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08 October 2009

Support for additional screen resolutions and densities in Android

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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.