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January 05, 2012

Google Shuts App Inventor Due to Lack of Interest

On December 31,Google App Inventor is scheduled to close. Having been handed over to MIT, as an open source project, it might have been assumed that, as far as it users were concerned, it would continue seamlessly. But this is not the case.

Google's App Inventor is one of the casualties of the great cull of services that were no longer deemed to be core to Google's interests.

At the time it all seemed like a reasonable step that would hurt no-one. The project was promised to go open source and was handed over, with a chunk of cash, to MIT to run in the future. However, things are not quite so rosy at the moment.

appInventorEduicon

App Inventor is a very easy way to create Android apps using a graphical approach to program construction. It is essentially a Scratch-like programming language targeting the Android operating system.

It has proved very popular as a way of teaching programing and even for creating prototypes of real apps. Many users were, however, more than disillusioned when Google gave up on the project. Many who had invested time learning and building projects using it felt that it was another example of a big company providing a facility for free and then changing the terms as soon as it suited them. For anyone planning to use App Inventor for a non-educational purpose, the move to the MIT Media lab didn't look promising.

The Google-hosted service is to close on December 31 and emails have been sent out to users to download their projects before this date or lose them.

The next question that should occur to any App Inventor enthusiast is, "where do I upload my projects to?"

The simple answer is nowhere.

MIT doesn't have a service up and running yet and doesn't think that it will until sometime in the first quarter of 2012. It has only just launched an experimental service with access provided to just a few beta testers.

What can take so long and why can't Google do the decent thing and keep their servers running until there is an alternative MIT based service open to everyone?

As a stopgap measure the MIT Developer's blog suggests that you might like to host your own App Inventor service using the Google App Engine. Of course, App Engine is only free if you keep your usage low, so there are potential cost implications if you plan to bridge the gap in this way.

On the other hand, providing your own service does offer the potential to isolate your project from the whims of Google and MIT. However, the process of getting it all going doesn't sound particularly easy as even with App Engine in the picture you still need your own publicly accessible build server which has to be a Linux or Mac machine.

Basically, you would have to be very determined to take the route of implementing your own server.

What this means is that, after December 31, a lot of App Inventor users are going to have nowhere to run their programs until MIT finally brings its service out of beta, sometime in 2012.

The simple question is, why does Google have to close their App Inventor servers on time? What about the Google motto "Don't be evil"?

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