By Seth Weintraub
July 12, 2010

The WYSIWYG Android app builder will push Android’s numbers past Apple’s App Store, and put app development in consumers’ hands.

Google announced today a new product called App Inventor that will change the landscape for creating apps for smartphones.  Since Android is moving to TV sets and Netbooks, its reach won’t be limited to handheld mobile devices either.

The tool isn’t just for consumers. Businesses, large and small can now easily create apps for their employees’ Android devices without hiring costly developers.  Students have been at work testing App Inventor for about a year.

For the past year, we’ve been testing App Inventor in classrooms around the United States, and we’ve found that it opens up the world of computer programming to students in new and powerful ways. David Wolber, professor of computer science at the University of San Francisco and part of the initial pilot program, says “students traditionally intimidated by technology are motivated and excited to program with App Inventor.” One student from Professor Wolber’s class told us: “I used to think that no one could program except CS people. Now, I’ve made dozens of applications for the Android phone!” Another student, who struggles with dyslexia, was inspired by App Inventor to take more computer science classes and is now learning Python.

From a simple Web interface, App Inventor will now allow people who don’t know how to code in Java (Android’s app programming language) to create apps for their Android phones.

The video below shows a very simple app being created in a matter of seconds using no code.

Think about how many people started creating web pages when WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) tools became available for every day users who didn’t want to have to learn code.  This tool will do the same for Android apps.

App Inventor isn’t just a glorified HTML editor either.  Google gives its users access to the GPS, accelerometers, Social components and other powerful tools.  The potential for people to create amazing apps is definitely there to be used.

Many of these apps could find their way into the Android Market.

A little back of the napkin here: If only 1% of Android phone buyers decide to create only one application, that means that 1600 (Google says 160,000 Android devices activated/day) more Android apps will be created every day.  That means that over half a million additional apps could be created every year.  That is five times Google’s current total app count….and that is an extremely conservative estimate.

It seems then that Android is likely to catch Apple pretty quickly in the “great for marketing, nonsense for practicality” apps numbers race. Google is currently closing in on 100,000 apps in the Marketplace.  Apple’s iOS App Store is closer to 250,000.  Those numbers are all but meaningless because 90+% of apps on both platforms are complete trash.  App inventor isn’t going to help Google weed out poor apps.  In fact, thousands more poorly designed apps are about to flood the market.

It isn’t all gravy for Google, however. Google already has problems curating its Android Marketplace as blogged by DoubleTwist’s (a great Android media app btw) Jon Johansen:

Google does far too little curation of the Android Market, and it shows. Unlike Apple’s App Store, the Android Market has few high quality apps. A study by Larva Labs (the developers of the excellent Slidescreen app) estimates that Apple has paid out 50 times more money to developers than Google has. While the Android Market is available in 46 countries, developers can only offer paid apps in 13 countries (for instance, Canada has only had access to paid apps since March 2010). In addition, the price for foreign apps is not displayed in the user’s local currency and developers do not have the option of customizing pricing by country. To make matters worse, you can’t pay for foreign apps using your Amex card or carrier billing. There’s also no support for in-app payments and changelogs (to communicate app changes).

Apple, however, isn’t without its share of significant App Store problems.  This week, two high profile cases emerged where rogue developers created hundreds of apps whose sole purpose was being bought with phished iTunes accounts.  On both occasions, many of the apps reached Apple’s top 100 lists, which likely caused some unsuspecting “legitimate” purchases.  Apple was quick to respond and remove these apps from the App Store, but those with Phished iTunes accounts are on their own trying to get their purchases removed from their credit cards.

The App Inventor tool may finally put an end to App counting marketing which doesn’t help the consumer decide if the platform has the types of apps they need.  In fact, it does one better.  It allows consumers to create their own applications rather than hope developers create what they need and get it into an app store.  Some of those consumers will want to become better at creating apps and make the move to becoming developers.

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