18 December 2009

Hello, Stack Overflow!

Over the past year, an Android presence has been growing on a relatively new technical Q&A web site called Stack Overflow. The site was designed specifically for programmers, with features like syntax highlighting, tagging, user reputation, and community editing. It's attracted a loyal software developer community, and developers continue to express great praise for this new tool. Well, the Android team has been listening...and we agree.

Today, I'm happy to announce that we're working with Stack Overflow to improve developer support, especially for developers new to Android. In essence, the Android tag on Stack Overflow will become an official Android app development Q&A medium. We encourage you to post your beginner-level technical questions there. It's also important to point out that we don't plan to change the android-developers group, so intermediate and expert users should still feel free to post there.

I think that this will be a great new resource for novice Android developers, and our team is really excited to participate in the growth of the Android developer community on Stack Overflow. I hope to see you all there!

Back and other hard keys: three stories

Android 2.0 introduces new behavior and support for handling hard keys such as BACK and MENU, including some special features to support the virtual hard keys that are appearing on recent devices such as Droid.

This article will give you three stories on these changes: from the most simple to the gory details. Pick the one you prefer.

Story 1: Making things easier for developers

If you were to survey the base applications in the Android platform, you would notice a fairly common pattern: add a little bit of magic to intercept the BACK key and do something different. To do this right, the magic needs to look something like this:

@Override
public boolean onKeyDown(int keyCode, KeyEvent event)  {
    if (keyCode == KeyEvent.KEYCODE_BACK && event.getRepeatCount() == 0) {
        // do something on back.
        return true;
    }

    return super.onKeyDown(keyCode, event);
}

How to intercept the BACK key in an Activity is also one of the common questions we see developers ask, so as of 2.0 we have a new little API to make this more simple and easier to discover and get right:

@Override
public void onBackPressed() {
// do something on back.
return;
}

If this is all you care about doing, and you're not worried about supporting versions of the platform before 2.0, then you can stop here. Otherwise, read on.

Story 2: Embracing long press

One of the fairly late addition to the Android platform was the use of long press on hard keys to perform alternative actions. In 1.0 this was long press on HOME for the recent apps switcher and long press on CALL for the voice dialer. In 1.1 we introduced long press on SEARCH for voice search, and 1.5 introduced long press on MENU to force the soft keyboard to be displayed as a backwards compatibility feature for applications that were not yet IME-aware.

(As an aside: long press on MENU was only intended for backwards compatibility, and thus has some perhaps surprising behavior in how strongly the soft keyboard stays up when it is used. This is not intended to be a standard way to access the soft keyboards, and all apps written today should have a more standard and visible way to bring up the IME if they need it.)

Unfortunately the evolution of this feature resulted in a less than optimal implementation: all of the long press detection was implemented in the client-side framework's default key handling code, using timed messages. This resulted in a lot of duplication of code and some behavior problems; since the actual event dispatching code had no concept of long presses and all timing for them was done on the main thread of the application, the application could be slow enough to not update within the long press timeout.

In Android 2.0 this all changes, with a real KeyEvent API and callback functions for long presses. These greatly simplify long press handling for applications, and allow them to interact correctly with the framework. For example: you can override Activity.onKeyLongPress() to supply your own action for a long press on one of the hard keys, overriding the default action provided by the framework.

Perhaps most significant for developers is a corresponding change in the semantics of the BACK key. Previously the default key handling executed the action for this key when it was pressed, unlike the other hard keys. In 2.0 the BACK key is now execute on key up. However, for existing apps, the framework will continue to execute the action on key down for compatibility reasons. To enable the new behavior in your app you must set android:targetSdkVersion in your manifest to 5 or greater.

Here is an example of code an Activity subclass can use to implement special actions for a long press and short press of the CALL key:

@Override
public boolean onKeyLongPress(int keyCode, KeyEvent event) {
    if (keyCode == KeyEvent.KEYCODE_CALL) {
        // a long press of the call key.
        // do our work, returning true to consume it.  by
        // returning true, the framework knows an action has
        // been performed on the long press, so will set the
        // canceled flag for the following up event.
        return true;
    }
    return super.onKeyLongPress(keyCode, event);
}
@Override
public boolean onKeyUp(int keyCode, KeyEvent event) {
    if (keyCode == KeyEvent.KEYCODE_CALL && event.isTracking()
            && !event.isCanceled()) {
        // if the call key is being released, AND we are tracking
        // it from an initial key down, AND it is not canceled,
        // then handle it.
        return true;
    }
    return super.onKeyUp(keyCode, event);
}

Note that the above code assumes we are implementing different behavior for a key that is normally processed by the framework. If you want to implement long presses for another key, you will also need to override onKeyDown to have the framework track it:

@Override
public boolean onKeyDown(int keyCode, KeyEvent event)  {
    if (keyCode == KeyEvent.KEYCODE_0) {
        // this tells the framework to start tracking for
        // a long press and eventual key up.  it will only
        // do so if this is the first down (not a repeat).
        event.startTracking();
        return true;
    }
    return super.onKeyDown(keyCode, event);
}

Story 3: Making a mess with virtual keys

Now we come to the story of our original motivation for all of these changes: support for virtual hard keys, as seen on the Droid and other upcoming devices. Instead of physical buttons, these devices have a touch sensor that extends outside of the visible screen, creating an area for the "hard" keys to live as touch sensitive areas. The low-level input system looks for touches on the screen in this area, and turns these into "virtual" hard key events as appropriate.

To applications these basically look like real hard keys, though the generated events will have a new FLAG_VIRTUAL_HARD_KEY bit set to identify them. Regardless of that flag, in nearly all cases an application can handle these "hard" key events in the same way it has always done for real hard keys.

However, these keys introduce some wrinkles in user interaction. Most important is that the keys exist on the same surface as the rest of the user interface, and they can be easily pressed with the same kind of touches. This can become an issue, for example, when the virtual keys are along the bottom of the screen: a common gesture is to swipe up the screen for scrolling, and it can be very easy to accidentally touch a virtual key at the bottom when doing this.

The solution for this in 2.0 is to introduce a concept of a "canceled" key event. We've already seen this in the previous story, where handling a long press would cancel the following up event. In a similar way, moving from a virtual key press on to the screen will cause the virtual key to be canceled when it goes up.

In fact the previous code already takes care of this — by checking isCanceled() on the key up, canceled virtual keys and long presses will be ignored. There are also individual flags for these two cases, but they should rarely be used by applications and always with the understanding that in the future there may be more reasons for a key event to be canceled.

For existing application, where BACK key compatibility is turned on to execute the action on down, there is still the problem of accidentally detecting a back press when intending to perform a swipe. Though there is no solution for this except to update an application to specify it targets SDK version 5 or later, fortunately the back key is generally positioned on a far side of the virtual key area, so the user is much less likely to accidentally hit it than some of the other keys.

Writing an application that works well on pre-2.0 as well as 2.0 and later versions of the platform is also fairly easy for most common cases. For example, here is code that allows you to handle the back key in an activity correctly on all versions of the platform:

@Override
public boolean onKeyDown(int keyCode, KeyEvent event)  {
    if (android.os.Build.VERSION.SDK_INT < android.os.Build.VERSION_CODES.ECLAIR
            && keyCode == KeyEvent.KEYCODE_BACK
            && event.getRepeatCount() == 0) {
        // Take care of calling this method on earlier versions of
        // the platform where it doesn't exist.
        onBackPressed();
    }

    return super.onKeyDown(keyCode, event);
}

@Override
public void onBackPressed() {
    // This will be called either automatically for you on 2.0
    // or later, or by the code above on earlier versions of the
    // platform.
    return;
}

For the hard core: correctly dispatching events

One final topic that is worth covering is how to correctly handle events in the raw dispatch functions such as onDispatchEvent() or onPreIme(). These require a little more care, since you can't rely on some of the help the framework provides when it calls the higher-level functions such as onKeyDown(). The code below shows how you can intercept the dispatching of the BACK key such that you correctly execute your action when it is release.

@Override
public boolean dispatchKeyEvent(KeyEvent event) {
    if (event.getKeyCode() == KeyEvent.KEYCODE_BACK) {
        if (event.getAction() == KeyEvent.ACTION_DOWN
                && event.getRepeatCount() == 0) {

            // Tell the framework to start tracking this event.
            getKeyDispatcherState().startTracking(event, this);
            return true;

        } else if (event.getAction() == KeyEvent.ACTION_UP) {
            getKeyDispatcherState().handleUpEvent(event);
            if (event.isTracking() && !event.isCanceled()) {

                // DO BACK ACTION HERE
                return true;

            }
        }
        return super.dispatchKeyEvent(event);
    } else {
        return super.dispatchKeyEvent(event);
    }
}

The call to getKeyDispatcherState() returns an object that is used to track the current key state in your window. It is generally available on the View class, and an Activity can use any of its views to retrieve the object if needed.

17 December 2009

New resources and sample code on developer.android.com

Hey Android developers—if you've visited the online Android SDK documentation recently, you may have noticed a few changes. That's right, there's a new Resources tab, which was designed to take some of the load off the Developer's Guide. We've moved a number of existing resources to the Resources tab, including tutorials, sample code, and FAQs. We've also formalized a few of our most popular developer blog posts into technical articles; watch for more of these to appear in the future.

In addition, we just released a new batch of sample code, available now as a ZIP file download on the samples index page. And we're working on updating the way in which we distribute official sample code; more on that some other time.

New sample screenshots

The new sample code includes:

  • Multiple Resolutions: a simple example showing how to use resource directory qualifiers to support multiple screen configurations and Android SDK versions.
  • Wiktionary and WiktionarySimple: sample applications that illustrate how to create an interactive home screen widget.
  • Contact Manager: an example on using the new ContactsContract interface to query and manipulate a user's various accounts and contact providers.
  • Bluetooth Chat: a fun little demo that allows two users to have a 1 on 1 chat over Bluetooth. It demonstrates how to discover devices, initiate a connection, and transfer data.
  • API Demos > App > Activity > QuickContactsDemo: a demo showing how to use the android.widget.QuickContactsBadge class, new in Android 2.0.
  • API Demos > App > Activity > SetWallpaper: a demo showing how to use the new android.app.WallpaperManager class to allow users to change the system wallpaper.
  • API Demos > App > Text-To-Speech: a sample using Text-To-Speech (speech synthesis) to make your application talk.
  • NotePad (now with Live Folders): this sample now includes code for creating Live Folders.

We hope these new samples can be a valuable resource for learning some of the newer features in Android 1.6 and 2.0. Let us know in the android-developers Google Group if you have any questions about these new samples or about the new Resources tab.

Thanks for tuning in, and 'til next time, happy coding!

Knowing is half the battle

As a developer, I often wonder which Android platforms my applications should support,especially as the number of Android-powered devices grows. Should my application only focus on the latest version of the platform or should it support older ones as well?

To help with this kind of decision, I am excited to announce the new device dashboard. It provides information about deployed Android-powered devices that is helpful to developers as they build and update their apps. The dashboard provides the relative distribution of Android platform versions on devices running Android Market.

Android PlatformPercentage of Devices
1.10.3%
1.527.7%
1.654.2%
2.02.9%
2.0.114.8%

The above graph shows the relative number of Android devices that have accessed Android Market during the first 14 days of December 2009.

From a developer's perspective, there are a number of interesting points on this graph:

  • At this point, there's little incentive to make sure a new application is backward compatible with Android 1.0 and Android 1.1.
  • Close to 30% of the devices are running Android 1.5. To take advantage of this significant install base, you may consider support for Android 1.5.
  • Starting with Android 1.6, devices can have different screen densities & sizes. There are several devices out there that fall in this category, so make sure to adapt your application to support different screen sizes and take advantage of devices with small, low density (e.g QVGA) and normal, high density (e.g. WVGA) screens. Note that Android Market will not list your application on small screen devices unless its manifest explicitly indicates support for "small" screen sizes. Make sure you properly configure the emulator and test your application on different screen sizes before uploading to Market.
  • A new SDK for Android 2.0.1 was released two weeks ago. All Android 2.0 devices will be updated to 2.0.1 before the end of the year, so if your application uses features specific to Android 2.0, you are encouraged to update it to take advantage of the latest Android 2.0.1 API instead.

In summary, Android 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0.1 are the 3 versions of the platform that are deployed in volume. Our goal is to provide you with the tools and information to make it easy for you to target specific versions of the platform or all the versions that are deployed in volume.

We plan to update the dashboard regularly to reflect deployment of new Android platforms. We also plan to expand the dashboard to include other information like devices per screen size and so on.

11 December 2009

Come to Our Virtual Office Hours

Starting this week, we're going to be holding regular IRC office hours for Android app developers in the #android-dev channel on irc.freenode.net. Members of the Android team will be on hand to answer your technical questions. (Note that we will not be able to provide customer support for the phones themselves.)

We've arranged our office hours to accommodate as many different schedules as possible, for folks around the world. We will initially hold two sessions each week:

  • 12/15/09 Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. PST
  • 12/17/09, Thursday 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. PST
  • 12/22/09, Tuesday 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. PST
  • 01/06/10 Wednesday 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. PST
  • 01/07/10 Thursday 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. PST

Check Wikipedia for a helpful list of IRC clients. Alternatively, you could use a web interface such as the one at freenode.net. We will try to answer as many as we can get through in the hour.

We hope to see you there!

10 December 2009

Optimize your layouts


Writing user interface layouts for Android applications is easy, but it can sometimes be difficult to optimize them. Most often, heavy modifications made to existing XML layouts, like shuffling views around or changing the type of a container, lead to inefficiencies that go unnoticed.
Starting with the SDK Tools Revision 3 you can use a tool called layoutopt to automatically detect common problems. This tool is currently only available from the command line and its use is very simple - just open a terminal and launch the layoutopt command with a list of directories or XML files to analyze:

$ layoutopt samples/
samples/compound.xml
  7:23 The root-level <FrameLayout/> can be replaced with <merge/>
  11:21 This LinearLayout layout or its FrameLayout parent is useless samples/simple.xml
  7:7 The root-level <FrameLayout/> can be replaced with <merge/>
samples/too_deep.xml
  -1:-1 This layout has too many nested layouts: 13 levels, it should have <= 10!
  20:81 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  24:79 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  28:77 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  32:75 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  36:73 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  40:71 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  44:69 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  48:67 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  52:65 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
  56:63 This LinearLayout layout or its LinearLayout parent is useless
samples/too_many.xml
  7:413 The root-level <FrameLayout/> can be replaced with <merge/>
  -1:-1 This layout has too many views: 81 views, it should have <= 80! samples/useless.xml
  7:19 The root-level <FrameLayout/> can be replaced with <merge/>
  11:17 This LinearLayout layout or its FrameLayout parent is useless
For each analyzed file, the tool will indicate the line numbers of each tag that could potentially be optimized. In some cases, layoutopt will also offer a possible solution.
The current version of layoutopt contains a dozen rules used to analyze your layout files and future versions will contain more. Future plans for this tool also include the ability to create and use your own analysis rules, to automatically modify the layouts with optimized XML, and to use it from within Eclipse and/or a standalone user interface.

Windows users: to start layoutopt, open the file called layoutopt.bat in the tools directory of the SDK and on the last line, replace %jarpath% with -jar %jarpath%.

03 December 2009

Android SDK Updates

Today we are releasing updates to multiple components of the Android SDK:

  • Android 2.0.1, revision 1
  • Android 1.6, revision 2
  • SDK Tools, revision 4

Android 2.0.1 is a minor update to Android 2.0. This update includes several bug fixes and behavior changes, such as application resource selection based on API level and changes to the value of some Bluetooth-related constants. For more detailed information, please see the Android 2.0.1 release notes.

To differentiate its behavior from Android 2.0, the API level of Android 2.0.1 is 6. All Android 2.0 devices will be updated to 2.0.1 before the end of the year, so developers will no longer need to support Android 2.0 at that time. Of course, developers of applications affected by the behavior changes should start compiling and testing their apps immediately.

We are also providing an update to the Android 1.6 SDK component. Revision 2 includes fixes to the compatibility mode for applications that don't support multiple screen sizes, as well as SDK fixes. Please see the Android 1.6, revision 2 release notes for the full list of changes.

Finally, we are also releasing an update to the SDK Tools, now in revision 4. This is a minor update with mostly bug fixes in the SDK Manager. A new version of the Eclipse plug-in that embeds those fixes is also available. For complete details, please see the SDK Tools, revision 4 and ADT 0.9.5 release notes.

One more thing: you can now follow us on twitter @AndroidDev.

30 November 2009

Announcing the Winners of ADC 2

Back in May at Google I/O, we announced ADC 2 -- the second Android Developer Challenge -- to encourage the development of cool apps that delight mobile users. We received many interesting and high-quality applications -- everything from exciting arcade games to nifty productivity utilities. We also saw apps that took advantage of openness of Android to enhance system behavior at a deep level to provide users with a greater degree of customization and utility. We were particularly pleased to see submissions from many smaller and independent developers.

Over the last couple of months, tens of thousands of Android users around the world reviewed and scored these applications. There were many great apps and the scores were very close. Together with our official panel of judges, these users have spoken and selected our winners!

I am pleased to present the ADC 2 winners gallery, which includes not only the top winners overall and in each category, but also all of the applications that made it to the top 200. There are a lot of great applications in addition to the top winners.

Thanks to everyone who submitted applications or helped us judge the entrants. We encourage all developers to submit their applications to Android Market where their app can be downloaded and enjoyed by Android users around the world.

24 November 2009

ADC 2 Public Judging is now closed

Thanks to tens of thousands of Android users around the world who participated in the review of ADC 2 finalist applications, we have now collected sufficient scores to complete Round 2 of public judging.

We are reviewing the final results and will announce the top winners this coming Monday, November 30. Thanks to all who've participated in ADC 2 and good luck to all the finalists.

11 November 2009

Integrating Application with Intents

Written in collaboration with Michael Burton, Mob.ly; Ivan Mitrovic, uLocate; and Josh Garnier, OpenTable.

OpenTable, uLocate, and Mob.ly worked together to create a great user experience on Android. We saw an opportunity to enable WHERE and GoodFood users to make reservations on OpenTable easily and seamlessly. This is a situation where everyone wins — OpenTable gets more traffic, WHERE and GoodFood gain functionality to make their applications stickier, and users benefit because they can make reservations with only a few taps of a finger. We were able to achieve this deep integration between our applications by using Android's Intent mechanism. Intents are perhaps one of Android's coolest, most unique, and under-appreciated features. Here's how we exploited them to compose a new user experience from parts each of us have.

Designing

One of the first steps is to design your Intent interface, or API. The main public Intent that OpenTable exposes is the RESERVE Intent, which lets you make a reservation at a specific restaurant and optionally specify the date, time, and party size.

Hereʼs an example of how to make a reservation using the RESERVE Intent:

startActivity(new Intent("com.opentable.action.RESERVE",
       Uri.parse("reserve://opentable.com/2947?partySize=3")));

Our objective was to make it simple and clear to the developer using the Intent. So how did we decide what it would look like?

First, we needed an Action. We considered using Intent.ACTION_VIEW, but decided this didn't map well to making a reservation, so we made up a new action. Following the conventions of the Android platform (roughly <package-name>.action.<action-name>), we chose "com.opentable.action.RESERVE". Actions really are just strings, so it's important to namespace them. Not all applications will need to define their own actions. In fact, common actions such as Intent.ACTION_VIEW (aka "android.intent.action.VIEW") are often a better choice if youʼre not doing something unusual.

Next we needed to determine how data would be sent in our Intent. We decided to have the data encoded in a URI, although you might choose to receive your data as a collection of items in the Intent's data Bundle. We used a scheme of "reserve:" to be consistent with our action. We then put our domain authority and the restaurant ID into the URI path since it was required, and we shunted off all of the other, optional inputs to URI query parameters.

Exposing

Once we knew what we wanted the Intent to look like, we needed to register the Intent with the system so Android would know to start up the OpenTable application. This is done by inserting an Intent filter into the appropriate Activity declaration in AndroidManifest.xml:

<activity android:name=".activity.Splash" ... >
...
  <intent-filter>
    <action android:name="com.opentable.action.RESERVE"/>
    <category android:name="android.intent.category.DEFAULT" />
    <data android:scheme="reserve" android:host="opentable.com"/>
  </intent-filter>
...
</activity>

In our case, we wanted users to see a brief OpenTable splash screen as we loaded up details about their restaurant selection, so we put the Intent Filter in the splash Activity definition. We set our category to be DEFAULT. This will ensure our application is launched without asking the user what application to use, as long as no other Activities also list themselves as default for this action.

Notice that things like the URI query parameter ("partySize" in our example) are not specified by the Intent filter. This is why documentation is key when defining your Intents, which weʼll talk about a bit later.

Processing

Now the only thing left to do was write the code to handle the intent.

    protected void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {
       super.onCreate(savedInstanceState);
       final Uri uri;
       final int restaurantId;
       try {
           uri = getIntent().getData();
           restaurantId = Integer.parseInt( uri.getPathSegments().get(0));
       } catch(Exception e) {
           // Restaurant ID is required
           Log.e(e);
           startActivity( FindTable.start(FindTablePublic.this));
           finish();
           return;
       }
       final String partySize = uri.getQueryParameter("partySize");
       ...
   }

Although this is not quite all the code, you get the idea. The hardest part here was the error handling. OpenTable wanted to be able to gracefully handle erroneous Intents that might be sent by partner applications, so if we have any problem parsing the restaurant ID, we pass the user off to another Activity where they can find the restaurant manually. It's important to verify the input just as you would in a desktop or web application to protect against injection attacks that might harm your app or your users.

Calling and Handling Uncertainty with Grace

Actually invoking the target application from within the requester is quite straight-forward, but there are a few cases we need to handle. What if OpenTable isn't installed? What if WHERE or GoodFood doesn't know the restaurant ID?

Restaurant ID knownRestaurant ID unknown
User has OpenTableCall OpenTable IntentDon't show reserve button
User doesn't have OpenTableCall Market IntentDon't show reserve button

You'll probably wish to work with your partner to decide exactly what to do if the user doesn't have the target application installed. In this case, we decided we would take the user to Android Market to download OpenTable if s/he wished to do so.

    public void showReserveButton() {
      
       // setup the Intent to call OpenTable      
       Uri reserveUri = Uri.parse(String.format( "reserve://opentable.com/%s?refId=5449",
               opentableId));
       Intent opentableIntent = new Intent("com.opentable.action.RESERVE", reserveUri);

       // setup the Intent to deep link into Android Market
       Uri marketUri = Uri.parse("market://search?q=pname:com.opentable");
       Intent marketIntent = new Intent(Intent.ACTION_VIEW).setData(marketUri);
      
       opentableButton.setVisibility(opentableId > 0 ? View.VISIBLE : View.GONE);
       opentableButton.setOnClickListener(new Button.OnClickListener() {
           public void onClick(View v) {
               PackageManager pm = getPackageManager();
               startActivity(pm.queryIntentActivities(opentableIntent, 0).size() == 0  ?
                       opentableIntent : marketIntent);
           }
       });
   }

In the case where the ID for the restaurant is unavailable, whether because they don't take reservations or they aren't part of the OpenTable network, we simply hide the reserve button.



Publishing the Intent Specification

Now that all the technical work is done, how can you get other developers to use your Intent-based API besides 1:1 outreach? The answer is simple: publish documentation on your website. This makes it more likely that other applications will link to your functionality and also makes your application available to a wider community than you might otherwise reach.

If there's an application that you'd like to tap into that doesn't have any published information, try contacting the developer. It's often in their best interest to encourage third parties to use their APIs, and if they already have an API sitting around, it might be simple to get you the documentation for it.

Summary

It's really just this simple. Now when any of us is in a new city or just around the neighborhood its easy to check which place is the new hot spot and immediately grab an available table. Its great to not need to find a restaurant in one application, launch OpenTable to see if there's a table, find out there isn't, launch the first application again, and on and on. We hope you'll find this write-up useful as you develop your own public intents and that you'll consider sharing them with the greater Android community.

05 November 2009

ADC 2 Round 2 Voting Open

The results from ADC 2 Round 1 are now tabulated and verified. With the top 200 applications identified, it's time to begin the final round judging. Be sure to download the ADC 2 judging application, or update your existing application, and help us select the final winners!

For the final round, both users and a Google-selected panel of industry judges will provide votes to determine the final winners. Prizes will be distributed to the top 3 entrants in each of the 10 categories, and the top 3 overall entrants will receive additional prizes. Please see our reference page for full challenge information.

Your vote is critical! We will keep voting open until we have received sufficient votes for all of the applications. We encourage you to download the ADC 2 judging application and evaluate entrants for yourself.

Download Android Developer Challenge 2:

02 November 2009

Bring Your Lab Coats

With the recent release of Android 2.0 and the growing number of available devices, we want to give developers a convenient way to test drive their apps on these new devices. We also want to make our Android advocates available to answer any questions you may have.

We are pleased to announce that we will host a series of all day Android developer labs over the next month in the following cities (dates in local time):

  • Mountain View, CA - Nov 9
  • New York, NY - Nov 16
  • London, UK - Nov 17
  • Tokyo, JP - Nov 18
  • Taipei, TW - Nov 20

Due to limited space, developers who have already published an application in Android Market will be given priority. You can request a spot on a first-come, first-serve basis by going to this page. We will send a follow-up email with venue information and other registration details to those who have secured a spot.

Thank you for your continued excitement in Android. We look forward to meeting many of you in the coming weeks!

27 October 2009

Announcing Android 2.0 support in the SDK!

I am excited to announce that the Android SDK now supports Android 2.0 (also known as Eclair).

Android 2.0 brings new developer APIs for sync, Bluetooth, and a few other areas. Using the new sync, account manager and contacts APIs, you can write applications to enable users to sync their devices to various contact sources. You can also give users a faster way to communicate with others by embedding Quick Contact within your application. With the new Bluetooth API, you can now easily add peer-to-peer connectivity or gaming to your applications. To get a more complete list of the new capabilities you can add to your applications, please go to the Android 2.0 highlights page.

Current developers can use the SDK Manager to add Android 2.0 support to their SDK as well as update their SDK Tools to revision 3. New developers can download the Android SDK from the download site. After the download, Android platforms must be added using the SDK Manager

The SDK Manager allows you to add new Android platforms to your SDK.

Android SDK Tools, revision 3 is required to develop for Android 2.0. It includes support for code coverage through the Ant build system, as well as Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) support for the SDK and related tools. For those of you who develop using Eclipse, we are releasing ADT version 0.9.4 through the usual Eclipse update mechanism.

Over the next few months, we expect to see more and more Android devices being released. These devices will be running Android 1.5, 1.6, or 2.0. We are also planning a minor version update of Android 2.0 towards the end of the year, and that will be the last update for 2009. Below are some of the things you can do to be better prepared:

  • Download the Android 2.0 platform and make sure your existing apps continue to work on new devices running Android 2.0.

  • Make sure that your apps work when using the WVGA (800x480) & FWVGA (854x480) emulator skins. We expect devices with these types of screen, running Android 2.0 to be launched soon.

Checkout the video below for more information about Android 2.0.

23 October 2009

UI framework changes in Android 1.6

Android 1.6 introduces numerous enhancements and bug fixes in the UI framework. Today, I'd like to highlight three two improvements in particular.

Optimized drawing

The UI toolkit introduced in Android 1.6 is aware of which views are opaque and can use this information to avoid drawing views that the user will not be able to see. Before Android 1.6, the UI toolkit would sometimes perform unnecessary operations by drawing a window background when it was obscured by a full-screen opaque view. A workaround was available to avoid this, but the technique was limited and required work on your part. With Android 1.6, the UI toolkit determines whether a view is opaque by simply querying the opacity of the background drawable. If you know that your view is going to be opaque but that information does not depend on the background drawable, you can simply override the method called isOpaque():

@Override
public boolean isOpaque() {
    return true;
}

The value returned by isOpaque() does not have to be constant and can change at any time. For instance, the implementation of ListView in Android 1.6 indicates that a list is opaque only when the user is scrolling it.

Updated: Our apologies—we spoke to soon about isOpaque(). It will be available in a future update to the Android platform.

More flexible, more robust RelativeLayout

RelativeLayout is the most versatile layout offered by the Android UI toolkit and can be successfully used to reduce the number of views created by your applications. This layout used to suffer from various bugs and limitations, sometimes making it difficult to use without having some knowledge of its implementation. To make your life easier, Android 1.6 comes with a revamped RelativeLayout. This new implementation not only fixes all known bugs in RelativeLayout (let us know when you find new ones) but also addresses its major limitation: the fact that views had to be declared in a particular order. Consider the following XML layout:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>

<RelativeLayout xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
    android:layout_width="fill_parent"
    android:layout_height="64dip"
    android:padding="6dip">

    <TextView
        android:id="@+id/band"  
        android:layout_width="fill_parent" 
        android:layout_height="26dip" 

        android:layout_below="@+id/track"
        android:layout_alignLeft="@id/track"
        android:layout_alignParentBottom="true"

        android:gravity="top"
        android:text="The Airborne Toxic Event" />

    <TextView
        android:id="@id/track"  
        android:layout_marginLeft="6dip"
        android:layout_width="fill_parent"
        android:layout_height="26dip"

        android:layout_toRightOf="@+id/artwork"

        android:textAppearance="?android:attr/textAppearanceMedium"
        android:gravity="bottom"
        android:text="Sometime Around Midnight" />
        
    <ImageView
        android:id="@id/artwork"
        android:layout_width="56dip"
        android:layout_height="56dip"
        android:layout_gravity="center_vertical"

        android:src="@drawable/artwork" />
        
</RelativeLayout>

This code builds a very simple layout—an image on the left with two lines of text stacked vertically. This XML layout is perfectly fine and contains no errors. Unfortunately, Android 1.5's RelativeLayout is incapable of rendering it correctly, as shown in the screenshot below.

The problem is that this layout uses forward references. For instance, the "band" TextView is positioned below the "track" TextView but "track" is declared after "band" and, in Android 1.5, RelativeLayout does not know how to handle this case. Now look at the exact same layout running on Android 1.6:

As you can see Android 1.6 is now better able to handle forward reference. The result on screen is exactly what you would expect when writing the layout.

Easier click listeners

Setting up a click listener on a button is very common task, but it requires quite a bit of boilerplate code:

findViewById(R.id.myButton).setOnClickListener(new View.OnClickListener() {
    public void onClick(View v) {
        // Do stuff
    }
});

One way to reduce the amount of boilerplate is to share a single click listener between several buttons. While this technique reduces the number of classes, it still requires a fair amount of code and it still requires giving each button an id in your XML layout file:

View.OnClickListener handler = View.OnClickListener() {
    public void onClick(View v) {
        switch (v.getId()) {
            case R.id.myButton: // doStuff
                break;
            case R.id.myOtherButton: // doStuff
                break;
        }
    }
}

findViewById(R.id.myButton).setOnClickListener(handler);
findViewById(R.id.myOtherButton).setOnClickListener(handler);

With Android 1.6, none of this is necessary. All you have to do is declare a public method in your Activity to handle the click (the method must have one View argument):

class MyActivity extends Activity {
    public void myClickHandler(View target) {
        // Do stuff
    }
}

And then reference this method from your XML layout:

<Button android:onClick="myClickHandler" />

This new feature reduces both the amount of Java and XML you have to write, leaving you more time to concentrate on your application.

The Android team is committed to helping you write applications in the easiest and most efficient way possible. We hope you find these improvements useful and we're excited to see your applications on Android Market.

08 October 2009

Support for additional screen resolutions and densities in Android

You may have heard that one of the key changes introduced in Android 1.6 is support for new screen sizes. This is one of the things that has me very excited about Android 1.6 since it means Android will start becoming available on so many more devices. However, as a developer, I know this also means a bit of additional work. That's why we've spent quite a bit of time making it as easy as possible for you to update your apps to work on these new screen sizes.

To date, all Android devices (such as the T-Mobile G1 and Samsung I7500, among others) have had HVGA (320x480) screens. The essential change in Android 1.6 is that we've expanded support to include three different classes of screen sizes:

  • small: devices with a screen size smaller than the T-Mobile G1 or Samsung I7500, for example the recently announced HTC Tattoo
  • normal: devices with a screen size roughly the same as the G1 or I7500.
  • large: devices with a screen size larger than the G1 or I7500 (such as a tablet-style device.)

Any given device will fall into one of those three groups. As a developer, you can control if and how your app appears to devices in each group by using a few tools we've introduced in the Android framework APIs and SDK. The documentation at the developer site describes each of these tools in detail, but here they are in a nutshell:

  • new attributes in AndroidManifest for an application to specify what kind of screens it supports,
  • framework-level support for using image drawables/layouts correctly regardless of screen size,
  • a compatibility mode for existing applications, providing a pseudo-HVGA environment, and descriptions of compatible device resolutions and minimum diagonal sizes.

The documentation also provides a quick checklist and testing tips for developers to ensure their apps will run correctly on devices of any screen size.

Once you've upgraded your app using Android 1.6 SDK, you'll need to make sure your app is only available to users whose phones can properly run it. To help you with that, we've also added some new tools to Android Market.

Until the next time you upload a new version of your app to Android Market, we will assume that it works for normal-class screen sizes. This means users with normal-class and large-class screens will have access to these apps. Devices with "large" screens simply run these apps in a compatibility mode, which simulates an HVGA environment on the larger screen.

Devices with small-class screens, however, will only be shown apps which explicitly declare (via the AndroidManifest) that they will run properly on small screens. In our studies, we found that "squeezing" an app designed for a larger screen onto a smaller screen often produces a bad result. To prevent users with small screens from getting a bad impression of your app (and reviewing it negatively!), Android Market makes sure that they can't see it until you upload a new version that declares itself compatible.

We expect small-class screens, as well as devices with additional resolutions in Table 1 in the developer document to hit the market in time for the holiday season. Note that not all devices will be upgraded to Android 1.6 at the same time. There will be significant number of users still with Android 1.5 devices. To use the same apk to target Android 1.5 devices and Android 1.6 devices, build your apps using Android 1.5 SDK and test your apps on both Android 1.5 and 1.6 system images to make sure they continue to work well on both types of devices. If you want to target small-class devices like HTC Tattoo, please build your app using the Android 1.6 SDK. Note that if your application requires Android 1.6 features, but does not support a screen class, you need to set the appropriate attributes to false. To use optimized assets for normal-class, high density devices like WVGA, or for low density devices please use the Android 1.6 SDK.

06 October 2009

ADC 2 Round 1 Scoring Complete

ADC 2 icon

The response to round one of the Android Developer Challenge 2 has been phenomenal! We originally expected that it would take two weeks to get all the necessary data to complete scoring. Over the last 10 days, more than 26,000 Android users reviewed and submitted our target of over 100 scores per application. With this enthusiastic support of the Android community, we are closing the first round of ADC 2 judging today.

We will now be reviewing the results and preparing for round 2. Please stay tuned for information about round 2, where the community, combined with a panel of judges, will narrow down the top 20 applications in each category to determine the final winners. Until then, users with the ADC 2 judging application currently installed will get a notice saying that round 1 is over. When round 2 opens, the judging application will resume giving out new submissions to score. We look forward to seeing the results of the final round and hope that you choose to help us score these top apps as well!

05 October 2009

Gestures on Android 1.6

Touch screens are a great way to interact with applications on mobile devices. With a touch screen, users can easily tap, drag, fling, or slide to quickly perform actions in their favorite applications. But it's not always that easy for developers. With Android, it's easy to recognize simple actions, like a swipe, but it's much more difficult to handle complicated gestures, which also require developers to write a lot of code. That's why we have decided to introduce a new gestures API in Android 1.6. This API, located in the new package android.gesture, lets you store, load, draw and recognize gestures. In this post I will show you how you can use the android.gesture API in your applications. Before going any further, you should download the source code of the examples.

Creating a gestures library

The Android 1.6 SDK comes with a new application pre-installed on the emulator, called Gestures Builder. You can use this application to create a set of pre-defined gestures for your own application. It also serves as an example of how to let the user define his own gestures in your applications. You can find the source code of Gestures Builders in the samples directory of Android 1.6. In our example we will use Gestures Builder to generate a set of gestures for us (make sure to create an AVD with an SD card image to use Gestures Builder.) The screenshot below shows what the application looks like after adding a few gestures:

As you can see, a gesture is always associated with a name. That name is very important because it identifies each gesture within your application. The names do not have to be unique. Actually it can be very useful to have several gestures with the same name to increase the precision of the recognition. Every time you add or edit a gesture in the Gestures Builder, a file is generated on the emulator's SD card, /sdcard/gestures. This file contains the description of all the gestures, and you will need to package it inside your application inside the resources directory, in /res/raw.

Loading the gestures library

Now that you have a set of pre-defined gestures, you must load it inside your application. This can be achieved in several ways but the easiest is to use the GestureLibraries class:

mLibrary = GestureLibraries.fromRawResource(this, R.raw.spells);
if (!mLibrary.load()) {
    finish();
}

In this example, the gesture library is loaded from the file /res/raw/spells. You can easily load libraries from other sources, like the SD card, which is very important if you want your application to be able to save the library; a library loaded from a raw resource is read-only and cannot be modified. The following diagram shows the structure of a library:

Recognizing gestures

To start recognizing gestures in your application, all you have to do is add a GestureOverlayView to your XML layout:

<android.gesture.GestureOverlayView
    android:id="@+id/gestures"
    android:layout_width="fill_parent" 
    android:layout_height="0dip"
    android:layout_weight="1.0" />

Notice that the GestureOverlayView is not part of the usual android.widget package. Therefore, you must use its fully qualified name. A gesture overlay acts as a simple drawing board on which the user can draw his gestures. You can tweak several visual properties, like the color and the width of the stroke used to draw gestures, and register various listeners to follow what the user is doing. The most commonly used listener is GestureOverlayView.OnGesturePerformedListener which fires whenever a user is done drawing a gesture:

GestureOverlayView gestures = (GestureOverlayView) findViewById(R.id.gestures);
gestures.addOnGesturePerformedListener(this);

When the listener fires, you can ask the GestureLibrary to try to recognize the gesture. In return, you will get a list of Prediction instances, each with a name - the same name you entered in the Gestures Builder - and a score. The list is sorted by descending scores; the higher the score, the more likely the associated gesture is the one the user intended to draw. The following code snippet demonstrates how to retrieve the name of the first prediction:

public void onGesturePerformed(GestureOverlayView overlay, Gesture gesture) {
    ArrayList predictions = mLibrary.recognize(gesture);

    // We want at least one prediction
    if (predictions.size() > 0) {
        Prediction prediction = predictions.get(0);
        // We want at least some confidence in the result
        if (prediction.score > 1.0) {
            // Show the spell
            Toast.makeText(this, prediction.name, Toast.LENGTH_SHORT).show();
        }
    }
}

In this example, the first prediction is taken into account only if it's score is greater than 1.0. The threshold you use is entirely up to you but know that scores lower than 1.0 are typically poor matches. And this is all the code you need to create a simple application that can recognize pre-defined gestures (see the source code of the project GesturesDemo):

Gestures overlay

In the example above, the GestureOverlayView was used as a normal view, embedded inside a LinearLayout. However, as its name suggests, it can also be used as an overlay on top of other views. This can be useful to recognize gestures in a game or just anywhere in the UI of an application. In the second example, called GesturesListDemo, we'll create an overlay on top of a list of contacts. We start again in Gestures Builder to create a new set of pre-defined gestures:

And here is what the XML layout looks like:

<android.gesture.GestureOverlayView
    xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
    android:id="@+id/gestures"
    android:layout_width="fill_parent"
    android:layout_height="fill_parent"
    
    android:gestureStrokeType="multiple"
    android:eventsInterceptionEnabled="true"
    android:orientation="vertical">

    <ListView
        android:id="@android:id/list"  
        android:layout_width="fill_parent" 
        android:layout_height="fill_parent"  />

</android.gesture.GestureOverlayView>

In this application, the gestures view is an overlay on top of a regular ListView. The overlay also specifies a few properties that we did not need before:

  • gestureStrokeType: indicates whether we want to recognize gestures made of a single stroke or multiple strokes. Since one of our gestures is the "+" symbol, we need multiple strokes
  • eventsInterceptionEnabled: when set to true, this property tells the overlay to steal the events from its children as soon as it knows the user is really drawing a gesture. This is useful when there's a scrollable view under the overlay, to avoid scrolling the underlying child as the user draws his gesture
  • orientation: indicates the scroll orientation of the views underneath. In this case the list scrolls vertically, which means that any horizontal gestures (like action_delete) can immediately be recognized as a gesture. Gestures that start with a vertical stroke must contain at least one horizontal component to be recognized. In other words, a simple vertical line cannot be recognized as a gesture since it would conflict with the list's scrolling.

The code used to load and set up the gestures library and overlay is exactly the same as before. The only difference is that we now check the name of the predictions to know what the user intended to do:

public void onGesturePerformed(GestureOverlayView overlay, Gesture gesture) {
    ArrayList<Prediction> predictions = mLibrary.recognize(gesture);
    if (predictions.size() > 0 && predictions.get(0).score > 1.0) {
        String action = predictions.get(0).name;
        if ("action_add".equals(action)) {
            Toast.makeText(this, "Adding a contact", Toast.LENGTH_SHORT).show();
        } else if ("action_delete".equals(action)) {
            Toast.makeText(this, "Removing a contact", Toast.LENGTH_SHORT).show();
        } else if ("action_refresh".equals(action)) {
            Toast.makeText(this, "Reloading contacts", Toast.LENGTH_SHORT).show();
        }
    }
}

The user is now able to draw his gestures on top of the list without interfering with the scrolling:

The overlay even gives visual clues as to whether the gesture is considered valid for recognition. In the case of a vertical overlay, for instance, a single vertical stroke cannot be recognized as a gesture and is therefore drawn with a translucent color:

It's your turn

Adding support for gestures in your application is easy and can be a valuable addition. The gestures API does not even have to be used to recognize complex shapes; it will work equally well to recognize simple swipes. We are very excited by the possibilities the gestures API offers, and we're eager to see what cool applications the community will create with it.

29 September 2009

Now available: Android 1.6 NDK

Today Android 1.6 NDK, release 1 is available for download from the Android developer site.

To recap, the NDK is a companion to the SDK that provides tools to generate and embed native ARM machine code within your application packages. This native code has the same restrictions as the VM code, but can execute certain operations much more rapidly. This is useful if you're doing heavy computations, digital processing, or even porting existing code bases written in C or C++.

If you already use the Android 1.5 NDK, upgrading to this release is highly recommended. It provides the following improvements:

  • The ability to use OpenGL ES 1.1 headers and libraries If your application targets Android 1.6, your native code can now directly call OpenGL ES 1.1 functions to perform graphics rendering. This will help those programs that need to send large amounts of vertex data to the GPU. Note, however, that activity lifecycle and surface creation must still be performed from the VM. This NDK contains a new sample ("san-angeles") that shows exactly how to do that with a GLSurfaceView object.
  • The ability to target either Android 1.5 or 1.6 devices The NDK parses your project's properties to know which platform release it is targeting. It will then automatically use the proper headers and libraries to generate your native code. Any application that targets 1.5 will run on Android 1.5, Android 1.6 and any future official system release. Targeting 1.6 should, thus, only be done if your application requires new 1.6 features / APIs, like the ability to call OpenGL ES 1.x headers from native code.
  • The ability to put your native sources under your application's project tree You can now conveniently place all your sources (C, C++ and Java) under the same tree, for editing or version control purposes.
  • Many fixes to the NDK's build scripts The changes to the build scripts fix some annoying bugs and also increase host system compatibility.

If you have any questions, please join us in the Android NDK forum.

28 September 2009

Zipalign: an easy optimization

The Android 1.6 SDK includes a tool called zipalign that optimizes the way an application is packaged. Doing this enables Android to interact with your application more efficiently and thus has the potential to make your application and the overall system run faster. We strongly encourage you to use zipalign on both new and already published applications and to make the optimized version available—even if your application targets a previous version of Android. We'll get into more detail on what zipalign does, how to use it, and why you'll want to do so in the rest of this post.

In Android, data files stored in each application's apk are accessed by multiple processes: the installer reads the manifest to handle the permissions associated with that application; the Home application reads resources to get the application's name and icon; the system server reads resources for a variety of reasons (e.g. to display that application's notifications); and last but not least, the resource files are obviously used by the application itself.

The resource-handling code in Android can efficiently access resources when they're aligned on 4-byte boundaries by memory-mapping them. But for resources that are not aligned (i.e. when zipalign hasn't been run on an apk), it has to fall back to explicitly reading them—which is slower and consumes additional memory.

For an application developer like you, this fallback mechanism is very convenient. It provides a lot of flexibility by allowing for several different development methods, including those that don't include aligning resources as part of their normal flow.

Unfortunately, the situation is reversed for users—reading resources from unaligned apks is slow and takes a lot of memory. In the best case, the only visible result is that both the Home application and the unaligned application launch slower than they otherwise should. In the worst case, installing several applications with unaligned resources increases memory pressure, thus causing the system to thrash around by having to constantly start and kill processes. The user ends up with a slow device with a poor battery life.

Luckily, it's very easy to align the resources:

  • Using ADT:
    • ADT (starting with 0.9.3) will automatically align release application packages if the export wizard is used to create them. To use the wizard, right click the project and choose "Android Tools" > "Export Signed Application Package..." It can also be accessed from the first page of the AndroidManifest.xml editor.
  • Using Ant:
    • The Ant build script that targets Android 1.6 (API level 4) can align application packages. Targets for older versions of the Android platform are not aligned by the Ant build script and need to be manually aligned.
    • Debug packages built with Ant for Android 1.6 applications are aligned and signed by default.
    • Release packages are aligned automatically only if Ant has enough information to sign the packages, since aligning has to happen after signing. In order to be able to sign packages, and therefore to align them, Ant needs to know the location of the keystore and the name of the key in build.properties. The name of the properties are key.store and key.alias respectively. If those properties are present, the signing tool will prompt to enter the store/key passwords during the build, and the script will sign and then align the apk file. If the properties are missing, the release package will not be signed, and therefore will not get aligned either.
  • Manually:
    • In order to manually align a package, zipalign is in the tools folder of the Android 1.6 SDK. It can be used on application packages targeting any version of Android. It should be run after signing the apk file, using the following command:
      zipalign -v 4 source.apk destination.apk
  • Verifying alignment:
    • The following command verifies that a package is aligned:
      zipalign -c -v 4 application.apk

We encourage you manually run zipalign on your currently published applications and to make the newly aligned versions available to users. And don't forget to align any new applications going forward!

25 September 2009

A Note on Google Apps for Android

Lately we've been busy bees in Mountain View, as you can see from the recent release of Android 1.6 to the open-source tree, not to mention some devices we're working on with partners that we think you'll really like. Of course, the community isn't sitting around either, and we've been seeing some really cool and impressive things, such as the custom Android builds that are popular with many enthusiasts. Recently there's been some discussion about an exchange we had with the developer of one of those builds, and I've noticed some confusion around what is and isn't part of Android's open source code. I want to take a few moments to clear up some of those misconceptions, and explain how Google's apps for Android fit in.

Everyone knows that mobile is a big deal, but for a long time it was hard to be a mobile app developer. Competing interests and the slow pace of platform innovation made it hard to create innovative apps. For our part, Google offers a lot of services — such as Google Search, Google Maps, and so on — and we found delivering those services to users' phones to be a very frustrating experience. But we also found that we weren't alone, so we formed the Open Handset Alliance, a group of like-minded partners, and created Android to be the platform that we all wished we had. To encourage broad adoption, we arranged for Android to be open-source. Google also created and operates Android Market as a service for developers to distribute their apps to Android users. In other words, we created Android because the industry needed an injection of openness. Today, we're thrilled to see all the enthusiasm that developers, users, and others in the mobile industry have shown toward Android.

With a high-quality open platform in hand, we then returned to our goal of making our services available on users' phones. That's why we developed Android apps for many of our services like YouTube, Gmail, Google Voice, and so on. These apps are Google's way of benefiting from Android in the same way that any other developer can, but the apps are not part of the Android platform itself. We make some of these apps available to users of any Android-powered device via Android Market, and others are pre-installed on some phones through business deals. Either way, these apps aren't open source, and that's why they aren't included in the Android source code repository. Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it's done with the best of intentions.

I hope that clears up some of the confusion around Google's apps for Android. We always love seeing novel uses of Android, including custom Android builds from developers who see a need. I look forward to seeing what comes next!

24 September 2009

ADC 2 Judging Has Begun!

ADC 2 App LogoADC 2 Judging App ScreenshotI am happy to announce that Android Developer Challenge 2's first round of judging has begun!

As a reminder, user voting determines which apps will make it to the second round. Voting will occur through an application called Android Developer Challenge 2, which is now available for download from Android Market. Android Developer Challenge 2 presents apps for each user to download and score according to a set of criteria, such as originality and effective use of the Android platform, among others. The first round of judging will last at least two weeks from today. Judging will continue until we receive a sufficient number of votes to identify the top 20 applications in each of the 10 categories (200 apps total) that qualify for the second round.

During the second round, judging will occur through a combination of user voting and input from a panel of industry experts. User voting will continue to occur via Android Developer Challenge 2 and will account for 40% of the final score that each app receives in round two. The remaining 60% of the final score will be determined by the industry expert panel.

It has been a little less than a year since the first Android-powered phones became available. Today, there are more than 10,000 applications available in Android Market. We are pleased by the energy and commitment demonstrated by developers in such a short period of time. Our goal with Android Developer Challenge 2 is to inspire the developer community to produce even more innovative apps for Android. Now on to the voting!

Download Android Developer Challenge 2:

QR code for ADC2 app download

23 September 2009

An introduction to Text-To-Speech in Android

We've introduced a new feature in version 1.6 of the Android platform: Text-To-Speech (TTS). Also known as "speech synthesis", TTS enables your Android device to "speak" text of different languages.

Before we explain how to use the TTS API itself, let's first review a few aspects of the engine that will be important to your TTS-enabled application. We will then show how to make your Android application talk and how to configure the way it speaks.

Languages and resources

About the TTS resources

The TTS engine that ships with the Android platform supports a number of languages: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Also, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on, American and British accents for English are both supported.

The TTS engine needs to know which language to speak, as a word like "Paris", for example, is pronounced differently in French and English. So the voice and dictionary are language-specific resources that need to be loaded before the engine can start to speak.

Although all Android-powered devices that support the TTS functionality ship with the engine, some devices have limited storage and may lack the language-specific resource files. If a user wants to install those resources, the TTS API enables an application to query the platform for the availability of language files and can initiate their download and installation. So upon creating your activity, a good first step is to check for the presence of the TTS resources with the corresponding intent:

Intent checkIntent = new Intent();
checkIntent.setAction(TextToSpeech.Engine.ACTION_CHECK_TTS_DATA);
startActivityForResult(checkIntent, MY_DATA_CHECK_CODE);

A successful check will be marked by a CHECK_VOICE_DATA_PASS result code, indicating this device is ready to speak, after the creation of our android.speech.tts.TextToSpeech object. If not, we need to let the user know to install the data that's required for the device to become a multi-lingual talking machine! Downloading and installing the data is accomplished by firing off the ACTION_INSTALL_TTS_DATA intent, which will take the user to Android Market, and will let her/him initiate the download. Installation of the data will happen automatically once the download completes. Here is an example of what your implementation of onActivityResult() would look like:

private TextToSpeech mTts;
protected void onActivityResult(
        int requestCode, int resultCode, Intent data) {
    if (requestCode == MY_DATA_CHECK_CODE) {
        if (resultCode == TextToSpeech.Engine.CHECK_VOICE_DATA_PASS) {
            // success, create the TTS instance
            mTts = new TextToSpeech(this, this);
        } else {
            // missing data, install it
            Intent installIntent = new Intent();
            installIntent.setAction(
                TextToSpeech.Engine.ACTION_INSTALL_TTS_DATA);
            startActivity(installIntent);
        }
    }
}

In the constructor of the TextToSpeech instance we pass a reference to the Context to be used (here the current Activity), and to an OnInitListener (here our Activity as well). This listener enables our application to be notified when the Text-To-Speech engine is fully loaded, so we can start configuring it and using it.

Languages and Locale

At Google I/O, we showed an example of TTS where it was used to speak the result of a translation from and to one of the 5 languages the Android TTS engine currently supports. Loading a language is as simple as calling for instance:

mTts.setLanguage(Locale.US);

to load and set the language to English, as spoken in the country "US". A locale is the preferred way to specify a language because it accounts for the fact that the same language can vary from one country to another. To query whether a specific Locale is supported, you can use isLanguageAvailable(), which returns the level of support for the given Locale. For instance the calls:

mTts.isLanguageAvailable(Locale.UK))
mTts.isLanguageAvailable(Locale.FRANCE))
mTts.isLanguageAvailable(new Locale("spa", "ESP")))

will return TextToSpeech.LANG_COUNTRY_AVAILABLE to indicate that the language AND country as described by the Locale parameter are supported (and the data is correctly installed). But the calls:

mTts.isLanguageAvailable(Locale.CANADA_FRENCH))
mTts.isLanguageAvailable(new Locale("spa"))

will return TextToSpeech.LANG_AVAILABLE. In the first example, French is supported, but not the given country. And in the second, only the language was specified for the Locale, so that's what the match was made on.

Also note that besides the ACTION_CHECK_TTS_DATA intent to check the availability of the TTS data, you can also use isLanguageAvailable() once you have created your TextToSpeech instance, which will return TextToSpeech.LANG_MISSING_DATA if the required resources are not installed for the queried language.

Making the engine speak an Italian string while the engine is set to the French language will produce some pretty interesting results, but it will not exactly be something your user would understand So try to match the language of your application's content and the language that you loaded in your TextToSpeech instance. Also if you are using Locale.getDefault() to query the current Locale, make sure that at least the default language is supported.

Making your application speak

Now that our TextToSpeech instance is properly initialized and configured, we can start to make your application speak. The simplest way to do so is to use the speak() method. Let's iterate on the following example to make a talking alarm clock:

String myText1 = "Did you sleep well?";
String myText2 = "I hope so, because it's time to wake up.";
mTts.speak(myText1, TextToSpeech.QUEUE_FLUSH, null);
mTts.speak(myText2, TextToSpeech.QUEUE_ADD, null);

The TTS engine manages a global queue of all the entries to synthesize, which are also known as "utterances". Each TextToSpeech instance can manage its own queue in order to control which utterance will interrupt the current one and which one is simply queued. Here the first speak() request would interrupt whatever was currently being synthesized: the queue is flushed and the new utterance is queued, which places it at the head of the queue. The second utterance is queued and will be played after myText1 has completed.

Using optional parameters to change the playback stream type

On Android, each audio stream that is played is associated with one stream type, as defined in android.media.AudioManager. For a talking alarm clock, we would like our text to be played on the AudioManager.STREAM_ALARM stream type so that it respects the alarm settings the user has chosen on the device. The last parameter of the speak() method allows you to pass to the TTS engine optional parameters, specified as key/value pairs in a HashMap. Let's use that mechanism to change the stream type of our utterances:

HashMap<String, String> myHashAlarm = new HashMap();
myHashAlarm.put(TextToSpeech.Engine.KEY_PARAM_STREAM,
        String.valueOf(AudioManager.STREAM_ALARM));
mTts.speak(myText1, TextToSpeech.QUEUE_FLUSH, myHashAlarm);
mTts.speak(myText2, TextToSpeech.QUEUE_ADD, myHashAlarm);

Using optional parameters for playback completion callbacks

Note that speak() calls are asynchronous, so they will return well before the text is done being synthesized and played by Android, regardless of the use of QUEUE_FLUSH or QUEUE_ADD. But you might need to know when a particular utterance is done playing. For instance you might want to start playing an annoying music after myText2 has finished synthesizing (remember, we're trying to wake up the user). We will again use an optional parameter, this time to tag our utterance as one we want to identify. We also need to make sure our activity implements the TextToSpeech.OnUtteranceCompletedListener interface:

mTts.setOnUtteranceCompletedListener(this);
myHashAlarm.put(TextToSpeech.Engine.KEY_PARAM_STREAM,
        String.valueOf(AudioManager.STREAM_ALARM));
mTts.speak(myText1, TextToSpeech.QUEUE_FLUSH, myHashAlarm);
myHashAlarm.put(TextToSpeech.Engine.KEY_PARAM_UTTERANCE_ID,
        "end of wakeup message ID");
// myHashAlarm now contains two optional parameters
mTts.speak(myText2, TextToSpeech.QUEUE_ADD, myHashAlarm);

And the Activity gets notified of the completion in the implementation of the listener:

public void onUtteranceCompleted(String uttId) {
    if (uttId == "end of wakeup message ID") {
        playAnnoyingMusic();
    } 
}

File rendering and playback

While the speak() method is used to make Android speak the text right away, there are cases where you would want the result of the synthesis to be recorded in an audio file instead. This would be the case if, for instance, there is text your application will speak often; you could avoid the synthesis CPU-overhead by rendering only once to a file, and then playing back that audio file whenever needed. Just like for speak(), you can use an optional utterance identifier to be notified on the completion of the synthesis to the file:

HashMap<String, String> myHashRender = new HashMap();
String wakeUpText = "Are you up yet?";
String destFileName = "/sdcard/myAppCache/wakeUp.wav";
myHashRender.put(TextToSpeech.Engine.KEY_PARAM_UTTERANCE_ID, wakeUpText);
mTts.synthesizeToFile(wakuUpText, myHashRender, destFileName);

Once you are notified of the synthesis completion, you can play the output file just like any other audio resource with android.media.MediaPlayer.

But the TextToSpeech class offers other ways of associating audio resources with speech. So at this point we have a WAV file that contains the result of the synthesis of "Wake up" in the previously selected language. We can tell our TTS instance to associate the contents of the string "Wake up" with an audio resource, which can be accessed through its path, or through the package it's in, and its resource ID, using one of the two addSpeech() methods:

mTts.addSpeech(wakeUpText, destFileName);

This way any call to speak() for the same string content as wakeUpText will result in the playback of destFileName. If the file is missing, then speak will behave as if the audio file wasn't there, and will synthesize and play the given string. But you can also take advantage of that feature to provide an option to the user to customize how "Wake up" sounds, by recording their own version if they choose to. Regardless of where that audio file comes from, you can still use the same line in your Activity code to ask repeatedly "Are you up yet?":

mTts.speak(wakeUpText, TextToSpeech.QUEUE_ADD, myHashAlarm);

When not in use...

The text-to-speech functionality relies on a dedicated service shared across all applications that use that feature. When you are done using TTS, be a good citizen and tell it "you won't be needing its services anymore" by calling mTts.shutdown(), in your Activity onDestroy() method for instance.

Conclusion

Android now talks, and so can your apps. Remember that in order for synthesized speech to be intelligible, you need to match the language you select to that of the text to synthesize. Text-to-speech can help you push your app in new directions. Whether you use TTS to help users with disabilities, to enable the use of your application while looking away from the screen, or simply to make it cool, we hope you'll enjoy this new feature.

17 September 2009

Introducing Quick Search Box for Android

One of the new features we're really proud of in the Android 1.6 release is Quick Search Box for Android. This is our new system-wide search framework, which makes it possible for users to quickly and easily find what they're looking for, both on their devices and on the web. It suggests content on your device as you type, like apps, contacts, browser history, and music. It also offers results from the web search suggestions, local business listings, and other info from Google, such as stock quotes, weather, and flight status. All of this is available right from the home screen, by tapping on Quick Search Box (QSB).

What we're most excited about with this new feature is the ability for you, the developers, to leverage the QSB framework to provide quicker and easier access to the content inside your apps. Your apps can provide search suggestions that will surface to users in QSB alongside other search results and suggestions. This makes it possible for users to access your application's content from outside your application—for example, from the home screen.

The code fragments below are related to a new demo app for Android 1.6 called Searchable Dictionary.


The story before now: searching within your app

In previous releases, we already provided a mechanism for you to expose search and search suggestions in your app as described in the docs for SearchManager. This mechanism has not changed and requires the following two things in your AndroidManifest.xml:

1) In your <activity>, an intent filter, and a reference to a searchable.xml file (described below):

<intent-filter>
    <action android:name="android.intent.action.SEARCH" />
    <category android:name="android.intent.category.DEFAULT" />
</intent-filter>
            
<meta-data android:name="android.app.searchable"
       android:resource="@xml/searchable" />

2) A content provider that can provide search suggestions according to the URIs and column formats specified by the Search Suggestions section of the SearchManager docs:

<!-- Provides search suggestions for words and their definitions. -->
<provider android:name="DictionaryProvider"
       android:authorities="dictionary"
       android:syncable="false" />

In the searchable.xml file, you specify a few things about how you want the search system to present search for your app, including the authority of the content provider that provides suggestions for the user as they type. Here's an example of the searchable.xml of an Android app that provides search suggestions within its own activities:

<searchable xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
        android:label="@string/search_label"
        android:searchSuggestAuthority="dictionary"
        android:searchSuggestIntentAction="android.intent.action.VIEW">
</searchable>

Note that the android:searchSuggestAuthority attribute refers to the authority of the content provider we declared in AndroidManifest.xml.

For more details on this, see the Searchability Metadata section of the SearchManager docs.

Including your app in Quick Search Box

In Android 1.6, we added a new attribute to the metadata for searchables: android:includeInGlobalSearch. By specifying this as "true" in your searchable.xml, you allow QSB to pick up your search suggestion content provider and include its suggestions along with the rest (if the user enables your suggestions from the system search settings).

You should also specify a string value for android:searchSettingsDescription, which describes to users what sorts of suggestions your app provides in the system settings for search.

<searchable xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
       android:label="@string/search_label"
       android:searchSettingsDescription="@string/settings_description"
       android:includeInGlobalSearch="true"
       android:searchSuggestAuthority="dictionary"
       android:searchSuggestIntentAction="android.intent.action.VIEW">
</searchable>

These new attributes are supported only in Android 1.6 and later.

What to expect

The first and most important thing to note is that when a user installs an app with a suggestion provider that participates in QSB, this new app will not be enabled for QSB by default. The user can choose to enable particular suggestion sources from the system settings for search (by going to "Search" > "Searchable items" in settings).

You should consider how to handle this in your app. Perhaps show a notice that instructs the user to visit system settings and enable your app's suggestions.

Once the user enables your searchable item, the app's suggestions will have a chance to show up in QSB, most likely under the "more results" section to begin with. As your app's suggestions are chosen more frequently, they can move up in the list.

Shortcuts

One of our objectives with QSB is to make it faster for users to access the things they access most often. One way we've done this is by 'shortcutting' some of the previously chosen search suggestions, so they will be shown immediately as the user starts typing, instead of waiting to query the content providers. Suggestions from your app may be chosen as shortcuts when the user clicks on them.

For dynamic suggestions that may wish to change their content (or become invalid) in the future, you can provide a 'shortcut id'. This tells QSB to query your suggestion provider for up-to-date content for a suggestion after it has been displayed. For more details on how to manage shortcuts, see the Shortcuts section within the SearchManager docs.


QSB provides a really cool way to make your app's content quicker to access by users. To help you get your app started with it, we've created a demo app which simply provides access to a small dictionary of words in QSB—it's called Searchable Dictionary, and we encourage you to check it out.