Google's Android Studio Simplifies Mobile App Development

REVIEW: Google’s Android Studio is not an entirely new product, being based on an earlier product, but it has some valuable features for developers who want to build mobile applications.

Google's Android Studio is a free IDE for developing Android applications using the Java programming language. Although new, the product is actually based on the popular IntelliJ IDEA Community Edition and was indeed a collaboration between JetBrains (the developer of IntelliJ IDEA) and Google.

As such, users of the IntelliJ IDEA will discover the product actually isn't all that new, but has a few new features. eWEEK Labs looked at Android Studio, and for this review, I'm taking the approach of a new user who has never used IntelliJ IDEA before.

Installing the open-source Android Studio is easy; you simply download the installer and run it. Because it's Java-based, you have to make sure you have a recent Java JDK available. And because you're going to use it to develop Java applications for Android, you need the full Java JDK, not just the Java JRE (that is, the development kit, not just the runtime edition).

When you start up Android Studio, a dialog box opens, letting you open an existing project or create a new one. When you create a new project, Android Studio launches a wizard that guides you through creating and configuring a project. The first screen asks for the name of the application, a module name, a package name, a project location and information about the target Android version.

For the version, you specify both the target as well as the earliest Android version your mobile application will support. This is important so that the application can notify users if their version of Android is too old. You can also specify a theme for the application; the options are None, Holo Dark, Holo Light, Holo Light with Dark Action Bar. These are the standard Android themes; the Holo Dark is the dark screen with light letters typically seen on an Android screen. The Holo Light is a newer theme with a gray background and dark letters.

The next page in the wizard lets you choose an icon for your application. If you don't choose one, the default is the familiar green Android robot character. Or you can choose from one of many built-in icons, although they're all very plain-looking, monochrome images.

Or, for the graphically challenged such as myself, you can even choose some text for the icon by typing a word and selecting any font installed on your system. Android Studio will then create an icon from that text and font. You'll want to limit your text to just a word or so, because it will get scaled down for the smallest icons, which can result in unreadably small text.

Next is an important screen for the activity settings. You can choose blank activity, full screen activity, login activity, master/detail flow and settings activity. The login one lets users enter an email address and password before starting up your application. For my tests I used the master/detail flow, which requires a minimum of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), as this layout wasn't available in earlier versions of Android. The master/detail flow lets your users browse through a collection objects, and view details on each one.