DIY apps: Google's secret weapon in the battle of the smartphones

Now you don't have to be a geek to create an app...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It looks like thewar between Google and Apple over the top spot for mobile platforms is about to hot up: the search company has unveiled new software which allows users to develop their own apps for its mobile operating system, Android. Best of all, Google’s App Inventor for Android doesn’t require any knowledge of programming language – which means ordinary people will suddenly have the power to make their own mobile apps. There’s no doubt the number of Android apps will rocket – but is playing the numbers game a winning strategy in the fight for smartphone users?

Google says users will be able to build ‘just about any app you can imagine’ with App Inventor – exciting stuff. It’s hard to give a precise assessment without having a look at it (it’s invite-only at the moment), but as far as we can tell, the software uses a drag-and-drop style interface, allowing users to put ‘blocks’ of colour where they want ‘the programming-like stuff’ (Google’s words, not ours) to create simple games or quizzes. It’s even got a GPS function, so users can make their apps location-sensitive. Perfectly designed for all your stalking needs…

It’s a big step for Google, which is struggling in the smartphone market, still lagging behind BlackBerry, Nokia and Apple. One of Android’s biggest weaknesses to date has been the lack of apps available to users: the Android Marketplace has just over 90,000 applications, while Apple’s App Store has more than 250,000 available at the moment. Allowing users to create their own apps without any special knowledge is obviously going to provide a huge boost to numbers – particularly given Apple has been criticised for the rigorous approval process apps have to go through before they can be submitted to the App Store.

But will an emphasis on quantity mean forfeiting quality? Google suggests the quiz element could be useful to students studying for exams, but the trouble is, writing apps is difficult unless you know exactly what the technology is capable of. It could mean the Andoid Marketplace becomes overrun with thousands of basic apps created by novices –lending a bit of a needle in a haystack element for those on the look-out for well-considered, clever apps.

Either way, one thing is certain: as one commenter on the Guardian pointed out, ‘I guess there will be a flood of fart apps in the Android app store’. Hmm.

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