dumb little clock in action. It’s exactly what it looks like. The only thing it does is tell the time, and if you tap it, the hands toggle their glow on and off (just because I wanted to write something… anything…) and the ‘X’ button in the top left quits. Oooh, exciting. I don’t know why anyone would want to, but you can download it here. Just uncompress the APK file and copy it onto any Android device. I’ve only tested it on my tablet because that’s all I have.
* Or dumb adults.