DIY Phone Smarts

Google has recently released an Android software development environment that is intended to make it easy for people to write applications for its Android smartphones. The free software, called Google App Inventor for Android, has taken 12 months to develop. User testing has been done mainly in US High Schools. The aim of the initiative, Google believe that with mobile phones increasingly become the dominant computers then users should be able to make their own applications.

Harold Abelson, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on sabbatical at Google to lead the project said “The goal is to enable people to become creators, not just consumers, in this mobile world,”

“We could only have done this because Android’s architecture is so open,” Mr. Abelson commented.

Much like Basic did for the PC, the Google Android Application Tool enables novice users to drag and drop blocks of code — shown as graphic images and representing different Smartphone capabilities— and put them together, similar to snapping together Lego blocks. The result is an application on that person’s Smartphone.

For example, a program by a nursing student enabled a phone to send an emergency message or make a call, if someone fell. It used the phone’s accelerometer to sense a fall. If the person did not get up in a short period or press an onscreen button, the program automatically sent an SMS or called the person designated to receive the alert.

“These aren’t the slickest applications in the world,” Mr. Abelson said. “But they are ones ordinary people can make, often in a matter of minutes.”

This is a very interesting development and the project is one of the clearest signs yet that Google is intent on opening up the mobile technology market to all users. Their approach is a polar opposite to it leading rival, Apple, who have been known to take a far more tightly managed approach to iPhone application development for the iPhone.

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