Android 2.2 and Its Previous Versions: A Sweet Developer Review, Page 2
The Personal Platform: Not Just Wallpapers and Ringtones
A lot of users probably took a look at the first Android gadget out there -- the T-Mobile G1 -- and judged the Android platform as a whole based on that device. Sure, it was a cool, but it lacked polish and personalization. The people who compared the G1 to the Apple iPhone particularly found it lacking and not ready for prime time.
Few can say the same about Android these days, however. Devices running Android 2.0 and above (especially FroYo) hold their own against all competitors and are even starting to steal some of the hype from specialty devices like the Apple iPad. The personalization and user customization features available in FroYo make every other mobile platform out there look "vanilla."
From the developer's point of view, personalization is an application's ability to make changes or provide services to users that allow them to have personal experiences on their devices. That is, one that integrates application content and personal choices in the user experience. Here are some Android customization features:
- Traditional ringtone and wallpaper customization, including application integration
- "Live" and interactive wallpapers
- Themes and styles
- Enhanced font support
- App Widgets and other plugin style application customization support
- Voice command and text-to-speech support
- Support for a variety of screen sizes and resolutions
- Specialized device configurations like "night," "car" and "desk" modes
Users Talking Less, Browsing and Texting More
Performance and responsiveness are key to the FroYo release, which is the fastest version of Android to date. You may have heard something about FroYo having the "world's fastest browser," but the operating system as a whole has received a major overhaul. Developers can also take advantage of upgraded components, such as more efficient parsers.
Phones are, by definition, messaging devices. However, they haven't always allowed applications to leverage various messaging technologies, from sending and receiving text messages internally within an application to a fully automated, push experience. Messaging, though, has been a core feature set of Android since long before the original 1.0 deployment. Unfortunately, when 1.0 came out, many of the hyped messaging features were missing or hidden. However, they've been creeping back into the platform with the past few Android releases. For example, the
SmsManager was reintroduced in Android 1.6 and Cloud-to-Device Messaging (C2DM), which can be used for push applications, is being phased in as part of the Android 2.2 release.
Enhanced User Experience
The user interface components of Android have been improved and polished over time. FroYo is the most polished version of Android yet -- and it's pretty sweet.
By streamlining the platform, Android has been able to pack in more power. For example, Froyo supports OpenGL ES 2.0 for the first time. Audio and video support was greatly enhanced for the FroYo release, and the camera and camcorder are better than ever.
Developers can also take advantage of the many ways users can interact with devices. It might seem strange now, but the first couple of releases of Android didn't even have the notion of an onscreen keyboard (also called a software keyboard). Android's input system has changed dramatically to be one of the most dynamic around, allowing a variety of input devices, custom input methods like gestures, and even voice input. In fact, voice support barely existed in Android 2.1, but it was greatly enhanced for the FroYo release.
Development Tools Stay Current
Having developed for all the major mobile platforms, we think it's safe to say that the Android development tools are the best we've seen in mobile.
During the past year, developers have seen major upgrades and enhancements to the Android platform tool chain as well as the Android SDK itself. Early Android tools were tied to a specific SDK. They have since been broken out and componentized, allowing developers to target all shipping Android SDK versions with a single installation. Recently, much of the focus on tool features has been in these areas:
- Testing and instrumentation
- Performance and benchmarking
- User interface streamlining
The Android platform's growth has been fast and furious -- in terms of device availability, platform adoption by users, and SDK features. This growth means bugs are fixed relatively quickly, missing features are addressed, and other improvements, such as performance enhancements, are implemented and delivered. However, this also means that we developers have to keep up with a rapidly changing and expanding platform, which can be hard considering the Android platform's pace!
Here's to hoping Gingerbread (Android's next release) will be the sweetest yet.
About the Authors
Lauren Darcey and Shane Conder have coauthored two books on Android development: an in-depth programming book entitled "Android Wireless Application Development" (ISBN-13: 978-0-321-62709-4) and "Sams Teach Yourself Android Application Development in 24 Hours" (ISBN-13: 978-0-321-67335-0). When not writing, they spend their time developing mobile software at their company and providing consulting services. They can be reached at email@example.com and via their blog at androidbook.blogspot.com.