There are times throughout the day that I really want a quick and easy app to record data – gas mileage, shopping lists, etc. (I admit, gathering and graphing data points is a lot of fun for me.)
The problem with native iPod or iPhone apps is that a lot of data gets stored locally, which proves challenging if the device is lost or if a better app comes along. And what about sharing data? Shopping lists work much better if they can be delegated to someone else in the household.
An idea came to me this morning that I don’t have to be a developer to get the app that I want – the technology already exists. It takes five minutes and all you need is Google Docs and a mobile device with a web browser (and a wireless signal if you are using an iPod).
Let’s build a simple gas mileage tracker.
Step 0 – You need a Google Account
If you don’t already have one, you need a Google account. If you use Yahoo or Hotmail, you probably need to create a Google Account.
Step 1 – Create a Form with Google Documents.
Go to Google Documents. Under Create New on the left-hand side, select Form.
You should see something like this:
Give your form a name. I’m calling mine Gas Mileage Tracker.
Step 2 – Create the Questions
Think about the data you want to collect. I want to know at the very least how many gallons of gas I purchased and what my car’s trip odometer reads, and for fun I want to know my car’s current mileage and the price per gallon of gas.
Google makes creating the form a piece of cake, so I won’t go into too much detail here about how to add and modify questions. If you need guidance, check out this helpful video in the Google Docs help.
The default question type is Text, which is fine for most instances. With text input, I can just type in the information I’m interested in gathering. There are other question types – play around and see which ones best fit your needs.
You don’t need to fill in the help text part of the questions unless you really want to, or if you’re sharing the app with multiple people and want to be very clear what should be entered for each question.
Here are all my questions. I also added a theme for fun, shown in the upper left-hand corner – the theme images and colors don’t apply until you view the form.
Step 3 – Preview and Test
Click on the link at the bottom next to the text “You can view the published form here”. This will load your form for you to enter info and test how it works. If you like how your form looks, it makes sense, and it gathers all the appropriate data, you’re done. If not, you can go back and make changes until you’re pleased with how it works.
Here’s my form in action.
Now go back to the form editor and click on See Responses > Spreadsheet. This will load the Google Docs spreadsheet where all the data is stored, with a column for each question on your form. Notice that a timestamp is automatically included for each entry.
Step 4 – Access the Published Form on your Mobile Device and Save it
Using your mobile device, go to the URL of your form (hint: it’s the one you went to in the previous step). Check that you can fill out the form easily. Notice you don’t have to be logged into your Google Account – you just need the correct URL and you’re good to go.
On the iPod touch and iPhone, tap the center soft key in Mobile Safari, then tap Add to Home Screen. Then confirm the name.
Check it out! You’re done.
For other mobile devices, you should be able to do something similar, to add a bookmark or shortcut on your home screen. Do a quick Google search if you get stuck.
Step 5 – Use Your New App!
Now anytime you need to record info, just tap on the shortcut you created, enter your info via the form, and submit. The response spreadsheet automatically gets updated.
To view and graph/manipulate your data, just go back to Google Docs and view the responses.
I promise, it took me much longer to create this little tutorial than it did to create the app itself. It’s really easy, and the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
If you make an app using these instructions, leave a comment and let me know what you made!