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Create Android apps with Google App Inventor for Android

Note: Google turned this project over to MIT, so they are currently maintain 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 Google App Inventor for Android may be just what you're looking for. The Google App Inventor for Android is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) based on Java. It actually consists of two different interfaces: Designer and Block Editor.

The Designer interface for Google App Inventor for Android
The Designer interface for Google 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, there is a check box that allows you to turn on or off the display of non-visable components. A Components list on the right allows you to select and edit the properties of each of them.

The Blocks Editor interface for Google App Inventor for Android
The Blocks Editor interface for Google 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 Google 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 Google App Inventor for Android, just 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 compliment your existing cellular phone carrier. But recently Google has added Phone Number Porting, which allows you to use Google as your primary carrier. The set of features are very rich, with all of the usual stuff (personal greetings, voicemail, etc.). And when used with Google Gmail and Google Talk, 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 with Google Talk to make calls from your computer

And, for me, the two best features of Google Voice are the free calls within the US and Canada and really cheap international calls. My 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, just follow the links below:

Google Voice
Google Voice features

Drafting on the cloud with AutoCAD WS

Long gone are the days of drafting tables. And with AutoCAD WS, drafting has just gone mobile. The concept of storing your drawing files on the cloud is not new, but the interface Autodesk has provided is. You can actually access / edit your drawing files three different ways, AutoCAD plug-in, Android / iPad app or the Flash based editor on the website. The AutoCAD plug-in is self-explanatory, so let's look at the other two.

Autodesk's AutoCAD WS Android app running on a Motorola Android A855
Autodesk's AutoCAD WS Android app running on a Motorola Android A855

I started by creating an account on the AutoCAD WS website. I then uploaded a blank sample drawing to the website and then download the AutoCAD WS Android app. The small screen area on my Motorola A855 did not work well when it came to actually drafting. A general rule for drafting, the more screen area, the better. But for those 'mouse jockeys' out there (myself included), the touch screen can be kind of tricky, to say the least. But then there is the website.

Autodesk's AutoCAD WS website
Autodesk's AutoCAD WS website

I found the website to be easy to use and within five minutes, was drafting away (I do have several years of experience with AutoCAD). The feature set is quite rich, with layers, x-refs, blocks, etc. The commands are toolbar based (no command line for input) and no LISP support, but still is a great way to draft when you are mobile. I can see tethering a smartphone's 3G /4G on Netbook and drafting on-site. Here's a quote from Autodesk's website:

The AutoCAD® WS web and mobile application for AutoCAD® software lets you view, edit, and share DWG™ drawings through a web browser or mobile device. Now you have the freedom to work anywhere and with anyone. Store AutoCAD drawings and project files in an easy-to-access online workspace. View and edit your designs online or on your Android OS device, Apple® iPad™, iPhone®, or iPod touch®. Share and collaborate easily with others; there’s no software required, and it’s free*.

  • Online DWG viewer—Access your AutoCAD drawings from anywhere; all you need is a web browser.
  • Web-based CAD—Edit drawings online using many familiar and intuitive drawing and editing tools.
  • CAD for Android OS devices / Apple iOS devices—Work on AutoCAD drawings directly on your Android, iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.
  • No software required—Invite team members to review and edit DWG drawings online.
  • Collaborate in real time—Conduct online design reviews with participants in multiple locations.
  • Track and manage changes—Record changes to designs in a timeline for version control and auditing.
  • Edit Offline—Work with your DWG files offline without a 3G or Wi-Fi connection from your mobile device (Android OS, Apple iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch)

The AutoCAD WS website editor is Flash based and can download your drawing files in the following formats:

  • AutoCAD 2010
  • AutoCAD 2007
  • AutoCAD 2004
  • AutoCAD 2000
  • AutoCAD R14
  • ZIP with X-refs

For more information on AutoCAD WS, check out the following links:

AutoCAD WS
Watch AutoCAD WS Overview Video on YouTube

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 the Android Market

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 Mobile for Android
Autodesk SketchBook - Google Play
SketchBook Mobile in action

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, just follow the links below.

QR code - Wikipedia
Google ZXing QR Code Generator

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4722 East Monte Vista Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

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