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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Google App Inventor - What Could Have Been

When Google announced their Chrome notebook with the program where they would issue a few units for feedback and testing, my mind started racing. Not only was this a great idea that would lead to buzz and market interest, but maybe I could get my hands on the product and start building some Android apps with on a notebook that featured Chrome OS, a cousin to my now favorite web browser, Chrome. I would prove to myself and the world, that Chrome OS and App Inventor could more smash the development success that Microsoft had with VB and by enabling anyone, even business types/former coders like myself to jump into the game. That night, I had a dream that not only would I get the notebook that I applied for online, but I would also get my invitation to Google App Inventor.

The next day, I saw blog posts from people un-boxing the Google Chrome notebooks. I crossed my fingers, checked my email for my App Inventor invite, and silently hoped that my notebook would arrive. Days passed, then weeks, and I lost interest and hope that I would be able to spend my entire Christmas holiday building apps and testing the notebook. By the end of December, I was resigned to my fate, no Chrome OS notebook, no App Inventor invitation. I had to make a decision and spent a few days looking at some of the development SDKs and web developer tools, finally settling on Appcelerator for a number of reasons.

I have a number of app ideas that I could build myself or farm out, but I really wanted to prove my point - doing it the Google App Inventor way, and also benchmarking against doing it with Appcelerator later. I had even hoped to blog about how Google Chrome + App Inventor could best Microsoft, Appcelerator, and Apple, but w/o the tools that just won't happen.

A day or two ago, a friend told me that he got a Chrome OS notebook. It was shipped to him 2 weeks ago. While I was glad that I didn't hold my breath waiting, I was envious. I was silently more upset when he said that he had not figured out what to do with it, while I would have tried to build 3 apps in that time. Sure, he has provided some PR value for Google by carrying it around and showing it to all his friends, but one of his work friends received one as well, so the novelty has started to wear off for him.

So after watching another developer tutorial on Appcelerator and brushing off my envy, I decided to peak back at the App Inventor site. To my dismay, the App Inventor site no longer was invitation only, but open to anyone to download, install, and start building apps. Again I felt cheated and now face a new dilemma - should I abandon my Appcelerator proejct for App Inventor, even without my Chrome OS laptop, or do I keep going forward with the current plan?

As I ponder the question, I'll list a few factors weighing on me:

  1. Last communication from App Inventor team - 10/2010, telling me it's invite only
  2. 10+ hours invested in Appcelerator documentation and videos
  3. Downloaded an installed Android SDK to use with Appcelerator's Titanium
  4. No Google Chrome OS laptop, so I would prove a different point if I used my Windows machine
The lack of communication and time invested are bigger factors than #4, which was a nice to have.  The key issue for me here is the human factor. Whether is product engagement, contract negotiations, sales, or marketing, the underlying issue is people. People use the product, people give feedback, people tell their friends, and negotiate or communicate with each other about it. I like the concept of App Inventor enough that the lack of human consideration hasn't dominated the decision, but I hope that Google communicates better to employees and the market when it launches Chrome OS in ways better than I've seen for App Inventor.

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