Introduction to Android

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Android, as a system, is a Java-based operating system that runs on the Linux 2.6 kernel. The system is very lightweight and full featured. Figure 1-1 shows the unmodified Android home screen.

Figure 1-1 The current Android home screen as seen on the Android Emulator.

Android applications are developed using Java and can be ported rather easily to the new platform. If you have not yet downloaded Java or are unsure about which version you need, I detail the installation of the development environment in Chapter 2. Other features of Android include an accelerated 3-D graphics engine (based on hardware support), database support powered by SQLite, and an integrated web browser.

If you are familiar with Java programming or are an OOP developer of any sort, you are likely used to programmatic user interface (UI) development—that is, UI placement which is handled directly within the program code. Android, while recognizing and allowing for programmatic UI development, also supports the newer, XML-based UI layout. XML UI layout is a fairly new concept to the average desktop developer. I will cover both the XML UI layout and the programmatic UI development in the supporting chapters of this book.

One of the more exciting and compelling features of Android is that, because of its architecture, third-party applications—including those that are "home grown"—are executed with the same system priority as those that are bundled with the core system. This is a major departure from most systems, which give embedded system apps a greater execution priority than the thread priority available to apps created by third-party developers. Also, each application is executed within its own thread using a very lightweight virtual machine.

Aside from the very generous SDK and the well-formed libraries that are available to us to develop with, the most exciting feature for Android developers is that we now have access to anything the operating system has access to. In other words, if you want to create an application that dials the phone, you have access to the phone's dialer; if you want to create an application that utilizes the phone's internal GPS (if equipped), you have access to it. The potential for developers to create dynamic and intriguing applications is now wide open.

On top of all the features that are available from the Android side of the equation, Google has thrown in some very tantalizing features of its own. Developers of Android applications will be able to tie their applications into existing Google offerings such as Google Maps and the omnipresent Google Search. Suppose you want to write an application that pulls up a Google map of where an incoming call is emanating from, or you want to be able to store common search results with your contacts; the doors of possibility have been flung wide open with Android.

Chapter 2 begins your journey to Android development. You will learn the hows and whys of using specific development environments or integrated development environments (IDE), and you will download and install the Java IDE Eclipse.

Q: What is the difference between Google and the Open Handset Alliance?

A: Google is a member of the Open Handset Alliance. Google, after purchasing the original developer of Android, released the operating system under the Open Handset Alliance.

Q: Is Android capable of running any Linux software?

A: Not necessarily. While I am sure that there will be ways to get around most any open source system, applications need to be compiled using the Android SDK to run on Android. The main reason for this is that Android applications execute files in a specific format; this will be discussed in later chapters.

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