Why Android is where it’s at for CS students

Image of a wrist-mounted flamethrower

Also you can program it to shoot fire. Technology.

Here’s a point of interest: laptop and PC use (mainly PC use) has been steadily declining with the release of these smartphones, whose usage has only increased. Basically, smartphones are the future. Everyone is going to be plugged in to their wrist-attached computers (or, consider Leela’s “arm thingey” on Futurama) and will use them for just about everything. So if you can get one, do so. And play with it.

screenshot of a few Android phones for sale on the Portland Craigslist

I did a search on the Portland Craigslist as I was writing this entry; here's the first page of results. Some of them are pretty inexpensive.

Play with it at school. Talk to your CS teacher about doing alternative assignments for your programming class, and making apps on your smartphone instead. Chances are s/he will be down for it, because the whole point of programming is to make programs for the real world.

Use it in other classes, too: some guy named Andy made a program which emulates the TI-83 graphing calculator (you know, the one you have to use for math classes these days) and it’s free. And Texas Instruments doesn’t seem to care. They told him to change the name from TI-83 to Andy-83, because it’s not made by TI, but didn’t say anything about taking it down. So have a free graphing calculator. Use this as ammo for negotiating to get an Android phone off of Craigslist (for less than a graphing calculator you can get something which you can use it as a graphing calculator, which also happens to be a phone and computer).

(Protip: if you buy a phone off of Craigslist, tell the seller you’ll meet them in a Verison/AT&T/Sprint store; salesmen at the store can check if the phone is stolen and stuff, so you don’t get a bad deal.)

Furthermore, the Android OS is officially the #1 smartphone OS in the US, and possibly for good reason: Android OS is owned by Google, and is open-source freeware under the GPL license. It’s under something called copyleft (as opposed to copyright, ohohoho) which means the product is free and anyone can edit it—so long as their modified version is also free.

What’s that mean? If you have an Android smartphone, you can edit the operating system at your leisure, to do whatever you want (just remember that your wireless provider might not give you phone service if you don’t use their version of the OS, though there are various ways around it). And you can program your own apps for it. And because it’s pretty easy to backup the factory settings, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally killing it, it’s pretty much a great playground for a programmer.

Image of the Android robot

Not to endorse a company but I've always loved Google; their unofficial slogan is "don't be evil"

And if you want to get started doing that, here’s a tool for doing so. It’s called Android App Inventor, which lets anyone “crank out high quality Android apps without writing a single line of code.” You’ll still be helped by having programming knowledge (conceptually!), and if you can code already, just make your own. Check out this Makeuseof tutorial for how to code Android apps.

Considering smartphones have WiFi and Bluetooth built in, they can be used for all sorts of things. Jury-rig it to open your garage door. Make an app which marks where you parked your car on a map, which you can find in a big parking lot with GPS. Or just make some cool games for people to play while they’re riding the bus to work. There are tons of cool projects out there, and even more which haven’t been done yet. So get to it already.

PS: The image of the kid with the flamethrower? He’s not a kid; he’s an engineer with some free time. Here’s his YouTube channel. He makes stuff like Wii laptops, too.


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