MIT App Inventor mid-January status update

Jan 21, 2012 hal's Blog

It's been three months since we started work on App Inventor at the MIT Center for Mobile Learning and three weeks since Google's public service went offline. Here's brief progress report on the replacement public service we'll be deploying at MIT.

So far (knock on wood) our development effort is on track for releasing the MIT Public App Inventor Service in the first quarter of this year. While unexpected issues can always arise, we're guardedly optimistic that people who plan to run App Inventor courses or workshops can anticipate being able to use the MIT service by mid-April. But please check the postings at this site about the status of the public server before you make firm commitments. Remember that, as a backup, you can run your own App Inventor server using our JAR files as described below.

Here are some other developments and things we’re working on:

Some users of Google App Inventor didn't notice the warning that they would need to download their projects in order to preserve them after the shutdown of the Google service, and there have been several cries for help from distraught users. Though some last-minute heroics, the Google App Inventor team was able to package up everyone's projects and store them in a zip file in their Google Docs account. Google can't guarantee that all projects survived, but at least 95% of them did. So if you didn't download your projects in time, check your Docs files; and give some thanks to the Google team for making the extra effort to do this at a really busy time during the transition to MIT.

Here at MIT, testing with the MIT experimental service is going well. We've just admitted 300 more testers, making 700 testers in all, and there's a long waiting list. To get on the waiting list, read the information at Help test the MIT prototype service and fill out the form. We'll work through the waiting list as fast as the service becomes stable enough to handle the load. Our work at MIT over the past two weeks has focused on improving the “build server” that packages apps for the phone, and we'll be watching that carefully over the coming weeks as we add more testers.

Our Java Archive (JAR) distribution, which lets people set up their own small-scale App Inventor services, is also in good shape. There's a lot of use by individuals and also by classes: the JARs are our temporary solution for people who need to run classes before the MIT Public Service becomes available. One issue that has surfaced with the JARs is that, when there are more than a few students, App Inventor daily usage can out run Google App Engine's quota on free service. If you're in that situation, try turning on App Engine billing for a day and seeing how high your load is. People who have done that report that the App Engine cost turns out to be a couple of dollars per week, something that should be tolerable until the free MIT service comes online.

For developers and hobbyists, the big news this week is that Google has just released the App Inventor code as Free and Open Source Software, as described here. We hope to nurture a rich open-source community from MIT, but we won't start doing that until our public service is running. For now, we’ll leave it everyone is free to experiment with the code as they wish.

In summary, three weeks into our projected three-month transition period, we're on track. If we make our goal smoothly, it will be with enormous gratitude to Google: to Google Research for providing the funding to create the Center for Mobile Learning, and to the Google App Inventor Team for a simply monumental effort last fall to port App Inventor to the open-source implementation, that we are now finishing up.