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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

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

Shop for Android apps with Amazon Appstore for Android

Amazon.com recently released it's latest Android application, the Amazon Appstore for Android. Along with Amazon's other free Android apps (Shopping, MP3, Kindle, IMDb Movies & TV and Audible) you can now download / purchase Android apps right from Amazon's website. And you can get a paid app every day for free!

The Amazon's Appstore for Android website
The Amazon's Appstore for Android website

Here's a quote from Amazon's site about the Amazon Appstore for Android:

"The Amazon Appstore for Android is a place where you can get a paid app for free every day, view app recommendations based on your past purchases from Amazon, and shop using Amazon's trusted payment technology. You can also test apps on a simulated Android phone using a feature called "Test Drive." You can shop from your computer, or directly on your phone or internet tablet."

To get started, you will need to download the Amazon Appstore for Android app and have an account on Amazon.com. For more information on the Amazon.com Appstore for Android app, just click on the following links.

Appstore for Android
Detailed instructions for installing the Amazon Appstore for Android app

    Geek Note:
  • Amazon Appstore apps are currently only available in the United States.
  • Some apps require root-level permissions on your Android device to work. Download these apps only if you know your Android device is rooted (allowing root access to the Android operating system).

Google opens web based Android Market

The one thing I love about my Android based smartphone, is the availability of applications for it. And finding and installing Android applications just got easier. Google has recently opened a web based version of the Android Market.

The Google Android Market website homepage
The Google Android Market website homepage

The website is clean and easy to navigate, with clearly marked tabs. I found amount of applications to be the most available for Android based hardware anywhere. I found quite a few that I had never seen on the Verizon version of the Android Market application.

A typical application category list
A typical application category list

I browsed through a few categories and found an application to download. Remember that you have to be signed into your g-mail account associated with your phone to install any applications. I clicked on install and got the following prompt asking for the installation location. I selected my phone and clicked install.

Android Market application installation screen
Android Market application installation screen

Got a confirmation that the app would be downloaded to my Android.

Android Market download confirmation screen
Android Market download confirmation screen

I checked my phone and sure enough, on the status bar on top, was an icon indicating an app had be installed. A quick check confirmed the installation of the application.

This is, by far, the easiest away to find and install Android applications I have found to date. Hands down the best! If you have a Android powered device, I highly recommend you go over to Google Play and take a look around.

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