The Android Developer Conference featured a host of solutions for development woes on the mobile platform. With keynotes from Google, Qualcomm, RIM and Twitter, the event showed attendees how to improve their testing regimes, processes and overall development strategies.
(AnDevCon is produced by BZ Media, which publishes SD Times.)
Other topics on hand included monetization, security, and how to best be agile in a world that demands simultaneous Android and iOS releases. That last topic was tackled by Jeff Seibert, director of engineering at Twitter. He’s only been at Twitter since the company he cofounded, Crashlytics, was acquired by Twitter nine months ago.
Seibert’s focus at Crashlytics was in solving the problems that arise when an agile development process meets the unhurried iPhone iTunes App Store application submission process. While Android developers can update their Play Store offerings whenever they want, iPhone developer face an average of five days’ waiting time before their submitted application is accepted for the App Store.
Seibert said that, while this would seem to allow Android developers to move at a higher velocity, it’s actually not the case, as many businesses have both an Android and an iPhone application. The code in both of these applications need to stay close together so that feature disparity doesn’t make a company appear to favor one platform over the other.
“I’d argue that in many of the companies we work for, there’s a desire to release Android and iOS versions at the same time,” said Seibert. “That way your support people don’t have to track which features are in one, but not the other, and you don’t want to appear as if you’re favoring one platform over the other. In many cases, companies try to sync their releases, and we end up gated by the slowest platform’s release speed.”
Seibert then detailed extensive optimizations and workarounds for agile teams that would allow them to continue to iterate quickly, while still accounting for the five days of dead time from when an application is submitted to the App Store and when it is accepted and user feedback begins to arrive.
The biggest way to save time and increase velocity, said Seibert, was to use Crashlytics, which is now available freely from Twitter. Using his software, developers can immediately receive reports from the field users of their application. These reports detail when and why a crash occurred, allowing developers to quickly see where problems exist without requiring weeks of laborious testing before deployment.
The idea of monitoring crashes in the field isn’t limited to Crashlytics. Crittercism demonstrated its mobile application performance-monitoring capabilities. Crittercism’s Sam Stromberg said that the tool allows developers to see more granular data on their applications’ performance measurements.
Elsewhere at the show, New Relic was demonstrating its mobile application performance-monitoring tool. Like its Web application product, New Relic now offers the ability to embed some code into your Android application, and to output performance data, which can then be monitored via a Web page.
While the developers at AnDevCon were there primarily to learn about building applications for popular Android phones, BlackBerry and Intel were there to entice existing applications onto their hardware.
BlackBerry, in particular, announced that it was now capable of translating Android applications into native code on the BlackBerry side. That means that Android developers can quickly port their applications to the BlackBerry platform without performance loss or slowdowns. Larry McDonough, principal evangelist for BlackBerry, was on hand to help developers port their applications, a task that he said can take only a few minutes.
Intel, on the other hand, was recompiling developer applications to run on x86 Android platforms. The company showed off a number of handheld devices running Android and an x86 processor. Developers could stop by the booth to port their applications, a process which Intel also claimed would take only a few minutes.
Testing was a hot topic at AnDevCon. There were multiple approaches to the discipline at the show, and not all of them required a human touch. Sauce Labs demonstrated Appium, a mobile-focused version of Selenium that allows developers to build automated tests for user acceptance of mobile applications.
The company also demonstrated a 3D printed robot, designed by Sauce Labs founder Jason Huggins. The robot is able to use a stylus to manipulate the touch-screen of a mobile device. Coupled with a camera, the easy-to-make robot allows for automated testing of a mobile application on the actual device.
NTT Resonant takes another approach to automated on-device testing. The company offers a cloud of more than 200 Android devices, each of which is live. The result is a test environment where developers can pop open any number of devices on their screen, and design automated tests with their mouse. The phone on the other side of the transaction can be seen onscreen with NTT Resonant’s fast image-capturing algorithm, which leaves little delay between what’s happening on the phone and what’s happening on the screen.
eInfochips offers another take on the test problem, offering its own box that can automate control of Android and iOS devices. Tests on specific devices can be built on a desktop using a mouse, and these tests can be kicked off whenever a build finishes.
If you don’t want to worry about all those devices, uTest has gone in the other direction, pushing crowds to test your applications for a small price. uTest recently added the ability to record narratives on mobile devices and desktops, and can now capture video of the tester’s face to gather sentiment information on the user interface.
Actual development tools at the show were also advancing capabilities. JetBrains’ IntelliJ IDEA was being demonstrated on the expo floor. The forthcoming Google Android Developer Studio, which is based on IntelliJ IDEA, will be released by the end of the year, while IntelliJ IDEA 13 will arrive around the same time. The hope is to back port all the ADS capabilities into IntelliJ.
Embarcadero showed off RAD Studio XE5, which allows Delphi developers to build applications for Android and iOS. A newly announced feature was its ability to build Google Glass applications.
Marmalade was all over the show floor. The company offers a C++ SDK that allows for cross-platform deployment of applications. The company also has a fund set aside to promote and reward game developers who build with the Marmalade SDK.
Android tools round things out
There were numerous interesting APIs and gadgets at the show. Dolby Laboratories rolled out information about its new developer programs before the show. For Android developers, Dolby is offering a free API that can be embedded in an application, which automatically enhances the sound playback quality of MP3s, WAVs, and any other audio playback your application requires.
Rebtel, on the other hand, wants you to keep your sounds between you and the person you’re calling. This company’s free API allows developers to embed Skype-like functionality into their applications. The company monetizes by charging US$100 for upwards of 25,000 users.
Immersion demonstrated its newly updated Haptic SDK for Android. This new library of force-feedback functions for mobile devices now includes x86 support.
Ellisys had what was perhaps the geekiest tool on the show floor. The company’s Explorer Bluetooth capture and analysis device allows developers to track exactly what is being said across Bluetooth communications, making debugging and troubleshooting across the transport medium much easier.
Qualcomm demonstrated its DragonBoard Development Kit using the Snapdragon 8074 processor. This development board allows developers to work against more cutting-edge hardware, and to quickly transition to a full-scale device by building on Snapdragon hardware.
Scandit demonstrated its enterprise-grade barcode-scanning SDK, which can be embedded into mobile applications to allow mobile devices to turn into a robust inventory tracking machine.
Finally, the AnDevCon show floor played host to a bevy of Android-based robots from RBOT. These diminutive devices use an Android tablet as a face, which can be extended on a folding arm. The robots are fully programmable from Android, but during the expo they repeatedly said “Robot bored.” Poor, tired robots. Let’s hope they don’t get too bored.