Android operating system

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1 Introduction

“Android is Google's operating system for mobile devices based on ARM architecture. It is a competitor to the Symbian platform, Apple's iOS for the iPhone and Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Windows Phone for mobile devices all based on ARM architecture. Technologically, Android includes middleware and key applications, and uses a modified version of the Linux kernel” (Wikipedia).

Why use Android as opposed to an iPhone:

  • Apple controls the applications through a single market place
  • Apple excludes certain technologies (e.g. banned the "save as iPhone" functionality in Adobe CS5).
  • Connectivity is restricted, i.e. you can't tether and iPhone to an Ipad (at least in some places)

As general principle, people in education always should support totally or at least relatively open technology since that way you improved chances to be able to move contents to other infrastructures in the present and the future ....

2 (Some) technical information

Tip: Upgrade the OS whenever a new version is available for your phone

Version 2.1 includes:

  • WIFI and WiMaX support
  • Be able to turn data download off when roaming, vendors typically only offer free data download schemes for the resident country :(
  • USB PC connectivity
  • USB tethering (i.e. you can use the mobile as a modem for your PC laptop on vacation), may not be available in some countries like the US.
  • Good support for google applications (Calendar, google world, etc.)
  • Support for 3D capable GPUs, i.e. OpenGL ES
  • Default webbrowser: Based on WebKit + the Chrome JavaScript engine
  • Applications are programed in Java, but compile to Dalvik (so there is no Java J2ME VM currently)
  • Support for typical smartphone features, like GPS, multi-touchscreen, acclerometers, magnetometers.
  • Multitasking

Version 2.2 (not available on many phones as of June 2009) will include several improvements, e.g. Flash 10.1

2.1 Security

  • Carefully read the list of authorizations an application requires (capabilities) before you download from the market. Most applications should not need make phone calls nor send SMSs and consult your contact list. Many should not be authorized to download/upload data.
  • Only download software that is rated and includes comments. Additionally, check the developers web site and try to find reviews from web sites that seem to be serious.
  • To see the permission given to an application after installation, go to the market, press menu, downloads, then select the application, press menu again, then press security.

Read for example How to be safe, find trusted apps, & avoid viruses - A guide for those new to Android. This forum article has a long list of issues you should be familiar with.

2.2 Rooting

Rooting refers to gaining full control over your phone. Before you do this, carefully read several tutorials and evaluate benefits and risks ...

2.3 WIFI vs. phone network

In most cases, it is better to use WIFI for applications (no cost).

Most WIFI networks are protected. In that case, you either must enter the typical parameters (like a long key) or launch the web browser and fill in information there ...

3 Applications

Android does have a central applications store like the iPhone, i.e. the Android Market, but you may install anything you like by your own.

To promote Android, Google initiated the Android Developer Challenge

3.1 The Android Market

An Android mobile includes an Android client. It has some deficiencies:

  • The category system isn't good enough (about 18 categories)
  • Search doesn't offer completion
  • you only can see comments from "your" market region
  • It's a pain to enter credit card information with google checkout. If you get it wrong, then the download may hang forever (weeks or more) and there is no way to cancel/restart anything. There ought to be some paypal-like facility.

The official web site is also fairly useless for finding and evaluating software, e.g. user comments are not included and there is no search facility. Therefore I suggest going through other web sites, see links below. Also give a try to AppBrain.

3.2 Installing (non market) *.apk applications

Android applications can be be distributed as *.apk file.


  • Download the *.apk with the built-in webbrowser, then click on it to install (you may have to change permissions on the phone).

Manual install:

(1) Download an applications installer application from the Android market.

  • I.e. search for apps installer or installer

(2) Typically, you will have to copy the *.apk to the root directory of the SDCard (other installers may scan the whole drive)

  • if you don't know how to, you could remove the SD card from the pone copy the file and put it back).

(3) Then open the Apps installer, select the apps name, ....

3.3 Useful applications

(not complete at all, does not include standard stuff like default browser, e-mail client, MP3 manager, etc.)

3.3.1 Phone and systems management

Below is a list of some kinds of programs ...

Task/process managers/killers

There exist several, but you also can just have faith in the Android OS for managing resources ...
Advanced Task Manager (AndroLib)
Advanced Task Killer
Application installers (several, none really tested)
Apps installer
AppBrain App Market let's you browse (and also buy) applications through the web. You then can download on your cellphone. Easier for exploring applications (via PC) and managing installed apps (via the phone application)
Quadrant Standard

3.3.2 Office, Writing, etc.

Astrid - Todo list manager
home page
Share Your Board
capturing, processing and sharing whiteboard data
works under good lightning conditions

3.3.3 Maps and GPS

Google Earth
Needs a good GPU (works great on a Samsung Galaxy or better)
Will cache maps (browse the location before you leave your country or find a WIFI spot...)
Alpine Quest
Both a light and a full version (Euros 2.88)
Can cache maps and manage GPS trails
The full version is worth having
GPS and location sharing tool
Trip Journal
(not tested)
Google Sky Map
not tested
Identify stuff in the sky by pointing the camera

3.3.4 Readers

Free e-pub reader (best Linux program)
tested, works fine.
PDF reader (from Adobe)

3.3.5 Finding information about

(old style and/or using camera or voice input)

WikiMobile Encyclopedia
Based on wikipedia, reduces download (network data) a lot
Identify tunes
Shazam (service) (Wikipedia)

3.3.6 Edutainment

Word Puzzle
The light version is ok
Pocket guitar (play and chord diagrams for most important chords)
The light version is ok, the pro version does more
Rhythm Guitar
Pocket guitar

4 In education

We didn't find any interesting application that targets the education market and that do not fall in the category edutainment, reference and quizzing (but we didn't do any exhaustive search). See for example 101 Best Android Apps in Education


  • There are many games that are somewhat educational (so-called edutainment)
  • Many applications (e.g. google earth, office programs, communication programs, interfaces to popular webservices and reference) that can be used in educational scenarios). Kathy Schrock created a typology of Android applications that target the various levels of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.

5 Links

5.1 Official

5.2 Android OS and hardware

Android OS overviews

5.3 Development

With App Inventor
With the SDK

5.4 Indexes of applications

(there are dozens of such .... the ones below were randomly chosen)

  • Best Android Apps, by Mike Hendrickson and Brian Sawyer (2010), O'Reilly Media. (Not read, ebook is $15)

5.5 Help


5.6 Rooting and aftermarket firmware

First learn what flavor of Android you got and take into account your provider/country, example for the US:

Rooting (links may not be appropriate for your phone/provider combo)


See also Jailbreaking (freeing iPhones/Pads/Pods).

6 bibliography

  • Rick Rogers, John Lombardo, Zigurd Mednieks, G. Blake Meike (2009). Android Application Development Programming with the Google SDK, O'Reilly Media O'Reilly Page. (Reviews are rather bad ...)