My First Android Application

August 6, 2010

I recently bought a HTC Desire Android phone. Giving my previous phone, Nokia 3310, it was like going from a horse drawn carriage to a Ducati motorcycle. Android phones lets you install new phone applications from the Android market, and you can even program your own applications in Java. Professionally, I am working as a Java programmer, and therefore wanted to roll my own Android application.

But before you can program, you need to setup your development environment. Android is married to the Eclipse IDE and thus I tried to get an Eclipse + Android SDK up and running. It was not quite as easy as “apt-get install XXX”, as I can usually do on my Debian machine, but it was not too bad either. Especially this howto trailered for Debian users was a godsend. The Eclipse setup is integrated nicely with the Android Emulator. Especially the turn-around time from making a change in ones program and seeing it run in the emulator is short and easy, just press Ctrl-F11 and the application run in the emulator shortly after. I was a bit uneasy about this setup as, in my experience, “overachieving” IDEs usually ends up being more trouble than it is worth. But the Eclipse + Android SDK has so far worked quite nicely.

At work I spend a lot of time waiting – waiting for the computer to compile, waiting to launch the application we are working on, waiting to … Basically, we need faster machines. To make a stronger case for this, I wanted to measure how much time I wasted waiting. Thus, I created a small application to measure wasted time. The application has one button which, when pressed, triggers a timer. When the button is pressed again the timer is stopped, and the current time + the length (in seconds) of the measurement is stored to disc and displayed on-screen. The cycle then repeats, when you press the button the third time it will again start a timer, …

The application architecture is quite simple, only containing four classes and one interface. The MeasurementGUI class updates the Timer class (the model). The Timer class sits in the middle and informs the MeasurementGUI of state changes, and asks the Storage class to store the measurements on disc. When the MeasurementGUI class is notified of state changes, it queries the Timer class (the model) for the current state.

After developing this application, I must say that the Android development experience is quite nice. The Eclipse setup worked well and the documentation is good. Developer.android.com provides both reference style (Javadoc API documentation) and small articles. However, usually I just google for what I need, and sometimes end up on developer.android.com, other times on other websites.

The one thing I found annoying, was the strong XML focus of the Android SDK. I should properly have expected this as most Java programmers have a strong love for XML. When developing for android, GUI layout is specified using XML files, as it is more declarative according to the creates of the Android API. And it does make GUI construction more declarative, but only for GUI layout and only when you know which widgets, how many, and where to place widgets at compile time. The flip side to using XML for layout is:

  • That XML is overly verbose and Android XML is even more verbose than it needs to be.
  • You need to program in two languages – Java and XML.
  • When you want to manipulate some widget, e.g. changing a button label, you need to extract the button from “the system” and cast it to a Button type. And casting just sucks… or at least it should be avoided.

Fortunately, you are not forced to use XML for layout. For example, my own application uses no XML for layout. The only trouble is that many Android howtos, do use XML for layout, so you need to translate to a non-XML world.

That said, I enjoined developing for Android and it is defiantly not the last Android application I develop.

Update 2010/08/07: You can download the application source code here.

3 Responses to “My First Android Application”

  1. hey Says:

    you gotta love androids, i think they will take over

  2. Eric Kow Says:

    Any chance we’ll be seeing wxHaskell apps for Android? :-)

    • Mads Lindstrøm Says:

      Hi Eric

      Android runs Linux and I guess one could install X windows on the phone. So yeah, technically one could make wxHaskell run. However, it would not integrate nicely with the Android “desktop”. Thus, I do not really see the point.

      If Haskell should have a role in the Android ecosystem, I think it would be better to bet on a supporting role for a Java GUI. Android already contains a Native Development Toolkit (NDT), which is intended to be used when Java is not fast enough. Maybe Haskell could be used for something similar. The NDT is programmed in C/C++ and Haskell can compile to C/C++, therefore programming the NDT in Haskell seems feasible.

      Regards,

      Mads


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