Android Developers See Opportunity, Hacks

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-02-19

Android Developers See Opportunity, Hacks

NEW YORK -- Developers of applications for Google's Android phone are gearing up for increased customer demand for applications, even as some continue to create apps for the competing Apple iPhone.

At a meeting of the New York Linux Users Group (NYLUG) here, Nathan Freitas, a partner with Oliver Coady, a New York-based consulting and application development firm specializing in mobile development, said he expects the advent of paid-for applications for the Google Android to boost both quality and quantity of Android applications.

"I think that 'for-pay' applications will certainly help to increase Android development," Freitas said. "Right now I'm throwing in Android ports for applications I write for the iPhone, because I do iPhone development, too," Freitas told a crowded room of current and prospective Android developers at the Feb. 18 NYLUG meeting. "I think the market is becoming more forward-looking and there is a good amount of interest in Android apps. The iPhone is wildly successful, but Android is catching on."

Indeed, Brian Gupta, a developer with the system administration support firm, Brandorr, said that within 12 months or so, "I think Android is going to be wildly successful" and will cut into Windows Mobile's market share and will provide realistic competition for the iPhone. Gupta said he expects that the prospective adoption of Android by Sprint also will boost the platform.

Meanwhile, Freitas, who has worked at Palm as a program manager building Java code, said he appreciates Android as "the first open mobile platform. There's really a lot to hack on. It's really the first open platform developer-tools-wise. No one's ever put the effort into delivering a fully cross-platform development environment."

Moreover, Android features a "great SDK [Software Development Kit]" in Android 1.1 SDK Release 1, with or without the Eclipse IDE support, he said. Freitas said he likes having the ability to either hack code by hand or to use the Eclipse IDE, particularly for debugging code written in different languages. Freitas then discussed various favored features, including the Android Emulator, which is a virtual mobile device that runs on a developer's PC.

Making a comparison to the iPhone development environment, Freitas said, "There's a big difference between APIs and a thoughtful platform...The iPhone is a beautiful device and a great user experience."

However, the iPhone world does not focus as much on providing an ecosystem of services for developers like Android does, Freitas said, noting the site, which is a place to collect, design and implement open intents and interfaces to make Android mobile applications work more closely together. In addition, Freitas mentioned the PhoneGap project, which is a development tool that allows Web developers to take advantage of the core features in the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry SDK using JavaScript.

Getting to the Root


Meanwhile, some members of the group began discussing various hacks to the Android, including how to gain root of the system and to add things to it that were not intended by the Google developers, such as the Debian Linux system. The Android phone was not designed to install Debian or use custom firmware, but various members of the development community have devised ways to do both. By getting root of the system, developers can update bootloads and install custom firmware. However, to get root, developers need to be running Android OS RC29 or lower, which is available in some circle, some said.

The reasons for getting root and running custom firmware are many, such as to put in bug fixes, change the splash screen, install Debian or applications such as BusyBox, add useful kernel modules, or to put in multitouch or phone tethering hacks, among other things.

For his part, in a presentation to NYLUG members, Gupta said he believes Google chose Linux as the platform upon which to base Android because there is a critical mass of developers in the Linux community. Gupta highlighted several features of the Android platform that stand out to him and noted that the Android "Cupcake" development branch of the platform brings in new features and bug fixes. Google maintains a public and private branch of the Android code.

"Google says they will always maintain a private branch" to do such things as support new, unannounced hardware, drivers and such, he said.

Gupta said the primary development platforms are Ubuntu Linux, both 32- and 64 bit -- though 32 bit is preferred -- and the MacOS X environment. He also suggested that developers consider the Android Developer Phone 1 or ADP1, which can be run with not only T-Mobile service but with others.

Gupta also suggested that developers consider the x86 branch of the Android code, which will enable Android to run on netbooks.

Meanwhile, in other phone news, Neowin reported that at the Mobile World Congress, Google demonstrated offline Gmail capability for the iPhone.

Also, Miguel de Icaza, vice president of developer relations at Novell and founder of the open source Mono project, blogged about Mono running on the Android G1 phone. 

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