Google App Inventor – Director revisited?


Having just seen the story about Google’s new App Inventor, something immediately felt very familiar. For anyone who remembers the good ol’ days of Macromedia Director and it’s ‘Behaviors’ the drag and drop coding paradigm might ring a bell. What follows is a bit of a whine, I never knew it was in me, but I’m exorcising it.

I’ve always thought there must be a good visual approach to programming – something that will take care of the repetitive, verbose and manual tasks in an easy and intuitive way, but I was thinking of it as a good tool for developers, not the lay man…

As a multimedia developer (I may as well just say AS3 developer these days) stories about apps that make programming so easy that even a cat can do it always send shivers down my spine. You can just imagine the ideas that those sorts of headlines generate in the wider public’s mindset.

I find the idea behind Adobe’s Flash Catalyst to be similarly worrisome, suddenly there are going to be even more cooks spoiling the broth as designers hand you their output – formatted and structured in whatever paradigm Adobe has generated for the software. It sounds great if you are happy to stick to an offical coding/naming method, but if you already have your libraries and frameworks infused into your workflow, will this mean you now have to repurpose them all?

I can see Catalyst working great for Flex as it is a widely used and defined framework, but would it be possible or even make sense to make it work with a PureMCV framework for instance? Of course importing, assembling and wiring up interface elements is painstakingly laborious and unchallenging so Catalyst could also be the greatest thing ever invented, freeing up developers to actually do the fun stuff. In that light I’ll wait to see how that one pans out.

At the end of the day, these drag and drop solutions tend to be similar to those template based website systems – very limited and glaringly un-customisable in a meaningful way. So while the headline sounds great, it goes without saying that the professional (and more lucrative) projects won’t be effected by them too much. Still it’s a shame to lose some of those small to medium sized jobs too thanks to the DIY ethic, and I think we all suffer the conequences – does anyone remember myspace?? Or what is more likely is the discussion about why building an app/website costs so much when there are tools out there that allow you to make it yourself with just the click of a few buttons.

Despite my personal reactions the App Inventor does sound like a pretty nifty creation, and I should probably have a play with it before I pan it. I still have to say that the demonstration video, and that cat application, really sends me visions of a colour-by-numbers world that I don’t want to exist.

Sorry to all of those Lingo coders out there who are still using Director. You might be offended by my past tense reference – I was one of you for a large part of my working life but after I made the switch to Actionscript 4 or 5 years ago I haven’t looked back. To me it’s in the past, long ago irrelevant to the online world.

Apologies to myspace users too, the site has been dead to me for many years – Murdoch knows what I’m talking about.


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