December 15, 2012 – Well, its finished. I have mixed feelings about my experiences with app inventor, but before I get to that, let me say a few things about the final app. Here are the components (and other details) that factored into this app:
First, it is a multi-screen app. This was a challenge to learn at first, but now seems to me to be a rather straight-forward process. I found that my approach required that pages maintain a similar structure so that the few “changing” elements (like my images) seem to be located on a single screen.
Second, my app was a picture intensive app, but I don’t think app inventor was up to the task of handling what I wanted with my pictures. I may someday learn that I was the one who wasn’t up to the task, but app inventor still seems limited in some regards (more on this below).
My app has the following key components:
- A list picker on most of the screens (to serve as the table of contents for the book and to facilitate rapid navigation to specific images).
- A canvas with image sprites on each picture book page (canvas and sprites were not used for gaming, as is common with these components, but for button and text-free navigation).
- A notifier element on the first screen (allowed me to post terms of usage and require that users accept those terms before proceeding).
- An activity starter on the home screen (to link users to my website).
- A clock timer on the first screen (for displaying a splash screen with the book title: Cattle Tales).
- Image elements, some showing and some hidden. The bulk of my work was spent preparing these images. There was a lot of trial and error on resolution and size, and I think there is still room for improvement, especially given the variable screen dimensions and attributes that are present in the Android world.
- Various icons, buttons, labels, and arrangements.
The use of specially prepared media allowed me to create the look of navigation via image or icon links (as opposed to the traditional buttons with text) and to simulate the appearance/disappearance of text on the picture itself (as opposed to showing/hiding a label).
I had a few frustrations with App Inventor during the course of this semester. A few notable concerns were:
- I’m not sure if there is a file size limit on the app build (.apk) or not. Earlier attempts to build an app with high-resolution pictures resulted in a file-size error, but this final build with low-res images was permitted to exceed the limit previously encountered. Did the limit change in the past week or two? Did I do something wrong the first time? Long story short, I don’t know how many pictures I could have put in. I calculated and prepared what I thought would fit based on previous size limitation messages and related posts in the online forums, leaving out what I didn’t think would fit (to save hours of photo preparation), but was left wondering in the end if I could have fit more. I wish app inventor didn’t have a file size limit at all. I could have made a much larger and more complete picture book without that limitation.
- I tried really hard to deviate from the clunky, 1990’s look that app inventor generates (boxy, windows-95-ish buttons, text on the extreme edges of the screen, limited fonts and colors, limited layout options, etc. etc.), but I feel that my design was still clunky and subpar to other mobile apps on the market. Obviously, my lack of experience is the biggest factor in this, but I don’t feel that app inventor has much “visual” power yet.
- There seems to be limited support for media. Whether its problems with fit size limits, screen size and resolution issues (my app looked horrible on my tablet, but OK on my phone), or the fact that I can’t enable zoom functions (pinching and spreading gestures) for my images, I was sometimes frustrated with the media support issues that I encountered.
In spite of these concerns, I’m generally pleased with my programming experience and with learning how to use many of the features in app inventor. In fact, my experience with this program makes me want to know more about the actual coding process itself.
Author comment: Feb. 24, 2014 – Click on the images or links below to view learning artifacts generated in the design and development of this app: