App Development for Android platform #1

In today’s blog post I am going to share my first impressions on app development for Android devices, the basics you need to start developing your own apps for Android devices, and the pitfalls I’ve encountered.

Earlier this year I began to investigate iPod development. I own an iPod Touch and as an ever increasing number of students are bringing iPods or iPhones to school I felt that developing a series of educational apps to help prepare these students for their exams or assessments would be beneficial and motivating. I’m a Computing teacher and it would be a major draw to students to eventually have some form of iPod app development in the course, but even in the short term I know that I am going to encounter a pupil who IS developing for a mobile device – and they are going to ask me a to help them solve a problem!

However it transpires that developing for iPod is a convoluted process: you need an SDK (the easiest part), an Apple Mac, a licence to sell your app on iTunes, knowledge of another programming language (C#, or Objective C). These are summountable problems but the kids are using these devices NOW. Therefore I want to help them now. Windows based solutions like Airplay SDK or Dragonfire SDK are promising but inevitably put more hurdles into play. I recently concluded that I didn’t have the funds to follow through with my original plan, it just wasn’t feasible at this time. So I am now looking at alternatives.

Android is a Google-developed mobile device operating system which has been based on Linux. It is open source as opposed to the closed nature of iOS. Developers can create applications in Java by importing the Android module libraries into their projects. These libraries are available from the link below – and regularly updated!

The software packages needed to begin coding Android apps are all freely available. I downloaded and installed Eclipse, an open source Java IDE for Windows. The tutorial I found also suggested that I install the ADT plugin to enable the creation of Android apps. I had previously downloaded the May version of the Android SDK but when I installed it it immediately upgraded to v8 from v6.

Although installation took a long time, especially when Android SDK updated itself I found myself able to navigate the Eclipse IDE easily. A programmer friend of mine recommended NetBeans as an alternative but I’ve had no experience of using that IDE. Any comments about NetBeans would be appreciated. I had to go back to the online documentation a few times to install the ADT plugin, and starting the Android service via the command line was an unncessary hassle – surely there is a GUI tool out there that can manage this?

I worked through the provided Hello Android example quickly though and as I’ve used Java in the past the syntax didn’t phase me as much as Objective C! However Ive found a common issue occurs when attempting to run the example in the Android simulator. I currently get a lovely, meaningful error message:

“Waiting for HOME (android.process.acore)”

while the Android simulator displays first a retro 1980s text screen with a spaced out A.  N.   D.   R.   O.   I.   D. message then a more 1990s graphical logo. After that, nothing else happens until I get frustrated and shut down the simulator. Instantly Eclipse displays an error message stating that the simulator has been shut down so it hasn’t crashed!

My next step is to trawl support forums to get round this issue then I’ll post a step by step guide to beginning Android development.


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