Most people obviously won’t use it. And it may flood the Android app market with a bunch of garbage apps, causing some trouble. But the point that many people now can do something they weren’t able to do before.
Meanwhile, the only way to develop apps for Apple’s iPhone is to learn the complex Objective-C programming language and build apps using Apple’s excellent but expert-level app development kit. (Developing web apps for the iPhone and Android is easier, but still requires coding; App Inventor appears to be drag-and-drop.)
Personally, I’d love to be able to make simple apps for the iPhone without learning how to program Objective-C, without learning what the difference between frameworks and objects is, etc.
It’s certainly something Apple could do technically, and could do well; the company excels at taking potentially-complex tasks — editing movies, pictures, etc. — and turning them into easy things that almost anyone could learn, via apps like iMovie, iPhoto, etc.
And if you recall, the original HyperCard platform in the 1980s and 1990s was designed to make programming for the Mac super-easy, even with some complexity involved. I wasted countless hours in middle school playing HyperCard games, which weren’t as cool as console- or PC-based games, but were still entertaining.
So whether or not Apple responds with a simple iPhone app creation tool isn’t a technical question, but a philosophical one: Does Apple want to give normal people the ability to create simple iPhone apps? Or does it want to keep the iPhone app market reserved for people who can either code computer apps or afford to hire a developer?
Or, to use Mac terms, does it want the app-making equivalent of iMovie when it’s only shipping Final Cut Pro today?
We could see the company going either way.
Apple certainly has a history of making consumer-focused tools for previously pro-only tasks. And Steve Jobs recently brought up HyperCard during his interview on stage at the All Things D conference, proving that he hasn’t forgotten about it.
Plus, even if the majority of iPhone apps created with the new tool are “crapware” — and if Apple’s excuse is a quality-control issue — it’s not like the iPhone App Store is ONLY amazing, useful apps today. (We assume Apple would still require all apps to go through the App Store, versus allowing people to sideload apps created with this new tool.) There’s already a lot of junk there.
And building a very basic development tool might encourage more people to eventually learn how to program Objective-C, or whatever iPhone apps are coded with in the future, giving the iPhone platform a stronger farm system.
But we could also see Apple saying that it wants to keep total quality control over apps, and keep the App Store a serious place for professionals, even if it isn’t. Or perhaps it wants HTML5 web apps to be the playground for amateurs, not the App Store.
Or perhaps Apple just doesn’t have the free development cycles to build a second SDK for beginners, when it’s already taxing itself to get iOS 4 ready for the iPad, future Apple TV devices, etc. That’s why it took a few years for the iPhone to get copy-and-paste, after all.
But the pressure is certainly coming on from Google. And as long as Android App Inventor isn’t total garbage, it would make sense for Apple to at least think about a HyperCard-like development platform for the iPhone.
What do you think? Is Apple going to compete with Google here? Will anyone actually use Google’s tools? Will “HyperCard for the iPhone” ever exist?