Today I started playing around with the online project by Google/MIT which uses puzzle pieces to build apps for Android. Apparently, Google had put the project online a while ago and it ‘went dark’ this year, so MIT picked it up and also turned it into open source, so people can write plugins for it. Currently it’s in the beta stage.
Simple put, it rocks. At first, though, it takes a bit of getting used to. You move puzzle pieces, called ‘blocks’, around the screen and attach them to each other. I had to look through a few examples and read some tutorials, which were excellent, but then I finally started to pick up on the logic behind the thing. In fact, once you get it, making a simple app for Android goes really fast.
Much of hand written coding is repetitious. You write the same keywords over and over again, with different values and different labels. What this ‘block’ approach allows you to do is speed up that whole process, by dragging and dropping the right parts into the right places. And then you just change the labels and values to whatever you need. Once you’ve got the visual layout of the screen figured out, most of the pieces you can use for the programming have already been labeled correctly.
For example, you insert a button on the visual screen page. Then you go to the blocks editor and drag and drop a button ‘block’ (or puzzle piece) with the same label into place. Then there’s an emulator you can try, or you can actually hook it right into your smartphone for application.
Once you’ve gotten the thing neatly put together, you can ‘package’ it for downloading. This will give you an .apk file, which you can attach to emails and send to whoever you like. One thing, though, a friend already pointed out that his email client won’t let him download .apk files. I tried sending it as an attachment to a message on FB and had no problem. Probably there’s already a great place where we can upload and share our Android apps, but I haven’t looked for it yet. Having a centralized place from which your friends could download your apps would be ideal.
What’s possible with this thing? They say you can write a chat program in no time, something that works like LINE or Whatsapp. An address book, phone book, even a Twitter type app is possible, they say. Here is the site if you’d like to get started:
Android Apps by Blocks
Or search: MIT AppInventor Experimental
And remember, it doesn’t work on Apple phones… Hahahaha! (apple, sigh)