A Capable Development Platform
Credit: javrsmithWith the extreme rise in the popularity of mobile devices, more and more programmers are concentrating their development efforts on these devices. The marketplace is quite divided between the different technologies of Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry and Android. In 2012, the biggest players are Apple and Android. Historically, development of applications for these mobile devices has been quite difficult. Luckily, Basic4Android has emerged as a notable development platform. It is inexpensive, capable and quite easy to understand. As the name implies, however, it will allow deployment on Android devices only. This means that there are over 400 million devices that might run an application developed with Basic4Android. Since Android has 59% of the worldwide mobile market, and 1 million more are activated each day, the "Android Only" limitation is easy to accept.
Of course, some development companies will not be happy with the exclusion of other platforms in Basic4Android. For these agencies, there may be no choice but to develop one code architecture using Basic4Android and another using a development technology that supports Apple and/or Microsoft. There are all-encompassing development tools available which can deploy to any or all of the devices from the same source code. These tools, however, are quite expensive. This is understandable due to the obvious complexity that must be supported by the tool developer.
Experienced programmers, especially those with a background in the "C" language, will recognize the "Hello World" program. It is a simplistic program which prints the words "Hello World" on the default display device. Many programmers use "Hello World" as a learning exercise when they begin learning a new language. As such, the program tends to ease the learning process for the new language. While the actual program steps are simplistic, often the environment is not. With Basic4Android, this is exactly the case. Before any program can be written with Basic4Android, the Android Software Development Kit, or "SDK", must be installed. In addition, the Java SDK is required as well. Easy to follow instructions are provided with Basic4Android that help the beginner set up these required components.
As mentioned, the Android and Java SDK components are required before any development can be started. These are easily installed on an application building computer. Developers typically develop their applications on an available computer and deploy the finished product to the target mobile device. With Android, the developer may deploy to an actual device connected to the development platform or they can use an emulator. The Basic4Android tool installation includes instructions that establish a virtual Android emulator device on the development computer. This allows application development to proceed when a physical Android device is not available. Note, however, that the Android emulator is significantly slower than a real Android when running applications. This may not be a concern but it is a point to be considered.
The Basic4Android Development Platform
Once installed, the development platform is very familiar to those programmers with a background in one or more of the traditional programming languages. The syntax is similar to Visual Basic or "C". All variables must be declared before they are used. Functions are referred to as "SUB" program components and each must be terminated with an "End Sub" statement.The development platform treats each application development effort as a project which includes all application components required by the application.
The development platform offers options to the programmer which affect the deployed application. Because Android devices are relatively small, as measured by available memory, code optimization is a good idea for all Android applications. The Basic4Android platform allows developers to include only those function libraries needed for features used by the deployed application. For example, if an application connects to Internet pages, the programmer will be required to include the Basic4Android HTTP library. This allows the application to reference pages on web servers. If the application does not use the camera, phone or other Android component, the relevant function libraries need not be included in the deployed application. Such omissions help to keep the size of the Android application as small as it can be. As features are added to the application, however, it may be necessary to include newly referenced function libraries.
One important consideration for a development tool such as Basic4Android is the level of support that is available from the tool developer. In this case, the tool provider, Anywhere Software, receives high marks. Included in the standard version is full access to the Basic4Android forum and 2 months of program updates. The enterprise version offers this as well but the update period is lengthened to 2 years. Within the support forum, there are over 100,000 posts specific to the tool. While many of these are quite old, the level of activity indicates that there is an active community of developers.
As of mid July, 2012, over 80 example tutorials are available for Basic4Android. This include simple functions such as the installation of the tool. There are also examples which can be used to create working applications that use the available camera, the GPS or connect to a remote server, use an SQL database and display retrieved data on the Android screen. Many of the other examples show how various other features can be used such as file handling, FTP and encryption. A beginning developer should be able to install several of the examples and learn a great deal about the development tool in the process. The quality of the tutorials is excellent. They contain realistic variable names. While they tend to not include much documentation, they are simple, short and very easy to understand. A comprehensive user guide and a reference manual are also included.
Once the installation is complete, the tool is very easy to use. The supplied tutorials offer a wealth of features to the beginner. The tool is very robust when used. Applications built using the tutorials are effective for the stated purpose. For those programmers with experience in other languages such as "C", Java or Basic, who want to begin developing applications for mobile devices, the Basic4Android tool might be well worth considering.