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The Android Gets Its HyperCard 256

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the developers^3 dept.
theodp writes "Steve Jobs & Co. put the kibosh on easier cellphone development, but Google is giving it a shot. The NY Times reports that Google is bringing Android software development to the masses, offering a software tool starting Monday that's intended to make it easy for people to write applications for its Android phones. The free software, called Google App Inventor for Android, has been under development for a year. User testing has been done mainly in schools with groups that included sixth graders, high school girls, nursing students and university undergraduates who are not CS majors. The thinking behind the initiative, Google said, is that as cellphones increasingly become the computers that people rely on most, users should be able to make applications themselves. It's something Apple should be taking very seriously, advises TechCrunch."
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The Android Gets Its HyperCard

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  • Re:lawl (Score:3, Insightful)

    by n2art2 (945661) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:03AM (#32873554) Homepage
    and that is because as soon as Apple does something different the competitors tend to copycat.
  • Just in time... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tpstigers (1075021) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:06AM (#32873572)
    ... to contradict the previous story. Power to the people!
  • Lingo anyone? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thnmnt (62145) * on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:09AM (#32873598)

    This reminds me of the early 1990s trend of "programming for everyone", particularly Macromedia's Lingo in Director. Languages and environments that start this way quickly realize that the end products would be ever so slightly more appealing if they were more flexible. And flexibility is the end of simplicity. The 1.0 of this language is going to be fine for a few intrepid schoolgirls, but soon they're going to have to add basic programming concepts and structures which will leave most people scratching their heads. Haven't we already seen this dramatic arc with Director and Flash?

  • Google (Score:4, Insightful)

    by helix2301 (1105613) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:10AM (#32873608) Homepage
    This is what is great about Google they offer different services to compete with Apple. Plus the whole point of creating your own apps made easy is just really cool and a great touch by Google. I think if this catches on this could be a big selling point for Google.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:11AM (#32873610)

    Can we just have a "Google" section already? This might as well be filed under Microsoft, with references being made to "Developers, Developers, Developers!"

  • Re:lawl (Score:4, Insightful)

    by migla (1099771) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:18AM (#32873676)

    >and that is because as soon as Apple does something different the competitors tend to copycat.

    I thought this was a story about Google doing something differently than apple.

  • Re:lawl (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ground.zero.612 (1563557) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:20AM (#32873690)

    and that is because as soon as Xerox does something different Apple tends to copycat.

    FTFY

    PS) Thank the Lords of Kobol that Palm, HTC, Motorola, etc have been choosing to not copycat Apple!

  • Moderate yourself (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tisha_AH (600987) <Tisha.Hayes@gmail.com> on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:23AM (#32873726) Journal

    It is like Slashdot. If you want to look at everything at -1 you can. Naturally you will see a bunch of crap.

    For android applications you can always sort things by how popular they are and find the creme of the crop.

    Who knows, you may be surprised by what application may be developed by a high school girl. To ignore the potential creativity of a vast swath of society is foolish. Maybe the killer app is one that targets high school girls.

  • by Vectormatic (1759674) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:26AM (#32873754)

    i'll just reply to you, since many others have already replied to me saying search etc..

    I dont care if people want fart apps, or even milions of them, but if, when browsing an app-store, i end up wading through thousands of pieces of junk to find one or two actually good apps, that is annoying. I find this already happens a lot on the apple app-store, the mechanisms for searching etc. simply arent 'fast' enough for my taste, i spend too much time scrolling or whatever.

    truth be told, i am very curious about android and the android market, i have no doubt that as soon as my contract is up for renewal i'll get a nice android phone

  • by hedwards (940851) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:31AM (#32873806)
    It's not that different from the Appstore on the iPhone, I'm sure most of those apps are junk as well. People tend to browse the most recent and popular lists primarily to find things. As that'll find most of the good ones, also if one has a specific need in mind, Google helps with that as well.
  • by Tom (822) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:39AM (#32873856) Homepage Journal

    Who knows, you may be surprised by what application may be developed by a high school girl.

    My guess is: The same as operas written by computer geeks.

    No, I don't mean the browser.

    The basis of society as we know it is division of labour. Let people do what they are good at, and give the parts they aren't to someone else. We don't need 5 million nonsensical crap applications on the marketplace. What we need is a way to request applications. If 1000 people want a fart app and are willing to pay $0.99 for it, I'm sure someone will write one.

    Right now, there's no way for the consumer to tell the market what you are looking for. Back when we came up with all this Internet thing, wasn't the fact that it makes bi-directional communication possible one of its best features? Instead of having only the big corporations being able to talk to the costumers via advertisement and press releases, the customer could talk back and the companies would listen?

    Whatever happened to that? Wouldn't the app market with its thousands of small developers a fantastic place for this old dream? Tell them what you need, or what the available apps are lacking, and the chances that someone will set out to satisfy that need are better than ever before.

    That would be a true innovation that drives the app store or marketplace or whatever you want to call it forward. Apple is too much into the uni-directional conversation for that to happen, Google could make it happen. Don't tell me that with all the very smart people they employ, nobody has dug up this idea from the 90s.

  • Re:lawl (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:42AM (#32873876) Journal
    This is a situation where, I suspect, Apple will not follow unless placed under real pressure.

    Look at Apple's release model, particularly for iDevice stuff, it is the very opposite of "early and often". They are totally willing to take flack(cut and paste, MMS, multitasking, etc.) for as long as necessary in the service of delivering what they consider to be the "right" solution. Obviously, they do do iterated development as well(just ask anybody who had to endure OSX before about 10.3...); but Apple, in the present day, has a strong bias against "good enough and a lot faster/cheaper" type stuff.

    Releasing an environment explicitly designed to lower the barrier to entry for application creation would have an effect precisely contrary to Apple's design aesthetic and integration philosophy. Consider the analogy of MS Access in the context of Win32 desktop software. On the one hand, the existence of that application is probably responsible for the existence of more utterly rubbish "applications" than just about anything else on earth. On the other hand, it has allowed millions of people who are basically nonprogrammers to hack together "good enough" applications to solve the weird little application-specific problems that are important to them or their business, and which are too small to pay for a real developer.

    Google's "App Inventor" will very likely have similar results: large numbers of people who would otherwise be unable to create any software will create bad software that is "good enough" because, while bad, it is precisely tailored to problems that they care about. Apple could, in all likelihood, create such a system if they were so inclined; but there are two reasons to suspect that they won't(again, unless they find themselves under really heavy competitive pressure, which they haven't yet. Android has grown phenomenally; but mostly by sniping geeks, eating the WinMo and legacy-Palm markets, and pretty much crushing the "high end dumbphone", not by cutting the iPhone user base): One, Apple currently has the substantial majority of 3rd party developers, and many of the ones considered to be doing the best work. Two, "good enough" makes Steve cry, and the programs that will come out of any bar-lowering super-simple application development environment will just ooze "good enough" from every pore...
  • Re:lawl (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrHanky (141717) on Monday July 12, 2010 @09:58AM (#32874066) Homepage Journal

    You don't seriously think Apple held back 3G, a half-decent camera, etc., simply because they wanted to do it "right"? Apple will hold back on basic features because then they can get their users to buy the same product again in 12 months. There's nothing more to it.

  • Re:lawl (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday July 12, 2010 @10:12AM (#32874190) Journal
    The two strategies are not mutually exclusive, and I think that it is fair to say that they engage in both.

    Because hardware cannot be patched, any feature delay(whether a legitimate delay caused by having a fairly small engineering team, or an instance of cynical milking) tends to look and feel like milking, and have similar economic consequences.

    With software, it is harder to argue that there is a cynical economic strategy at work; because (with iPhones) software upgrades are not paid for, so the delay has no profit, only a PR cost. They might make a few bucks off the iPod Touch users; but I'd be shocked if the money made by nickel and diming them is worth a delay that might reduce the number of comparatively high-roller iPhone users they have raked in and locked into contract at a given time. The only aspect of their software strategy that is arguably "milking" is tying relatively trivial features of their OS bundled applications to OSX upgrades, in order to encourage people who don't care about APIs, or wouldn't know one if it bit them in the ass, to update anyway.
  • Re:lawl (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Monday July 12, 2010 @10:14AM (#32874204)
    I'm sorry, the app store is already flooded with developer who are unable to create software.
  • by delinear (991444) on Monday July 12, 2010 @10:43AM (#32874500)

    It's much easier to find apps using one of the app review websites than it is to use either Google's market or Apple's app store. Android makes this nice and simple with Google Goggles integration, so you find the app you want, snap a shot of its barcode with the phone camera and it will do the donkey work of finding the app. Alternatively you can use something like App Brain, where (I believe this is how it works, not used it myself) you have a login and you select the apps on your pc and your phone will just sync these later.

    Both markets have their fair share of dross, but I have to say that so far I've been impressed particularly with the quality of what I've found for free on Android - I've not run into any situation yet where I couldn't find an app that did exactly what I wanted and was gratis.

  • Re:Sexists (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Monday July 12, 2010 @10:52AM (#32874582)

    "high school girls" Why the fluck do they do this? Why pick "girls" or "boys" don't they think we can think?

    It's not a matter of whether or not women can think. Rather it's about exploiting the social trends and biases that result on gender disparity in the programming industry. Today, a girl in high school is 5-10 times less likely to become a programmer than a boy in the same high school. When trying to develop a tool that caters to people with no inherent ability or experience, then, in makes sense to target girls in your study group, maybe not exclusively, but primarily. Recognizing the current trends in society and using them is not an endorsement of them, nor an implication that one gender is inherently less suited to a task. The arrangement of our society is the primary factor pushing various gender disparities in particular professions (in both directions).

  • by rumith (983060) on Monday July 12, 2010 @10:58AM (#32874634)
    You can't have a lot of kids knowing how to program tomorrow if you don't spark their interest with such a tool today. And IMO this will be great not only for attracting and educating future software engineers, but also to tap into the pool of active talented kids who are not going to be software engineers, ever. The kids who will be nuclear physicists, radio geeks, astronomy fans, journalists will also acquire basic programming abilities without distracting from their main specialty to learn a programming language or two, dive into a complex SDK and constantly work to keep these skills up to date.
    In short, I think that App Inventor is pretty awesome.
  • Re:Google (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday July 12, 2010 @11:01AM (#32874658) Homepage

    There will be a billion "look ma, I click this button and something happens" apps.

    Then that's 1 billion proudly loyal Android users busily evangelising Android to their mothers.

    Does that make the point clear enough for you?

  • Re:lawl (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Monday July 12, 2010 @11:05AM (#32874708) Homepage

    Actually, as a usability expert, I really wish we were using one button mice. Well, not really. I wish Windows was designed to work with a single button mouse and that was the default type of mouse shipped with consumer systems. I'm also happy with variable-button mice which can become multi-button mice depending upon the software or user settings; but which default to a single button setup.

    So, as a "usability expert", you advocate dumbing things down to a preschooler level...instead of advocating people learning how to distinguish between button #1 and button #2? Hell, even first graders can do that...ever see the "what's different" challenges in Highlights [highlights.com]? Seriously...if someone is struggling with two buttons, they shouldn't be using a computer.

    You can call that being a dick, you can call that not listening to user's problems, you can call it whatever you like....but people can differentiate between a gas and a brake pedal. They should do the same between a left and a right mouse button.

    The truth is, a one button mouse setup leads to a great many usability improvements.

    Source? If anything, it would make things WORSE. You would have to use the keyboard to modify how that one mouse button functions. So now, instead of just clicking the button next to one the user is already using, you want them to have to find a specific key on a keyboard to act as a modifier? They already have trouble using two buttons on the same object...what makes you think they could choose one out of 104 buttons on a separate object?

    Look. I can understand what you're getting at...I just think you are way off base. Your point about tablets have some credence to them, but their problem isn't that the interfaces weren't originally designed for a single mouse-button....the problem is that tablets have no buttons. That takes time to perfect and for people to get used to. Nothing more.

  • Re:lawl (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday July 12, 2010 @11:50AM (#32875172) Homepage

    Didn't you read the headline? Google is just copying Hypercard. Forget copying the iPhone, they're copying the 25-year-old Macintosh! Hey Google, at least copy stuff from this millennium! /snark

  • by anorlunda (311253) on Monday July 12, 2010 @11:51AM (#32875174) Homepage

    The Hypercard analogy is a good one.

    I remember when writing HTML 1.0 was considered programming. Applying your logic retroactively, only professional programmers could be expected to create web pages worth looking at.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday July 12, 2010 @12:15PM (#32875424) Journal

    if, when browsing an app-store, i end up wading through thousands of pieces of junk to find one or two actually good apps, that is annoying.

    This is already the case on Android (no idea about AppStore, but I've heard that it's not really very different despite the "walled garden"). When browsing practically any store category, about 50% is porn, 30% are themes, wallpapers and ringtones, 15% are crappy apps doing something that has been done thousand times before (and doing it badly), and 5% is something that might actually be useful - and I'm probably being overly optimistic here.

    As it is, the only practical way to find a useful app in the store is to know that it's there in advance - e.g. by reading a review elsewhere - and then searching its name, or navigating directly to it via QR code.

  • by sean.peters (568334) on Monday July 12, 2010 @12:33PM (#32875614) Homepage

    For example, on a machine that ships with a single button mouse, nothing stops you from installing a three button mouse

    One button mice are not so useful, but as you say, they can be replaced with n-button mice. One button trackpads, however, are the devil. They obviously can't be replaced, and many of us don't want to replace a trackpad with a mouse. I was in this situation with my first Powerbook, and I had to search out and install a semi-crappy third-party replacement trackpad driver to obtain right-click capability (which seemed to break every time Apple put out a new OSX point release).

    Look, even Apple has figured this out - their laptops all come with right-click capable trackpads. Usability is important, but so is usefulness - this fetish for usability-uber-alles cripples advanced users' ability to get things done. The way to address the problems is to write programs correctly, not do the hardware equivalent of tying one hand behind our back. Consider that a pad and paper is way more "usable" than any word processor could ever be... but that's because the pad and paper doesn't do much of anything. While our situation can be improved by thinking about usability, it's ultimately unavoidable that the users are actually going to have to learn SOMETHING about how their systems work.

  • by Kenja (541830) on Monday July 12, 2010 @01:02PM (#32875916)
    This is not for making apps to distribute in the marketplace, this is about quickly making apps for YOU to use. Not that Android development is hard for people who understand even basic coding, but this will let more people making things to run on their phones. The demo video is a woman making an app with a picture of a cat that meows when you touch it. This is for HER to use, not to be distributed to the masses.
  • Re:lawl (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrHanky (141717) on Monday July 12, 2010 @01:02PM (#32875922) Homepage Journal

    Yes, I'm serious, and no, the G4 iMac wasn't released in '96 -- in fact, the first iMac (G3) was introduced in 1998, whose latest supported OS was Panther (2003). Oh, and the latest supported OS for the original G4 iMac was 10.4.11. Don't bother much with facts, do you?

  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:54PM (#32877280)

    I think Apple's thinking is that for simpler development, you can use HTML5.

    Why would they think that? I cannot imagine that Apple would want to turn away the $99 SDK fee, the sale of a Macintosh computer and any additional revenues generated by the sale and/or use of a simple application for any reason.

    Developer licensing and sales of Macs to developers that don't have them don't even show up in Apple's bottom line in any meaningful way. Sales of iPhones, however, are a huge part of their profit. Apple is about making money, but they're not idiots that want to nickel and dime people in ways that will lose them larger amounts of money in the long run.

    But, just as importantly, I cannot imagine a single advantage to them foregoing having that application exclusive to the App Store and available to any device with an HTML5-compliant browser. Simplified development does not imply useless output applications, so why would they want to push any useful but simple tool to being available on any other device?

    Apple makes a lot of money selling Macs as well as phones. By promoting HTML5 (which you can compile into an app in the iPhone store, by the way) they push Web standards that helps their Mac business greatly by decreasing the amount of lock-in and the number of users tied to Microsoft.

    I think the error here is in the misleading summary. Just because Apple turned down the pitch from revMobile does not mean they have no intentions of allowing simplified development tools for iOS.

    Perhaps, but Apple does want to make sure third party dev tools don't become a block preventing their platform from moving forward. Apple's fear is that they'll add something cool to iPhones and upgrade their dev tools so that it shows up in iPhone apps... but a huge number of apps won't get the cool new feature until third parties get around to implementing it (which may be never). And cross-platform dev tools generally will wait until it is profitable to do so, which sometimes means waiting until other phones catch up before bothering to implement something.

    My guess would be that if they have any intention of allowing such tools, they would much prefer to actually create them.

    Probably, but as the GP poster mentioned, they already do have something like this for the HTML5 development route.

  • by painandgreed (692585) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:08PM (#32877434)

    Why would they think that? I cannot imagine that Apple would want to turn away the $99 SDK fee, the sale of a Macintosh computer and any additional revenues generated by the sale and/or use of a simple application for any reason.

    Here's two reasons. One, your $99 isn't worth having to deal with even more really bad apps by anybody. They want a bit higher bar to submit apps just to make sure it is worth their while to do so. Two, for the same reason they tried to convince everybody there was no need for an SDK and the web was the programming environment when the iPhone first came out. If everybody programs their webpages to work with Safari, then the the web once again becomes platform independant or at least no longer limited to Windows IE, and that helps with Mac sales more than anything. Given a level playing feild of a web that doesn't depend on platform, Apple thinks they can win on simply providing the better product.

  • Re:lawl (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:50PM (#32877978)

    The truth is, a one button mouse setup leads to a great many usability improvements.

    Source?

    Umm, every book on computing usability ever published; or very nearly. Are you joking? Have you bothered to do any research on the topic, ever?

    I understand you consider yourself very researched on this topic. Would it kill you to provide a quick link or at least appropriate search terms that would help the rest of us become as educated as you? Your snide remark really doesn't assist the discussion at all.

    The point is, if you only have one button by default, they never have to because no programmer in their right mind puts functionality ONLY in that place, as programmers routinely do for right click menus.

    Shitty programmers will make shitty programs regardless of what restrictions you put on them. If the coder thinks something belongs only in a context menu, they will put that option only in the context menu. It doesn't matter if the user has to right-click or thumb-click or mouse-gesture or mod4-click to view that context menu.

    You're trying to neuter programmers in the naive hope that this will prevent poor design decisions. Instead you'll just limit your users' ability to overcome the programmer's bad decisions.

    Rather than having the authors of Notepad decide what goes in the second mouse button context menu (and choosing completely useless options like what is available now) why don't we leave that to the user so I can choose useful things like running text manipulation scripts, grammar checking, automatically reformatting text into bibliography entries, etc., etc... like I do in TextEdit where I get that option and which is designed to work in a single button setting as the primary environment?

    Or why not have both? Why not have an editable context menu but with good defaults chosen? There are many programs that exhibit this behavior -- "Notepad" is not designed to have that many features. Whether or not it's poor design depends on the intended purpose.

    I'm not educated on usability, but what you say makes sense. Things shouldn't be hidden in sections of the UI that are not available to the simplest of control schemes. But that doesn't mean you should abolish certain sections of the UI. Particularly in a mouse-based environment, why should I move my pointer and focus all the way to an unrelated section of the screen if it's possible to right-click and get a context menu without moving? I do understand not forcing the behavior, but I don't understand not providing it.

  • by mean pun (717227) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:50PM (#32877980)

    Apple tries to ensure a little bit of quality mainly by charging developers to put their app in the app store. The review process screens out some, but mostly for other purposes. $100 a year discourages an immense amount of crap - just like spam would be reduced if there was some significant cost to send an e-mail.

    The Android market requires a one-time $25 registration fee, so the difference isn't really that big.

    Average people have never wanted to write their own programs for any other "computer they depend on." Why would a phone be different?

    Disagree. Microsoft Access, Word, and Excel all offer programmability for the average people. And there sure are people using that programmability, and even depending on the resulting software. (Yeah, they all are bad for large programs, but this is not about large programs.) As long as the sandbox is solid enough, I don't see a reason to discourage people from writing their own programs for their phone. Why shouldn't Joe Average write a little program for his phone that counts who's ahead in beer rounds, or keeps track of the score for his local tennis tournament?

    And personally I would be very curious to see what schoolgirls would come up with if writing their own software would ever become popular in those circles. I suspect it will be eye-searing pink, but probably also refreshingly different.

  • You want to bet you never look in the wrong menu using the wrong mouse button when trying to perform tasks? I bet you do. Almost everyone does. It's just part of how people use computers these days and something we don't pay attention to.

    Yes, a thousand times yes.

    You know, sometimes I am looking for some spare keys. I often look in the wrong drawer first, before the right one.

    This does not imply that a single drawer to hold everything is a more efficient solution.

    Your argument for a single button overloaded to perform all selection and option tasks is nonsense.

  • by Patch86 (1465427) on Monday July 12, 2010 @04:51PM (#32878758)

    A zero button mouse would be great "if applications were designed for it". No mouse at all would be even better "if applications were designed for it". Then we would just have a keyboard, and we all know that a computer designed for use with no mouse and a keyboard is a massive step forward, right?

    Just because something is simpler it doesn't mean it is more usable. And even if it COULD be more usable, it's reliant on a near mythical level of software interface design.

    I grew up with two button mice. When the third button was added I thought it was the most useful development in the world- as did my far less computer savvy parents; it gave programs a whole extra layer of context commands to play with- and context specific controls are excellent. When that third button evolved into a wheel- bliss.

    I now own, by user choice, a mouse with 8 buttons (L click, R click, wheel, back, forward, and buttons tied to a program selector and to mouse sensitivity controls). It's a little excessive for most users (I doubt most users have need for more than the first 5 in that list), but it illustrates a point of how complexity is not necessarily alien to usability.

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