Author: Mike McGrath
Publisher: In Easy Steps
Audience: Beginners in developing for Android
Reviewer: Kay Ewbank
Simple coverage of developing for Android but limited details because of the length and format.
The market for apps for mobile devices is growing fast, so many developers must have wondered about creating their own apps. Building Android Apps is another in the ever-expanding ‘In Easy Steps’ series, and like the other titles is a slim book that makes use of bright colors, short chapters, and step-by-step instructions to guide you through the stages of creating apps using App Inventor, the free development tool. The approach works well with this material.
App Inventor is the web-based tool that was a Google Labs project. However, as part of Google's Labs closure but was handed back to MIT, its original creators, at the end of 2012. Although this information is included as a "Hot Tip" early in the book, when it comes to providing instructions on how to install App Inventor McGrath uses the old Google Labs url which results in an error message. If you want help in getting started see MIT App Inventor Back Online.
Once you have everything running you are ready to continue with "Beginning your First App" in which the author walks you through creating a simple app with a couple of text boxes and buttons, then shows the process of using App Inventor’s virtual emulator.
Chapter 2 of the book looks in more details at how to design interfaces - enabling buttons, reading text input, inserting images, list boxes, check boxes, storing data and telling the time.
Chapter 3 is titled ‘Controlling progress’, and looks at variables, branching, providing alternatives, and the different types of loop. The shortness of the explanations made me think I wouldn’t like to be learning to program from scratch, but as a method of learning your way around a new programming environment it works fine. The next chapter of the book tackles object methods, subroutines and procedures, and how to put them together in App Inventor’s jigsaw-like construction method.
Having dealt with the basics of programming, McGrath then moves on to working with data - managing text, handling lists, and working with media such as sounds, videos and images. There’s a chapter on sensing conditions, that looks at managing location information, contacts, movement, interacting with phone calls, messages, and tweeting. For programmers used to working in other environments this is probably the most useful chapter, and the material was covered well within the limits of the short book length.
The book closes with a chapter on deploying your apps. This seemed very short given the importance of the topic, with only a couple of pages each on distributing the app and selling it.
Overall, the ‘easy steps’ format worked well in this title. If you know how to program in another language/environment, and want to dip your toes in the mobile phone app market, this would be a good way to try it out.