Friday, February 25, 2011

Apps Made Easy

By David Schmetterer

There's no app for that?

Generally the advertisements and jokes seem to be right – there is an app for that. And that’s great news if you need something fairly common, like a chess tutor, an electronic compass, or a barcode scanner. But what if you are in possession of that rarest of post-modern commodities, where do you go with your Original Idea?

You're in luck. The major smartphone software developers -- Apple, Google, RIM (BlackBerry) and Microsoft -- have all released software development kits (SDK) for their products. That means that any programmer can develop a mobile app, much the same way that a programmer could create software for a traditional computer. And the current interest in mobile app development is no mystery -- combine a touch screen, a GPS unit, a powerful processor with an always-on-everywhere-you-go Internet connection, and creative sparks start to fly.

Even so, it is, as always, technological limits that push the creative process to new heights. Small screens and relatively slow data connections have driven many websites to recreate themselves in a mobile format or self-contained app, with fast-loading graphics and an easy to navigate interface, and GPS-enabled location awareness. So while you could always go to on your computer, you can now visit a streamlined and location-aware version of Yelp! on your mobile device.

So where do you go with the next idea for a killer app? According to Google, anyone can build an app using their App Inventor website, which takes actual coding out of the picture and replaces it with building blocks of code with variables to change. There are also books by the dozen for beginner programmers and plenty of information available online. If you are really serious about learning on your own, you could take a class on mobile development for the iPhone or Android, like the ones given at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

If you aren’t adventurous, or already a programmer, the only trick is find someone who is. Besides the obligatory Google query, you can contact the authors of programs and apps you think are well made, or talk to faculty at a local school. They may have a class that is looking for real world projects, or know of students looking for part-time work. And remember, in the repetitive marketplace of mobile applications, an Original Idea has value, and programmers who recognize this will want to help make it a reality.

David Schmetterer co-wrote “Whetting Your Travel App-etite,” which appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of InTransition. He is a senior planner at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and a man of many smartphones.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Electric Car Movement Gets a Jolt from White House

By Brian Donahue

The electric car movement has a good friend in President Barack Obama. After dedicating billions in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to electric drive components and battery manufacturing, the president is finding new ways to put electric cars on the street.

During his State of the Union address in January, Obama reiterated his goal of becoming the first country to have 1 million plug-ins on the road, a milestone he hopes to reach by 2015. He pledged more resources and incentives to help carmakers entice consumers to switch over from gasoline-powered cars, and said he would ask Congress to eliminate the billions in federal subsidies to oil companies, instead investing the money in alternative energy development.

The White House is expected to increase federal funding to $8 billion for green energy programs, with much of that channeled to the plug-in movement. White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling told the Detroit News that the president’s upcoming budget proposal will target funds to select communities to ramp up infrastructure such as charging stations in order to support the deployment of electric vehicles. Also, as a further incentive for consumers, the administration wants to convert the $7,500 income tax credit given to buyers of electric cars to a $7,500 direct purchase rebate.

Obama’s proposals are indeed good news for electric car advocates, and for the many carmakers getting into the plug-in game and trying to comply with stricter standards on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy.

The Detroit News story can be viewed here.

Brian Donahue’s article, “Trading the Pump for the Plug,” appeared in the winter 2011 issue.