raf/2 days with Android

After being annoyed with some show-stopping bugs at work, I decided to take two days out of my life and tackle a major Bluetooth related BUG() we had in our Android application. Being the first time I tried to develop for android I was concerned I would have to use Eclipse, and loose my Vim-powered productivity.

So here's a short primer on console based development for Android


Being a happy openSUSE user, android packages were already available. Replace the following with the appropriate (apt-get, yum) commands, or download the SDK from the android website.

$ sudo zypper install android-sdk
$ kdesu android

A nice enough GUI will open and you will be able to update the SDK and install additional components.

Starting adb

To run code on the device you need to start the adb daemon. I do it as root, but you should probably setup some rules in udev to set appropriate usb permissions.

$ adb kill-server
$ sudo adb start-server
$ adb devices

Lets create a project

To create a project in the current folder:

$ android create project --target  1  --path . --package com.example.Test --activity MyAndroidAppActivity

The arguments:

Compiling and running code

Android projects use ant to build the source and install it into the device. The following commands will compile, install and run the application in a plugged Android device:

$ ant compile
$ ant install
$ adb shell 'am start -n com.example.Test/.MyAndroidAppActivity'

Sometimes it is also useful to remove an application from the phone:

$ adb uninstall com.example.Test

Logging and Debugging

One of my favourite parts so far in developing for android is the debugging logs. You can see a live log of what is happening in your device:

$ adb logcat

or if you want to restrict it to a single application and log level:

$ adb logcat -s MyActivity:V

If you are like me you'll want to keep track of stacktraces on the log. Here's a treat:

public void logTrace(StackTraceElement[] trace) {
    int i;
    for (i=0; i<trace.length; i++) {
     Log.v(this.getClass().getName(), trace[i].toString());          

A brief Conclusion

All in all not a bad development environment for the console. I admit I didn't handle enough GUI development to miss the designer in eclipse, but still with 3 console commands you are mostly ready to run your own app on the device. Which is more than can be said for several other development environments.

While the development environment was fine, I was pissed at the Java APIs. It seems Bluetooth support in Android sucks, no Secure Simple Pairing, little to no control over Bluetooth sockets other than the ability to close them, and the wretched createRfcommSocketToServiceRecord(UUID) method that does not seem to work.

Finally, I also took an hour to peek at native development with the android NDK, and I wasn't particularly pleased about it, it has but the most basic libraries (libc, libz, etc), just enough to optimise some heavy duty computation but useless for almost anything else. Things like libbluetooth were sorely missed.

Not a bad way to spend two days, I actually got a lot done, which is lot to say about any first time use of any development environment. I like some of the concepts behind Android development (Activities, AsyncTask), others not so much (Dialogs :S).

PS: some extra bits I picked up later

If for any reason you lost you build.xml, just ask adb to rebuild it.

$ android update project  --path . --target <TARGET>

To open a browser from the adb shell:

$ am start -a android.intent.action.VIEW -n com.android.browser/.BrowserActivity http://www.raf.im


Some additional tutorials on console powered development for android.