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Create Android apps with MIT App Inventor for Android

Note: Google turned this project over to MIT, so they are currently maintaining it. The links at the bottom of this article have been changed.

Have you ever had an idea for an Android app but didn't know how to go about creating it? Then MIT App Inventor for Android may be just what you're looking for. The MIT App Inventor for Android is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) based on Java. It consists of two different interfaces: Designer and Block Editor.

The Designer interface for MIT App Inventor for Android
The Designer interface for MIT App Inventor for Android

The Designer interface is where you create the layout for the screen for your app. You drag and drop visual and non-visual components from the Palette to the Viewer (it looks like the display from an Android phone) to assemble the screen. For visualization purposes, a check box allows you to turn on or off the display of non-visible components. A Components list on the right will enable you to select and edit the properties of each of them.

The Blocks Editor interface for MIT App Inventor for Android
The Blocks Editor interface for MIT App Inventor for Android

The Blocks Editor interface is where you add functionality (programming) to the components you created in the Designer. There are two columns to the left, Built-in and My Blocks, and a design area in the center. You drag and drop different functions from the Built-in and My Blocks to assemble strings of functions. They are color-coded and shaped so that certain functions can only go into relative functions (sort of like a jigsaw puzzle). It's an intuitive interface that is easy to learn. Here's a quote from the MIT App Inventor website:

App Inventor lets you develop applications for Android phones using a web browser and either a connected phone or emulator. The App Inventor servers store your work and help you keep track of your projects.

You build apps by working with:

  • The App Inventor Designer, where you select the components for your app.
  • The App Inventor Blocks Editor, where you assemble program blocks that specify how the components should behave. You assemble programs visually, fitting pieces together like pieces of a puzzle.

Your app appears on the phone step-by-step as you add pieces to it, so you can test your work as you build. When you're done, you can package your app and produce a stand-alone application to install.

If you don't have an Android phone, you can build your apps using the Android emulator, software that runs on your computer and behaves just like the phone.

The App Inventor development environment is supported for Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, and Windows operating systems, and several popular Android phone models. Applications created with App Inventor can be installed on any Android phone. (See system requirements.)

Before you can use App Inventor, you need to set up your computer and install the App Inventor Setup package on your computer.

For more information on MIT App Inventor for Android, follow the links below:

MIT App Inventor for Android

Getting started with MIT App Inventor

Calling on the cloud with Google Voice

If you haven't heard about Google Voice, let me be the first to tell you about it. Google Voice is a telephony service that can be used on any cellular phone and any carrier. Just a Gmail account is required.

The Google Voice web based interface
The Google Voice web-based interface

Google Voice was designed to complement your existing cellular phone carrier. Recently, Google has added Phone Number Porting, which allows you to use Google as your primary carrier. The set of features are vibrant, with all of the usual stuff (personal greetings, voicemail, etc.). And when used inside a web browser, you can make calls from your computer (headphones/speakers and microphone required).

Use Google Voice with Google Talk to make calls from your computer
Use Google Voice to make calls from your computer

For me, the two best features of Google Voice are the free calls within the U.S. and Canada and cheap international calls. Some of my family is in New England and France. Here's a complete list of features:

  • Voicemail transcription to e-mail
  • One phone number that can be ported to multiple phone numbers
  • Personalized voice mail greetings
  • Cheap international calls
  • Block/screen callers
  • Conference calling
  • Mobile app (Android, iPhone, and Blackberry)
  • SMS to e-mail

Here's a quote from the Google Voice website:

Teach your phone new tricks

Google Voice enhances the existing capabilities of your phone, regardless of which phone or carrier you have - for free. It also gives you:

One Number
Use a single number that rings you anywhere.

Online voicemail
Get transcribed messages delivered to your inbox.

Cheap calls
Free calls & text messages to the U.S. & Canada.
Super low rates everywhere else.

For more information on Google Voice, follow the link below:

Google Voice

Draw on your Android device with Autodesk SketchBook Mobile for Android

Autodesk recently introduced the Autodesk SketchBook Mobile for Android app It's a painting and drawing app with professional grade power and features to match. Along with streamlined drawing tools, it also provides support for layers. And the tool palatte is comparable to Photoshop.

Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile for Android
Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile for Android screen shots
Autodesk SketchBook Mobile for Android on Google Play

You can also import photos from the gallery, place them on their own layer and then draw on top of them. It's a great visualization tool for designers. Here's a quote from Autodesk's website:

The Autodesk® SketchBook® Mobile painting and drawing app extends your digital sketchpad to your Apple® iPhone®, Apple iPod touch®, or Android powered devices. With the same paint engine as Autodesk® SketchBook® Pro software, SketchBook Mobile offers professional-grade painting and drawing tools in a streamlined and intuitive user interface. Use it to digitally capture your ideas as napkin sketches or produce artwork on-the-go.

The Autodesk SketchBook Mobile for Android app comes in a free version or a paid version (it's only $.99). With the paid version you get:

  • can progressively save your work
  • export to PSD, PNG and JPG format
  • 40 extra brushes
  • ability to customize the brushes
  • a larger 1024 pixels canvas
  • move, rotate and scale tools

For more information on the Autodesk SketchBook Mobile for Android app, check out the following links:

Autodesk SketchBook

SketchBook Mobile - Google Play

Get scanned with a QR Code

Recently, one of my clients asked me what the square barcode looking graphic was in the back window of my car. I told him that it was a Quick Response (QR) code for Geeks in Phoenix on Google Places. The blank look on his face told me I needed to tell him more about them.

QR Code for Geeks in Phoenix on Google Places
QR code for Geeks in Phoenix on Google Places

QR code for Geeks in Phoenix contact information
QR code for Geeks in Phoenix contact information

A QR code is a two-dimensional matrix barcode that is readable by barcode scanners in smartphones (Android, iPhone, etc.). It's a square pattern of black modules on a white back ground. It can be encoded with contact information, text, url, etc.. Here's a quote from Wikipedia on QR codes:

Although initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing, QR codes are now used in a much broader context, including both commercial tracking applications and convenience-oriented applications aimed at mobile phone users (known as mobile tagging). QR codes can be used to display text to the user, to add a vCard contact to the user's device, to open a URI or to compose an email or text message. Users can also generate and print their own QR codes for others to scan and use by visiting one of several free QR code generating sites.

QR codes storing addresses and URLs may appear in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards, or on just about any object about which users might need information. Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR Code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the phone's browser. This act of linking from physical world objects is known as a hardlink or physical world hyperlinks.

Google's mobile Android operating system supports QR codes by natively including the barcode scanner (ZXing) on some models, and the browser supports URI redirection, which allows QR Codes to send metadata to existing applications on the device. Nokia's Symbian operating system is also provided with a barcode scanner, which is able to read QR codes,[3] while mbarcode [4] is a QR code reader for the Maemo operating system. In the Apple iOS, a QR code reader is not natively included, but over 50 free Apps are available with reader and metadata browser URI redirection capability.

For more information about QR codes, follow the links below.

QR code - Wikipedia
Google ZXing QR Code Generator

Play your music anywhere with the Amazon Cloud Player for Web and Android

The folks at Amazon are at it again. Amazon just introduced the Amazon Cloud Player for Web & Android. Using the Amazon Cloud Player for Web and Android, you can stream the music contained in your Amazon Cloud Drive back using the Amazon MP3 Android app or a web browser.

Part of the introduction e-mail I received
Part of the introduction e-mail I received.

The Amazon MP3 app for Android page at the Google Android Market
The Amazon MP3 app for Android page at the Google Android Market.

With the Amazon Cloud Drive, you get 5 Gb of space for free, if you already have an Amazon account. You can also store documents, pictures and videos along with music. If you don't have an Amazon account, create one (it's free too).

A default Amazon Cloud Drive page
A default Amazon Cloud Drive page.

Any new MP3's you purchase from the Amazon MP3 Store will automatically go to your Cloud Drive. And if you purchase an MP3 album from Amazon, they will increase your storage tier to the 20 Gb level for a year. Here's a quote from Amazon's website:

Amazon allows you to securely store your entire digital music collection using Amazon Cloud Drive and play it on any Mac, PC, or Android device using Amazon Cloud Player. Any new Amazon MP3 Store purchases can be saved directly to your Amazon Cloud Drive for free. You can also upload your existing music library to Amazon Cloud Drive so you have all your music in one place, accessible from anywhere.

All new Amazon Cloud Drive accounts are given 5GB of free storage for uploading content. Additional storage is available for an annual fee. See the Amazon Cloud Drive settings page for more information on special offers and pricing for larger storage solutions. All Amazon MP3 purchases saved directly to your Cloud Drive are stored for free and don't count against your storage limits.

System Requirements

Amazon Cloud Player is a browser based application that supports both Mac and PC computers. Cloud Player is not optimized to run on mobile phones or tablets including: iPhones, Blackberrys, Windows Mobile devices, and iPads. For Android phones and tablets, we recommend installing the Amazon MP3 app for Android which includes Amazon Cloud Player for Android.

For more information on the Amazon Cloud Player for Web and Android, just click on the following links.

Amazon Music on the Web

Amazon Music Android app

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in servicing laptop and desktop computers. Since 2008, our expert and knowledgeable technicians have provided excellent computer repair, virus removal, data recovery, photo manipulation, and website support to the greater Phoenix metro area.

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