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Mike Riley

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Android Application Development Book Review

July 23, 2009

Having written several articles about Google's Android platform as well as several applications that scratch my own mobile application itches, I was looking forward to this O'Reilly treatment on the subject.  Did this multi-authored effort sink or swim?  Read on to find out.

I usually have high expectations for O'Reilly books as they are typically written and edited with a high degree of quality, focus and up-to-date topic relevance.  Unfortunately, Android Application Development failed to meet these past expectations for me.  While it succeeds with a general overview of developing for the platform along with the semi-consistent construction of an Android application, it fails in other significant areas.

The first three chapters on the what, why and how of Android and setting up the Eclipse-based IDE could have been compressed and combined into a single chapter.  Readers are directed to download the book's sample application, MJAndroid.  The remaining chapters call upon this codebase to demonstrate Android principles ranging from debugging, using the SQLite data store, using the Google location/mapping API, 2D/3D graphics, IPC for Android service and Intent invocations, phone call and telephony state.  An occasional tip or warning augments the otherwise dry code reviews.

Other problems abound.  The authors fail to cover any 1.5 'Cupcake'-specific API features which is a shame considering its publication date was nearly two months after the official 1.5 release.  Multiple authors means multiple voices means disjointed chapters.  While content redundancy is kept to a minimum, the book occasionally reads like a collection of essays and disjointed discussions rather than a continuous, cohesive instructional narrative.

One of the book's biggest letdowns for me was Chapter 6, 'The ApiDemos Application'.  The author of this chapter recognized that the ApiDemos is a treasure trove of education for new Android developers, but that "it's up to the student to figure out how it works.  That's where this chapter comes in. Here, we'll show you the ropes of the ApiDemos application..."  Finally I thought, some deep diving information on a weak area of the API documentation that could really use some expert perspective.  Instead, this ApiDemos exploration is barely 6 pages long and no more useful than reviewing the ApiDemos code sections on your own.  An entire book could be written about all the features, code, techniques and approaches used in this showcase developer application.  Yet another opportunity where this book could have differentiated itself but failed to do so.

The next chapter on signing and publishing your application is also weak.  Android videos posted on blip.tv by Motorola's Roberto Serrano at the recent Chicago Barcamp meetup, particularly about the topic of signing and posting apps to the Android Market are far more informative and up to date than the material in this book.  That is consistently the biggest problem with the book - it's the most recently one published on the topic of Android development, and yet it also seems to be the one most antiquated.  I found Ed Burnette's Hello, Android far more useful and relevant, and at roughly seven dollars less for that book's cover price, more economical as well.  Pragmatic recently published an updated eBook edition of this book that includes new material on the Android 1.5 'Cupcake' release.  If interested, check out my review of the original print edition.

Overall, Android Application Development is a disappointment.  While I respect the work the authors invested and the true intentions they had to educate their readers, it simply did not achieve its objective as well as other Android books that have already been on the market for months.  O'Reilly could have scored a coup by having the first commercial print book in the market specifically covering the 1.5 edition (heck, even an Appendix tacked on would have been more welcome than the mildly interesting but otherwise useless 3-page Appendix A 'whitepaper' on wireless protocols - yawn).  In its current state, I cannot recommend Android Application Development to anyone interested in pursuing this topic.  Pragmatic Bookshelf's Hello Android and Wrox' Professional Android Development are superior in their developer-centric approach as well as consistent because they're each written by a single author who knew exactly what they needed to present and the order in which to discuss without redundancy, fluff or distraction.



Title: Android Application Development
Authors: Rick Rogers, John Lombardo, Zigurd Mednieks, Blake Meike
ISBN: 978-0-596-52147-9
Pages: 334
Price: $39.99 US


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