Google Serves Up ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ Tips

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Google’s Android team have given tips to help developers prepare for the Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”

Google has made no attempt to hush talk of “Ice Cream Sandwich”, the next build of Android that promises to unify elements of the Android 2.x smartphone and Android 3.x “Honeycomb” branches of the platform for tablets.

The Android development team paved the way for developers by warning them about what to expect from the build and how to treat their existing applications going forward. However, Google stopped short of releasing the much-anticipated Ice Cream Sandwich software developer kit to enable developers to begin writing applications.

“Although Honeycomb remains tablets-only, the upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) release will support big screens, small screens, and everything in between,” wrote Scott Main, lead technical writer for Android. “This is the way Android will stay from now on: the same version runs on all screen sizes.”

One App Fits All

Main cautioned that while it is true that some Honeycomb applications were designed to run solely on a large screen, this will cease with the arrival of ICS because Android applications are forward-compatible. That is, an application developed for Honeycomb is compatible with a device running ICS, which could be a tablet, a phone or perhaps an Android-powered TV.

Main warned developers who have written Honeycomb applications to either prevent installation on smaller screens, or support smaller screens with the same developer kit. He then provided instructions for how developers might prevent their applications from being used on phones, whose screens tend to be three to five inches.

Developers who want their Honeycomb applications to run on any size device should update their program to run on smaller screens using a single Android application package file (APK).

“Optimising for handsets can be tricky if your designs currently use all of a large screen to deliver content,” Main noted. “It’s worth the effort, though, because Ice Cream Sandwich brings the Honeycomb APIs to handsets, and you’ll significantly increase the user-base for your application. Using a single APK for all devices also simplifies your updating and publishing process and makes it easier for users to identify your app.”

To enable Honeycomb tablet applications to run smoothly on handsets, he advised programmers to build their application around Android “fragments”, code chunks developers can re-use in different combinations. Think in terms of creating single-pane layouts on handsets and multi-pane layouts on tablets.

Main noted that developers will not be able to test their layouts for smaller screens without a handset running Honeycomb. But the SDK is coming in October, so it will not be long before developers can get their hands on the software package. Accordingly, he warned Android developers not to publish their changes until they can test them on a device or emulator running ICS.

In the meantime, Main offered a compromise. Developers can test their alternative layouts by using the “land” qualifier for tablets.

The first ICS device is expected to be the Samsung Droid Prime (or Nexus Prime), slated for a November launch in the US to entice holiday shoppers.

However, neither Google, Samsung nor Verizon will confirm this rumour. The Prime is expected to appear on Verizon first as an alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S II  offering.

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