In the past few years, the smartphone market has been turned on its head. Established platforms (Symbian, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile) have seen their market share decline, while upstarts (iPhone and Android) have made huge gains; more specifically, Apple has grabbed almost 25% of the smartphone market in three years, and Android has captured 13% in just less than two years. In both of those cases, the secret to their success has been apps. Between iPhone and Android, there are more than 200,000 apps available for download. Users across both platforms have downloaded billions of apps.

Apps allow the platform to be extended beyond the base functionality of the device, and the creation of new apps keeps things fresh and interesting. And if you give developers a huge user base, easy-to-use tools, and a way to make money from their apps, you’ve got a pretty good recipe for success.

Unfortunately, if you don’t create the easy-to-use tools for developers, you can kill your platform’s app store before it even gets started. If you don’t believe me, go ask Palm and BlackBerry.

App Inventor for Android

Last week, Google announced that it is launching a new app development tool for Android. Sure, the company has an SDK and other tools for “real developers,” but its upcoming App Inventor for Android is targeted to non-developers.

Image credit: Google

Making app creation easier and accessible to more people is a good thing for the platform. Whether these apps end up in the Android Marketplace or are used as a proof of concept inside your enterprise, having more people familiar with the Android platform can only help grow overall adoption.

While those familiar with the early HTML WYSIWYG editors of the mid 90s may cringe at the thought of millions of amateur apps flooding the Android Market, I think it is better to compare App Inventor to blog software like Blogger or WordPress. It could be a powerful enabler for mobile innovation.

App Inventor is in Beta and is still not available to the public (Google says it it rolling out access to App Inventor gradually); however, we can glean quite a few details from the App Inventor website.

How it works
The App Inventor site features a couple of tutorials (one for a quiz app and another for a simple game) that walk you through the process of creating an app.

Image credit: Google

In order to make app building accessible to non-programmers, App Inventor uses the concept of Blocks. Instead of writing code to enable the creation of questions and lists of multiple choice answers, you drag a group of Blocks together.

At this point, it is tough to tell just how easy App Inventor will make the creation and arranging of these Blocks. Reading the tutorials makes it sound a bit more advanced than it describes elsewhere on the site, but watching the YouTube video demo makes it look like a snap.

I am eager to try the Beta version of App Inventor once it is released to the public. Being able to quickly create working prototypes of mobile ideas without investing the time in learning all of the ins and outs of Android development will help me better communicate those requirements to our mobile development team and other business partners.

Would you ever use a lightweight, WYSIWYG app development tool? Do you think Google can make a powerful development tool that is also easy for non-programmers to user? Share your thoughts in the discussion.

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