Google quietly announced the discontinuation of App Inventor, effective end of the year. They plan to transition the product to a non-profit organization, the goal being that, for App Inventor users, only the URL will change come December 31st of this year. They will also open source the project.
There’s some good in this announcement, but it’s mostly bad and ugly.
Will I still be able to access the apps I’ve built and create new ones?
This question is especially important given that your work lives on the corporate servers. If Google shut App Inventor down today (they won’t), you would have no way of accessing the existing apps you’ve created.
Google has promised to keep the current version of App Inventor running until Dec. 31, 2011. The plan is to turn the system over, at that time, to a non-profit organization. If things go smoothly, you’ll be able to access your apps and App Inventor on Jan. 1, 2012 just as you do now, just at a different URL.
The “if things go smoothly” is the kicker, of course. There will be uncertainty unless Google pledges that a smooth transition will occur, which I believe they should do.
Until then, it’s a matter of trust. I’m optimistic, based primarily on my experiences with Hal Abelson, Mark Friedman, Karen Parker and the rest of App Inventor team. They put their heart and soul into the project, they want to see it succeed in the new form, and they feel responsible to the community they’ve created. I trust them to get the job done.
App Inventor is being open sourced. Isn’t this good news?
There are two separate things going on here. Google is discontinuing App Inventor, which is bad. They are also open sourcing it, which is good, even if it does come packaged as damage control.
First the bad. As of January 1st , App Inventor will no longer be administered by Google. The 5+ wonderful engineers on the team will no longer be fixing bugs and adding great new features. Perhaps a non-profit with equally great engineers will take over and provide a seamless transition, but this is uncertain. All we know at this point is that the greatest tech company in the world won’t be running it.
It is a good thing that App Inventor is being open sourced. An open source App Inventor means that developers and researchers can make use of the App Inventor code base to build new tools. We could see an App Inventor for building iPhone and iPad apps, for building cross-platform apps. In the long run, it could spur innovation in visual programming.
But make no mistake: these are potential benefits for the future, and really are not helpful to App Inventor developers and educators in the near term. The truth is that a closed source App Inventor, supported fully by Google, is far and away better for App Inventor enthusiasts. This announcement is a blow to the many kids, students, educators, and newly empowered software developers who love App Inventor, and will at the least slow the momentum of the project.
This bums me out a bit, because I was really looking forward to seeing what kind of stuff people could make using Inventor + the ADK. At least it’s not going away entirely.
[h/t Brian Jepson]