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.

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