I have been really excited about the ease of developing Apps for Android devices.
My first experience was with using the MIT App Inventor – a really easy to use and intuitive (once you get the hang of it) was of building useful programs using the Lego-brick approach already popularized with Scratch. I had already taught Scratch to school kids and found it very good as a first exposure. Some of the kids who had already been using Scratch were only personalising Sprites and making them move very simply across the screen; they got really excited when we could use the pen to create more elegant designs such as stars and spirals.
Back to the App Inventor: it is of course much more complex than Scratch because of the two modes: first setting up the screen look, with buttons, canvases, etc, and then linking actions to the various elements. The occasion to learn and teach how to use this was the BCS App-a-thon, a (successful) attempt to get the most number of people learning how to write Apps at the same time. While I am not that keen the whole idea of the Guinness Book of Records, the excuse was really good as it allowed many people to write simple apps. I was one of the instructors, and really enjoyed seeing kids and families creating some cool Apps. I myself wrote several, a music player and a wobble board. I can see myself writing many small and useful utilities, and urge any Android user to learn how to use this nice tool!
What makes the process really effective is the intuitive way in which, after developing the App on a web browser, one can easily run it on the phone by simply pointing the device to a QR code (after downloading a helper App) – and the newly written App just runs! After debugging, it is easy to use another option on the web service to send the standalone App via email to one self and then just have the App on the phone to run whenever. Really easy to use.
But what is *even* more exciting is the possibility of developing VR (virtual reality) Apps using… Google Cardboard! When I tell people that just by taking some folded cardboard and inserting ones Android phone into it one can get a pretty good immersive experience they find it hard to believe — but I am very impressed with how well it works. I ordered the Cardboard kit on the Internet for 10 quid, downloaded some demo Apps and wowed people with it. What I was wondering about is how easy or difficult it is to develop new applications. Luckily my student Phil expressed an interest in the idea so he played with it. The methodology is more complicated: one needs to run the Android Studio on the computer, download the Cardboard libraries, and write Java code using openGL. Getting the VR App onto the phone to run on the phone required downloading Google’s USB driver and connecting the phone physically to the computer – but then the downloaded App runs on its own, and the phone can simply be inserted into the Cardboard Viewer.
At the moment we only have a simple demo running. I look forward to having more students who can help in developing cool VR Apps!