App Inventor is a graphical programming tool designed to make the creation of Android Apps easy enough for anyone to join in. Until recently (Dec 15 2010) it was only available to the select few who qualified for the closed beta but now we can all play with it.
Lowering the bar for Android development may not sound like something that an experienced programmer would be interested in but it is a good way to create demos before starting work on the real thing.
There is also sets of apps that are valuable because they are personalised - a phone home app, an emergency app etc. And while you could build a general framework for stamping out such things it might be easier just ot use App Inventor as a RAD tool.
You can see App Inventor in action in the video below, which although not new does give you the basic idea in just over one minute:
In addition the graphical approach is ideal for beginners and children. You could well use it as a way to teach programming with the motivation and reward of a phone App at the end of the exercise. Google is even suggesting that a customised phone App might make the best personalised "home made" xmas present for all the family this year.
All you need to use App Inventor is a Google account.
At the same time as letting App Inventor go into the wild, Google has released a version targeted at creating apps that can control robots. It's all part of their 20% robot project (Google employees can use 20% of their work time on any project they like). Other fruits of the project include Cellbots for Android which control four different robot platforms and the Cellbot Python library. The App Inventor for Android works with Lego Mindstorms but Cellbots also works with IRobot Create and VEX plus.
Look out for our forthcoming article on getting started with App Inventor - coming soon.