The Android platform

Android is a software environment built for mobile devices. It is not a hardware platform. Android includes a Linux kernel-based OS, a rich UI, end-user applications, code libraries, application frameworks, multimedia support, and much more. And, yes, even telephone functionality is included! While components of the underlying OS are written in C or C++, user applications are built for Android in Java. Even the built-in applications are written in Java. With the exception of some Linux exploratory exercises in chapter 13, all of the code examples in this book are written in Java using the Android SDK.

One feature of the Android platform is that there is no difference between the built-in applications and applications created with the SDK. This means that powerful applications can be written to tap into the resources available on the device. Figure 1.1 demonstrates the relationship between Android and the hardware it runs on. The most notable feature of Android may be that it is an open source platform; missing elements can and will be provided by the global developer community. Android's Linux kernel-based OS does not come with a sophisticated shell environment, but because the platform is open, shells can be written and installed on a device. Likewise, multimedia codecs can be supplied by third-party developers and do not need to rely on Google or anyone else to provide new functionality. That is the power of an open source platform brought to the mobile market.

The mobile market is a rapidly changing landscape with many players with diverging goals. Consider the often-at-odds relationship among mobile operators, mobile device manufacturers, and software vendors. Mobile operators want to lock down their networks, controlling and metering traffic. Device manufacturers want to differentiate themselves with features, reliability, and price points. Software vendors want unfettered access to the metal to deliver cutting-edge applications. Layer onto that a demanding user base, both consumer and corporate, that has become addicted to the "free phone" and operators who reward churn but not customer loyalty. The mobile market becomes not only a confusing array of choices but also a dangerous fiscal exercise for the participants, such as the cell phone retailer who sees the underbelly of the industry and just wants to stay alive in an endless sea of change. What users come to expect on a mobile phone has evolved rapidly. Figure 1.2 provides a glimpse of the way we view mobile technology and how it has matured in a few short years.

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