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Introduction to Android Development

This is the introduction to the Elvenware pages covering Android development. You have landed on a site for computer science students and developers; if you have an interest in just learning to use your Android phone, you should probably look elsewhere. These pages were designed for the students of Bellevue College, but if you are developer you might also find them interesting or helpful.

The Android Ecosystem

There are 170+ Android devices available in over 100 countries. They ship over 350,000 devices a day, so that’s about 2 million a week. A year ago it was 60,000 a day, so it is growing very quickly.

Android development is typically done in Java, using the Eclipse IDE in conjunction with the Android SDK. In the next pages of this site we will discuss how to install these tools.

Android is developed by a team at Google. Get to know that team. Read their blogs, watch their videos. 

Understanding the Terrain

If you are interested in targeting multiple platforms such as Android, IPhone and Windows Phone 7, then you should see the section below on PhoneGap. If you don’t have an Android phone, but want to develop for the Android, you should see the section below on Android-x86. 

There are wide variety of tools and platforms.

  • Android: Java on Dalvik
  • iOS: Objective C
  • Windows Mobile 7: Silverlight (with some XNA)
  • Blackberry: Java
  • WebOS: HTML5

The increasingly powerful HTML 5 platform runs on all of them.

The rate of Change on Mobile Devices

One of the reasons to use the Android SDK rather than HTML 5 involves the rapid evolution of technology on phones and other small devices. HTML 5 evolves very slowly, and cannot track the rapid emergence of new hardware features. For that, you need to use the Android SDK and similar tools.

Here is a chronology of the emergence of new technologies on mobile devices over the last few years:

  • 2007: Multitouch, accelerometers, microsphone
  • 2008: video, compass, background apps
  • 2009: Bluetooth, multiple screen sizes
  • 2010: Gyroscopes, front facing cameras
  • 2011: Barometer, NFC, tables, USB accessories.

NOTE: A development platform called PhoneGap helps to bridge the gap between HTML 5 and the Android hardware platform.

To learn more about the Android platform from a user’s perspective, see this page:


What is Android?

Android is an open source operating system that runs on small devices. It is built on top of Linux and runs a VM called Dalvik, similar to the Java VM, but optimized for speed. There are also a series of libraries usually built in C++.

  • From top to bottom, the stack looks like this:
    • Applications written in Java
    • A framework called the Android SDK
    • C++ Libraries and the Dalvik Virtual Machine
    • Linux

System Architecture from Wikimedia

Figure 01: Applications and the SDK on top, then C++ libraries and then Dalvik Runtime, and finally the Linux kernel.

The Android SDK

  • A framework for developing applications
    • Like the .NET Framework
    • Patterns you can use
    • APIs you can call to access key features of Android
  • Some Key Features (Explained Later)
    • Activities, Views, Resources, Intents
    • Content Providers
    • Animation, Telephone, Camera, Graphics


  • File IO
  • Process Management
  • Drivers for
    • Display
    • Camera, Audio, Video
    • Keypad
    • WiFi and other networking resources
    • Interprocess Communication

What is Dalvik?

The applications we build for Android are run on top of something called the Dalvik Virtual Machine. This is a Process Virtual Machine, like the Java Virtual Machine or the .NET Runtime. These tools needs to be understood in contrast to the System Virtual Machines, which run an entire OS, like the Windows XP Mode in Windows 7, like Virtual PC, and like a hypervisor.

What Next?

Now that you understand something about the Android landscape, the next subjects to tackle are Eclipse and the Android SDK. Eclipse is the IDE we use for Android development, the Android SDK provides programmatic access to the Android platform.

To learn how to install these tools, use the Android SDK link found in the index. Once you have Eclipse and the SDK installed, then come back to this page and read about creating a new project or importing or existing project. Links to other important subjects are included on this page.

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