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Life beyond App Inventor

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I made my first steps in mobile app development with App Inventor, and I was surprised to discover it was far more powerful than I had initially suspected.

Anyway, the environment has some limits. My latest experience has been translating an app from AI classic to AI2, and I’ve been pleased to realize some of these shortcomings have been overcome (local variables, several screens at design time, integrated block editor…). That’s a good job, but there are some structural aspects remaining and I don’t think it’s in the evolution plan to overcome them. The two key points are:

  • Limited possibilities regarding graphical design
  • Restriction to Android devices

I recently needed to surpass these limits and started looking for alternatives. I tried the whole spectrum ranging from direct java programming with Eclipse to popular frameworks such as Angular JS, Phonegap and Sencha Touch. Rather than discussing the pros and cons of each one, let’s open directly the envelope. And the winner is… JQuery Mobile!

jqm_03

The best way I can find to demonstrate the framework strong points is to explain the experience with my first JQM app. It was actually my 14-years old son who developed the app for a school project, and I just had to complement it with some programming – mostly shown in the JQM page. And no, unluckily I’m not the parent of a new Zuckerberg. He’s got zero programming skills and just a basic knowledge of HTML acquired at school. I know this is the perfect profile for an AI user and he’s actually quite fond of it, but in this case multiplatform and a rich graphical design were necessary issues.

I’ll use this experience to exemplify the three stronger points I find in JQM:

  • Ease of learn and use: For those who are new to JQM the learning curve is quite low, although it will obviously depend on your background especially in HTML5 and Javascript or similar. For example I was not very familiar with them but I had a good knowledge of HMTL and Java, which simplified my learning process
  • Ease of deployment: JQM is inherently portable to any platform supporting HTML5 and from here there are several ways to deploy it in all currently dominating platforms. For example, here’s a video showing the steps to follow for publishing an app in Google Play (and mostly valid also for any other platform)
  • Documentation: A vast community of users maintains an extremely dynamic source of knowledge. Whatever doubt you have, just think of a way to express it in two words and type in Google JQM followed by these two words. There are 90% chances for the answer to appear in the first page. You should first choose the Stackoverflow answer, usually accurate and effective.

In sum, for those who feel AI is falling short for any of their projects, I’d consider JQM as a good alternative. To get started, I’d recommend you to visit the JQM demos site and then follow a tutorial such as the JQM tutorial.

So, thanks a lot to the guys from the MIT for the great moments with App Inventor. I suspect my next steps will be with JQM but AI will be forever in my toolbox and I’m pretty sure I’ll go back to it in future projects. When this occurs I’ll be pleased to add new posts in this site so as to increase my humble contribution to the AI community.

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