Google is about to tap the masses and allow them to create their own apps for Android smartphones.

Its free software is called Google App Inventor for Android. The New York Times says it has been under development for a year and that user testing has been done in schools with groups that included sixth graders, high school girls, nursing students and undergraduates who aren’t majoring in computer science. I guess that means the mass market.

Google says the idea is that cellphones are becoming the primary computer that many people use, and so users should be able to make their own apps. Harold Abelson, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led the project.

The move is part of a growing trend toward do-it-yourself technology. Microsoft has made similar efforts, offering tools to help any user create video games that can run on the Xbox 360. And Maker Faire has become a celebration of the whole movement. This emphasis on “open software” is also another clear move to encircle Apple, which has more tightly controlled its software and operating system.

Abelson is a founding member of the Free Software Association, the advocates giving away software. Google’s tool lets people drag and drop code blocks, sort of like the way users can program LEGO robots. One student created a program that automatically replied to text messages when he was driving. It said, “please don’t send me text messages. I’m driving.” Abelson says many apps can be created in a matter of minutes. You have to be a Gmail user to sign up.


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