28 November 2011

Games Coming to Android Market in Korea

[This post is by Eric Chu, Android Developer Ecosystem. —Dirk Dougherty]

In the 24 months since the first Android device became available locally, Korea has quickly become one of the top countries in Android device activations. In parallel, we’ve also seen tremendous growth in app downloads from Android Market. Korea is now the second-largest consumer of apps worldwide. Today we are adding to this momentum by bringing games to Android Market in Korea.

Starting right away, Android users in Korea can explore the many thousands of popular game titles available in Android Market and download them onto their devices. For paid games, purchasing is fast and convenient through direct carrier billing, which lets users in Korea easily charge their purchases to their monthly mobile operator bills.

If you are a game developer, now is the time to localize your game resources, app descriptions, and marketing assets to take advantage of this new opportunity. When you are ready, please visit the Android Market developer console to target your app for distribution in South Korea and set prices in Korean Won (KRW). If you don’t want to distribute to Korea right away, you can also exclude it.

With the huge popularity of games on Android and the convenience of direct carrier billing in Korea, we expect to see a jump in game purchases and downloads in the weeks ahead. For game developers worldwide, it’s “game on” in Korea!

22 November 2011

Making Android Games that Play Nice

[This post is by Ian Ni-Lewis, a Developer Advocate who devotes most of his time to making Android games more awesome. — Tim Bray]

Making a game on Android is easy. Making a great game for a mobile, multitasking, often multi-core, multi-purpose system like Android is trickier. Even the best developers frequently make mistakes in the way they interact with the Android system and with other applications
 — mistakes that don’t affect the quality of gameplay, but which affect the quality of the user’s experience in other ways.

A truly great Android game knows how to play nice: how to fit seamlessly into the system of apps, services, and UI features that run on Android devices. In this multi-part series of posts, Android Developer Relations engineers who specialize in games explain what it takes to make your game play nice.

I: The Audio Lifecycle (or, why is there music coming from my pants?)

One of the most awesome things about Android is that it can do so much stuff in the background. But when apps aren’t careful about their background behaviors, it can get annoying. Take my own personal pet peeve: game audio that doesn’t know when to quit.

The problem

I’m on the bus to work, passing the time with a great Android game. I’m completely entranced by whatever combination of birds, ropes, and ninjas is popular this week. Suddenly I panic: I’ve almost missed my stop! I leap up, quickly locking my phone as I shove it into a pocket.

I arrive breathless at my first meeting of the day. The boss, perhaps sensing my vulnerability, asks me a tough question. Not tough enough to stump me, though — I’ve got the answer to that right here on my Android phone! I whip out my phone and press the unlock button... and the room dissolves in laughter as a certain well-known game ditty blares out from the device.

The initial embarrassment is bad enough, but what’s this? I can’t even mute the thing! The phone is showing the lock screen and the volume buttons are inactive. My stress level is climbing and it takes me three tries to successfully type in my unlock code. Finally I get the thing unlocked, jam my finger on the home button and breathe a sigh of relief as the music stops. But the damage is done — my boss is glowering and for the rest of the week my co-workers make video game noises whenever they pass my desk.

What went wrong?

It’s a common mistake: the developer of the game assumed that if the game received an onResume() message, it was safe to resume audio. The problem is that onResume() doesn’t necessarily mean your app is visible — only that it’s active. In the case of a locked phone, onResume() is sent as soon as the screen turns on, even though the phone’s display is on the lock screen and the volume buttons aren’t enabled.

Fixing this is trickier than it sounds. Some games wait for onWindowFocusChanged() instead of onResume(), which works pretty well on Gingerbread. But on Honeycomb and higher, onWindowFocusChanged() is sent when certain foreground windows — like, ironically, the volume control display window — take focus. The result is that when the user changes the volume, all of the sound is muted. Not the developer’s original intent!

Waiting for onResume() and onFocusChanged() seems like a possible fix, and it works pretty well in a large number of cases. But even this approach has its Achilles’ heel. If the device falls asleep on its own, or if the user locks the phone and then immediately unlocks it, your app may not receive any focus changed messages at all.

What to do about it

Here’s the easy two-step way to avoid user embarrassment:

  1. Pause the game (and all sound effects) whenever you receive an onPause() message. When gameplay is interrupted — whether because the phone is locked, or the user received a call, or for some other reason — the game should be paused.

  2. After the game is paused, require user input to continue. The biggest mistake most game developers make is to automatically restart gameplay and audio as soon as the user returns to the game. This isn’t just a question of solving the “music over lock screen” issue. Users like to come back to a paused game. It’s no fun to switch back to a game, only to realize you’re about to die because gameplay has resumed before you expected it.

Some game designers don’t like the idea of pausing the background music when the game is paused. If you absolutely must resume music as soon as your game regains focus, then you should do the following:

  1. Pause playback when you receive onPause().

  2. When you receive onResume():

    1. If you have previously received an onFocusChanged(false) message, wait for an onFocusChanged(true) message to arrive before resuming playback.

    2. If you have not previously received an onFocusChanged(false) message, then resume audio immediately.

  3. Test thoroughly!

Fixing audio embarrassments is almost always a quick and easy process. Take the time to do it right, and your users will thank you.

11 November 2011

Updated NDK for Android 4.0

Today we are releasing an updated version of the Android NDK, now in revision 7. The updated NDK lets developers who are using native code get started with the new native APIs available in Android 4.0.

Android NDK r7 includes a number of build system improvements and bug fixes, but most importantly it gives you access to two new sets of APIs:

Low-level streaming multimedia: A new API based on Khronos OpenMAX AL 1.0.1 provides a direct, efficient path for low-level streaming multimedia. The new path is ideal for applications that need to maintain complete control over media data before passing it to the platform for presentation. For example, media applications can now retrieve data from any source, apply proprietary encryption/decryption, and then send the data to the platform for display.

Audio decoding into PCM: Extensions to the existing native audio API based on Khronos OpenSL ES let native apps decode compressed audio assets to PCM format.

For detailed information about how to use these new APIs, please see the documentation included with the Android NDK r7 package. To read about the build system improvements and bug fixes included in this release, check out the release notes.

10 November 2011

New Layout Widgets: Space and GridLayout

[This post is by Philip Milne, who is part of the Android framework team. — Tim Bray]

Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) sports two new widgets that have been designed to support the richer user interfaces made possible by larger displays: Space and GridLayout.

The most commonly used class for layout in Android is LinearLayout, which allows its children to be aligned in the usual ways: along either the horizontal or vertical axes. It’s often possible to take a complicated layout and break it down into a set of nested linear layouts and, provided this nesting doesn’t get too deep, this is still a good choice for many simple layouts.

A number of posts and articles (e.g. Android Layout Tricks #1, Flattening The Stack) have highlighted drawbacks of nested layouts; which fall into three basic categories:

  • Inability to control alignment along both axes simultaneously

  • Performance problems in hierarchies that are too deep

  • Unsuitability for design tools that support free-form editing

A simple example of the first problem is the following form:

As the font and the text of the “Email address” label change, we want the label to remain aligned with the baseline of the component to its right, and aligned with the right edge of the label below it. It’s not possible to do this with nested LinearLayouts because the label needs to be aligned with other components both horizontally and vertically.

These problems aren’t new to Android, or UI toolkits in general, but we’ve used them to drive our work in enriching platform support for flatter hierarchies.


To provide better support for layouts like these we have added a new layout to the Android framework: GridLayout, which can be used to solve the above problems by dividing the container’s real estate into rows and columns:

Now the “Email address” label can belong both to a row that is baseline-aligned, and a column that is right-aligned.

GridLayout uses a grid of infinitely-thin lines to separate its drawing area into: rows, columns, and cells. It supports both row and column spanning, which together allow a widget to occupy a rectangular range of cells that are next to each other. We’ll use the words row, column, and cell in the text below as shorthand for row group, column group and cell group respectively, where groups have one or more contiguous elements.

Similarities with LinearLayout

Wherever possible, GridLayout uses the same conventions as LinearLayout for all its XML API — so it should be easy to start using GridLayout if you’ve already used LinearLayout. In fact, the APIs are so similar that changing a tag name from LinearLayout to GridLayout in an XML file that uses LinearLayout will often produce a similar UI without requiring any other changes. When it doesn’t, you’ll still generally end up with a good starting point for a two-dimensional layout.

Getting Started

Two examples in the samples area of the Android 4.0 SDK show typical use of the programmatic and XML APIs respectively:

[Both examples produce the same UI.]

Here’s a slightly simpler version of the above XML layout.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>




            android:text="Email setup"


            android:text="You can configure email in just a few steps:"


            android:text="Email address:"









The first difference you’ll notice in these examples is the absence of the WRAP_CONTENT and MATCH_PARENT constants that normally adorn Android layout resources. You don’t normally need to use these with GridLayout, for reasons that are described in the API doc for GridLayout.LayoutParams.

Row and Column Indices

The second thing you may notice in the XML resources is that widgets don’t always explicitly define which cells they are to be placed in. Each widget’s layout parameters have row and column indices that together define where the widget should be placed but when either or both of these values are not specified, GridLayout supplies default values rather than throwing an exception.

Automatic Index Allocation

As children are added to a GridLayout, it maintains a cursor position and a “high-water mark” that it uses to place widgets in cells that don’t yet have anything in them.

When GridLayout’s orientation property is horizontal and a columnCount has been set (to 8 in this example) the high-water mark (shown above in red) is maintained as a separate height value for each column. When indices need to be created, GridLayout first determines the size of the cell group (by looking at the rowSpan and columnSpan parameters of the new widget) and then, starting at the cursor, goes through the available locations from: left to right, top to bottom, so as to find the row and column indices of the first location that’s free.

When GridLayout’s orientation is vertical, all of the same principles apply, except that the roles of the horizontal and vertical axes are exchanged.

If you want multiple views to be placed in the same cell, you have to define the indices explicitly, as the default allocation procedure above is designed to place widgets in separate cells.

Sizes, Margins and Alignment/Gravity

In GridLayout, specifying sizes and margins is done just as with a LinearLayout. Alignment/gravity also works just like gravity in LinearLayout and uses the same constants: left, top, right, bottom, center_horizontal, center_vertical, center, fill_horizontal, fill_vertical and fill.


Unlike most grids in other toolkits, GridLayout does not associate data with rows or columns. Instead, everything to do with alignment and flexibility is associated with the components themselves. GridLayout departs from the norm here to provide a more general system that allows subtle relationships between ancestors in deeply nested layouts to be accommodated in a single layout configuration.

The flexibility of columns is inferred from the gravity of the components inside the column. If every component defines a gravity, the column is taken as flexible, otherwise the column is considered inflexible. Full details are in GridLayout’s API docs.

Emulating Features from other Layouts

GridLayout does not incorporate all of the features of every layout in the Android platform but it has a rich enough feature set that idiomatic use of other layouts can normally be emulated from inside a single GridLayout.

Although LinearLayout can be considered a special case of a GridLayout, for the degenerate case when a set of views are aligned in a single row or column, LinearLayout is the better choice when this is all that is required as it clarifies the purpose of the container and may have some (relatively small) performance advantages.

TableLayout configurations are normally straightforward to accommodate, as GridLayout supports both row and column spanning. TableRows can be removed, as they are not required by GridLayout. For the same UI, a GridLayout will generally be faster and take less memory than than a TableLayout.

Simple RelativeLayout configurations can be written as grids simply by grouping the views that are related to each other into rows and columns. Unlike conventional grids, GridLayout uses a constraints solver to do the heavy lifting of the layout operation. By using GridLayout’s rowOrderPreserved and columnOrderPreserved properties it’s possible to free GridLayout from the confines of traditional grid systems and support the majority of RelativeLayout configurations — even ones that require grid lines to pass over each other as children change size.

Simple FrameLayout configurations can be accommodated within the cells of a GridLayout because a single cell can contain multiple views. To switch between two views, place them both in the same cell and use the visibility constant GONE to switch from one to the other from code. As with the LinearLayout case above, if all you need is the functionality described above, FrameLayout is the better choice and may have some small performance advantages.

One key feature that GridLayout lacks is the ability to distribute excess space between rows or columns in specified proportions — a feature that LinearLayout provides by supporting the principle of weight. This omission and possible ways around it are discussed in GridLayout’s API docs.

The Phases of the Layout Operation

It’s useful to distinguish the allocation phase for cell indices discussed above from the layout operation itself. Normally the phase that allocates indices happens once, if at all, when a UI is initialized. The index-allocation phase only applies when indices have been left unspecified, and is responsible for ensuring that all views have a defined set of cells in which they are to be placed at layout time.

The layout operation happens after this and is recalculated each time a view changes size. GridLayout measures the size of each child during the layout operation so it can calcuate the heights and widths of the rows and columns in the grid. The layout phase completes by using gravity to place each of the components in its cell.

Although index allocation normally only happens once, GridLayout is technically a dynamic layout, meaning that if you change its orientation property or add or remove children after components have been laid out, GridLayout will repeat the above procedure to reallocate indices in a way that is right for the new configuration.

From a performance standpoint, it is worth knowing that the GridLayout implementation has been optimized for the common case, when initialization happens once and layout happens frequently. As a result, the initialization step sets up internal data structures so that the layout operation can complete quickly and without allocating memory. Put another way, changes either to GridLayout’s orientation or the number of children it has are much more expensive than an ordinary layout operation.


GridLayout’s feature set incorporates much of the functionality of the Android framework’s existing general-purpose layouts: LinearLayout, FrameLayout, TableLayout and RelativeLayout. As such, it provides a way to replace many deeply nested view hierarchies with a single highly optimized layout implementation.

If you are starting a UI from scratch and are not familiar with Android layouts, use a GridLayout — it supports most of the features of the other layouts and has a simpler and more general API than either TableLayout or RelativeLayout.

We anticipate that the combination of FrameLayout, LinearLayout and GridLayout together will provide a feature set that’s rich enough to allow most layout problems to be solved without writing layout code by hand. It’s worth spending some time deciding which of these layouts is right for the top of your tree; a good choice will minimize the need for intermediate containers and result in a user interface that is faster and uses less memory.

08 November 2011

More Android Developer Labs in Asia

A couple of months ago, we kicked off a series of Android Developer Labs in Asia, North America and Europe. To wrap up the 2011 series, we now have opened registration for 2 more locations in Asia.

  • Taipei — December 2, 2011

  • Hong Kong — December 6, 2011

Remember, this ADL series isn’t another set of introduction-to-Android sessions, nor any other kind of general overview. It's specifically aimed at optimizing Android apps for tablets, in particular creating high-quality tablet apps with an emphasis on polish and user experience.

Registration is a two-step process. Anyone can register, but we can only accommodate a relatively small number of attendees from among the registrants, based on whether they already have an Android app with the potential to be a top-tier tablet app in terms of quality, fit, and finish. The goal is to bring your app to the ADL, and leave equipped to make it into one that makes Android tablet users smile.

03 November 2011

JNI Local Reference Changes in ICS

[This post is by Elliott Hughes, a Software Engineer on the Dalvik team. — Tim Bray]

If you don’t write native code that uses JNI, you can stop reading now. If you do write native code that uses JNI, you really need to read this.

What’s changing, and why?

Every developer wants a good garbage collector. The best garbage collectors move objects around. This lets them offer very cheap allocation and bulk deallocation, avoids heap fragmentation, and may improve locality. Moving objects around is a problem if you’ve handed out pointers to them to native code. JNI uses types such as jobject to solve this problem: rather than handing out direct pointers, you’re given an opaque handle that can be traded in for a pointer when necessary. By using handles, when the garbage collector moves an object, it just has to update the handle table to point to the object’s new location. This means that native code won’t be left holding dangling pointers every time the garbage collector runs.

In previous releases of Android, we didn’t use indirect handles; we used direct pointers. This didn’t seem like a problem as long as we didn’t have a garbage collector that moves objects, but it let you write buggy code that still seemed to work. In Ice Cream Sandwich, even though we haven't yet implemented such a garbage collector, we've moved to indirect references so you can start detecting bugs in your native code.

Ice Cream Sandwich features a JNI bug compatibility mode so that as long as your AndroidManifest.xml’s targetSdkVersion is less than Ice Cream Sandwich, your code is exempt. But as soon as you update your targetSdkVersion, your code needs to be correct.

CheckJNI has been updated to detect and report these errors, and in Ice Cream Sandwich, CheckJNI is on by default if debuggable="true" in your manifest.

A quick primer on JNI references

In JNI, there are several kinds of reference. The two most important kinds are local references and global references. Any given jobject can be either local or global. (There are weak globals too, but they have a separate type, jweak, and aren’t interesting here.)

The global/local distinction affects both lifetime and scope. A global is usable from any thread, using that thread’s JNIEnv*, and is valid until an explicit call to DeleteGlobalRef(). A local is only usable from the thread it was originally handed to, and is valid until either an explicit call to DeleteLocalRef() or, more commonly, until you return from your native method. When a native method returns, all local references are automatically deleted.

In the old system, where local references were direct pointers, local references were never really invalidated. That meant you could use a local reference indefinitely, even if you’d explicitly called DeleteLocalRef() on it, or implicitly deleted it with PopLocalFrame()!

Although any given JNIEnv* is only valid for use on one thread, because Android never had any per-thread state in a JNIEnv*, it used to be possible to get away with using a JNIEnv* on the wrong thread. Now there’s a per-thread local reference table, it’s vital that you only use a JNIEnv* on the right thread.

Those are the bugs that ICS will detect. I’ll go through a few common cases to illustrate these problems, how to spot them, and how to fix them. It’s important that you do fix them, because it’s likely that future Android releases will utilize moving collectors. It will not be possible to offer a bug-compatibility mode indefinitely.

Common JNI reference bugs

Bug: Forgetting to call NewGlobalRef() when stashing a jobject in a native peer

If you have a native peer (a long-lived native object corresponding to a Java object, usually created when the Java object is created and destroyed when the Java object’s finalizer runs), you must not stash a jobject in that native object, because it won’t be valid next time you try to use it. (Similar is true of JNIEnv*s. They might be valid if the next native call happens on the same thread, but they won’t be valid otherwise.)

 class MyPeer {
   MyPeer(jstring s) {
     str_ = s; // Error: stashing a reference without ensuring it’s global.
   jstring str_;

 static jlong MyClass_newPeer(JNIEnv* env, jclass) {
   jstring local_ref = env->NewStringUTF("hello, world!");
   MyPeer* peer = new MyPeer(local_ref);
   return static_cast<jlong>(reinterpret_cast<uintptr_t>(peer));
   // Error: local_ref is no longer valid when we return, but we've stored it in 'peer'.

 static void MyClass_printString(JNIEnv* env, jclass, jlong peerAddress) {
   MyPeer* peer = reinterpret_cast<MyPeer*>(static_cast<uintptr_t>(peerAddress));
   // Error: peer->str_ is invalid!
   ScopedUtfChars s(env, peer->str_);
   std::cout << s.c_str() << std::endl;

The fix for this is to only store JNI global references. Because there’s never any automatic cleanup of JNI global references, it’s critically important that you clean them up yourself. This is made slightly awkward by the fact that your destructor won’t have a JNIEnv*. The easiest fix is usually to have an explicit ‘destroy‘ function for your native peer, called from the Java peer’s finalizer:

 class MyPeer {
   MyPeer(JNIEnv* env, jstring s) {
     this->s = env->NewGlobalRef(s);
   ~MyPeer() {
     assert(s == NULL);
   void destroy(JNIEnv* env) {
     s = NULL;
   jstring s;

You should always have matching calls to NewGlobalRef()/DeleteGlobalRef(). CheckJNI will catch global reference leaks, but the limit is quite high (2000 by default), so watch out.

If you do have this class of error in your code, the crash will look something like this:

    JNI ERROR (app bug): accessed stale local reference 0x5900021 (index 8 in a table of size 8)
    JNI WARNING: jstring is an invalid local reference (0x5900021)
                 in LMyClass;.printString:(J)V (GetStringUTFChars)
    "main" prio=5 tid=1 RUNNABLE
      | group="main" sCount=0 dsCount=0 obj=0xf5e96410 self=0x8215888
      | sysTid=11044 nice=0 sched=0/0 cgrp=[n/a] handle=-152574256
      | schedstat=( 156038824 600810 47 ) utm=14 stm=2 core=0
      at MyClass.printString(Native Method)
      at MyClass.main(MyClass.java:13)

If you’re using another thread’s JNIEnv*, the crash will look something like this:

 JNI WARNING: threadid=8 using env from threadid=1
                 in LMyClass;.printString:(J)V (GetStringUTFChars)
    "Thread-10" prio=5 tid=8 NATIVE
      | group="main" sCount=0 dsCount=0 obj=0xf5f77d60 self=0x9f8f248
      | sysTid=22299 nice=0 sched=0/0 cgrp=[n/a] handle=-256476304
      | schedstat=( 153358572 709218 48 ) utm=12 stm=4 core=8
      at MyClass.printString(Native Method)
      at MyClass$1.run(MyClass.java:15)

Bug: Mistakenly assuming FindClass() returns global references

FindClass() returns local references. Many people assume otherwise. In a system without class unloading (like Android), you can treat jfieldID and jmethodID as if they were global. (They’re not actually references, but in a system with class unloading there are similar lifetime issues.) But jclass is a reference, and FindClass() returns local references. A common bug pattern is “static jclass”. Unless you’re manually turning your local references into global references, your code is broken. Here’s what correct code should look like:

 static jclass gMyClass;
 static jclass gSomeClass;

 static void MyClass_nativeInit(JNIEnv* env, jclass myClass) {
   // ‘myClass’ (and any other non-primitive arguments) are only local references.
   gMyClass = env->NewGlobalRef(myClass);

   // FindClass only returns local references.
   jclass someClass = env->FindClass("SomeClass");
   if (someClass == NULL) {
     return; // FindClass already threw an exception such as NoClassDefFoundError.
   gSomeClass = env->NewGlobalRef(someClass);

If you do have this class of error in your code, the crash will look something like this:

    JNI ERROR (app bug): attempt to use stale local reference 0x4200001d (should be 0x4210001d)
    JNI WARNING: 0x4200001d is not a valid JNI reference
                 in LMyClass;.useStashedClass:()V (IsSameObject)

Bug: Calling DeleteLocalRef() and continuing to use the deleted reference

It shouldn’t need to be said that it’s illegal to continue to use a reference after calling DeleteLocalRef() on it, but because it used to work, so you may have made this mistake and not realized. The usual pattern seems to be where native code has a long-running loop, and developers try to clean up every single local reference as they go to avoid hitting the local reference limit, but they accidentally also delete the reference they want to use as a return value!

The fix is trivial: don’t call DeleteLocalRef() on a reference you’re going to use (where “use” includes “return”).

Bug: Calling PopLocalFrame() and continuing to use a popped reference

This is a more subtle variant of the previous bug. The PushLocalFrame() and PopLocalFrame() calls let you bulk-delete local references. When you call PopLocalFrame(), you pass in the one reference from the frame that you’d like to keep (typically for use as a return value), or NULL. In the past, you’d get away with incorrect code like the following:

 static jobjectArray MyClass_returnArray(JNIEnv* env, jclass) {
   jobjectArray array = env->NewObjectArray(128, gMyClass, NULL);
   for (int i = 0; i < 128; ++i) {
       env->SetObjectArrayElement(array, i, newMyClass(i));
   env->PopLocalFrame(NULL); // Error: should pass 'array'.
   return array; // Error: array is no longer valid.

The fix is generally to pass the reference to PopLocalFrame(). Note in the above example that you don’t need to keep references to the individual array elements; as long as the GC knows about the array itself, it’ll take care of the elements (and any objects they point to in turn) itself.

If you do have this class of error in your code, the crash will look something like this:

  JNI ERROR (app bug): accessed stale local reference 0x2d00025 (index 9 in a table of size 8)
    JNI WARNING: invalid reference returned from native code
                 in LMyClass;.returnArray:()[Ljava/lang/Object;

Wrapping up

Yes, we asking for a bit more attention to detail in your JNI coding, which is extra work. But we think that you’ll come out ahead on the deal as we roll in better and more sophisticated memory management code.

01 November 2011

Android 4.0 Graphics and Animations

[This post is by Romain Guy and Chet Haase, Android engineers who have been known to collaborate on the subject of graphics, UIs, and animation. You can read more from them on their blogs at curious-creature.org and graphics-geek.blogspot.com. — Tim Bray]

Earlier this year, Android 3.0 launched with a new 2D rendering pipeline designed to support hardware acceleration on tablets. With this new pipeline, all drawing operations performed by the UI toolkit are carried out using the GPU.

You’ll be happy to hear that Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, brings an improved version of the hardware-accelerated 2D rendering pipeline to phones, starting with Galaxy Nexus.

Enabling hardware acceleration

In Android 4.0 (API level 14), hardware acceleration, for the first time, is on by default for all applications. For applications at lower API levels, you can turn it on by adding android:hardwareAccelerated="true" to the <application> tag in your AndroidManifest.xml.

To learn more about the hardware accelerated 2D rendering pipeline visit the official Android developer guide. This guide explains how to control hardware acceleration at various levels, offers several performance tips and tricks and describes in details the new drawing model.

I also encourage you to watch the Android Hardware Accelerated Rendering talk that we gave at Google I/O 2011.

Introducing TextureView

Applications that need to display OpenGL or video content rely today on a special type of UI element called SurfaceView. This widget works by creating a new window placed behind your application’s window. It then punches a hole through your application’s window to reveal the new window. While this approach is very efficient, since the content of the new window can be refreshed without redrawing the application’s window, it suffers from several important limitations.

Because a SurfaceView’s content does not live in the application’s window, it cannot be transformed (moved, scaled, rotated) efficiently. This makes it difficult to use a SurfaceView inside a ListView or a ScrollView. SurfaceView also cannot interact properly with some features of the UI toolkit such as fading edges or View.setAlpha().

To solve these problems, Android 4.0 introduces a new widget called TextureView that relies on the hardware accelerated 2D rendering pipeline and SurfaceTexture. TextureView offers the same capabilities as SurfaceView but, unlike SurfaceView, behaves as a regular view. You can for instance use a TextureView to display an OpenGL scene or a video stream. The TextureView itself can be animated, scrolled, etc.

The following piece of code creates a TextureView to display the video preview from the default camera. The TextureView itself is rotated 45 degrees and semi-transparent.

public class TextureViewActivity extends Activity implements TextureView.SurfaceTextureListener {
    private Camera mCamera;
    private TextureView mTextureView;

    protected void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {

        mTextureView = new TextureView(this);


    public void onSurfaceTextureAvailable(SurfaceTexture surface, int width, int height) {
        mCamera = Camera.open();

        Camera.Size previewSize = mCamera.getParameters().getPreviewSize();
        mTextureView.setLayoutParams(new FrameLayout.LayoutParams(
                previewSize.width, previewSize.height, Gravity.CENTER));

        try {
        } catch (IOException t) {


    public void onSurfaceTextureSizeChanged(SurfaceTexture surface, int width, int height) {
        // Ignored, the Camera does all the work for us

    public boolean onSurfaceTextureDestroyed(SurfaceTexture surface) {
        return true;

    public void onSurfaceTextureUpdated(SurfaceTexture surface) {
        // Called whenever a new frame is available and displayed in the TextureView

A TextureView can just as easily be used to embed an OpenGL scene in your application. As of Android 4.0, eglCreateWindowSurface() can be used to render into a SurfaceTexture object.


There were minor improvements in Android 4.0 to some of the new animation facilities that were added in the 3.x releases.

First, if you're new to the new android.animation package and classes added in 3.0 and 3.1, you might want to read Animation in Honeycomb and Introducing ViewPropertyAnimator. These articles discuss the new APIs added in 3.0 that make animation in Android easier, more powerful, and more flexible. The Android 4.0 improvements discussed below are small additions to these core facilities.


One of the constraints of the Java programming language is the lack of “properties”. There is no way to refer generically to a field or a setter/getter of an object. As long as you know what kind of object you have, this is not a problem, because you then know the set of fields and methods that you can call. But if someone passes you some subclass of Object and you'd like to get or set some value “foo” on it, you're out of luck. You can use reflection or JNI to get access to the foo field/methods, but there is no way to refer directly to a field or a method unless you know the instance type of the object that has that field/method on it.

This is a constraint that the new animation system works within. Its whole job, you might say, is to get and set values on generic objects that it's been told about. If someone wants to animate the alpha property on a View, they tell the system the target object and the name of that field (“alpha”), and the animation system uses JNI to figure out which method(s) act on a field of that name. Basically, it looks for setAlpha() and, sometimes, getAlpha() methods. Then when an animation frame occurs, it calculates the new value and passes it into the setter method that it found.

This seems like a lot of work for what it does, but there's really no way around it. Unless the animation system were specific to View objects, there's no way that it could know that the target object has appropriate setter/getter methods. And even if it did, there's still no way for callers that construct the animations to tell the animator about the property named “alpha”; there are no function handles like there are in other languages, and there's no way to reference a public field either. (I'm ignoring Reflection here, which has Method and Field objects, because this approach requires much more overhead and processing than the simple function/field references of other languages).

If only there were a way to refer to these properties and to get/set them on generic objects...

Now there is. There is a new Property object in the android.util package that does exactly this. This class offers a set() and a get() method. So if someone hands you a Property object, you can safely call the set() and get() methods without knowing anything about the target object and it will do the job. Moreover, it will do it much more efficiently than the current JNI or reflection approaches because it can, depending on the implementation of it, set a field or call a method on the target object directly. For example, the new ALPHA property on View calls setAlpha() on the View object.

The Property class is a generic utility that can be used anywhere, not just in animations. But it's animations that benefit enormously from it, in their ability to handle properties in a type-safe and efficient manner.

For example prior to Android 4.0, you might construct a fade-out animation on some object myView like this:

ObjectAnimator anim = ObjectAnimator.ofFloat(myView, "alpha", 0);

In Android 4.0, you can use the new ALPHA object on View to construct a Property-based animator instead:

ObjectAnimator anim = ObjectAnimator.ofFloat(myView, View.ALPHA, 0);

ViewPropertyAnimator Additions

There were minor API additions to the ViewPropertyAnimator class (introduced in Android 3.1) which make this class more flexible and powerful:

  • cancel(): You can now cancel() a running ViewPropertyAnimator.

  • setStartDelay(): You can now set a startDelay on the ViewPropertyAnimator, just like the startDelay of the other Animator classes.

  • start(): ViewPropertyAnimators start automatically, but they do so on the next animation frame handled. This allows them to collect several requests and bundle them together, which is much more efficient and makes it easier to synchronize multiple animations together. However, if you just want to run a single animation, or want to make sure it starts immediately, at the time of construction, you can call start() to avoid that intervening delay.


LayoutTransition (introduced in Android 3.0) continues to provide functionality that makes some kinds of animations easier, specifically when adding, removing, hiding, and showing views. For example, either this snippet in a layout file:


Or this code added at runtime:

 container.setLayoutTransition(new LayoutTransition());

will result in a container that animates the visibility of its children views. So when a view is added to the container, the other children will animate out of the way and then the new one will fade in. Similarly, removing a child from the container will fade it out and then animate the other children around to their final places and sizes.

You can customize the animations and timing behavior of a LayoutTransition object, but the code above allows a very easy way to get reasonable default animation behavior.

One of the constraints in the pre-4.0 version of the class was that it did not account for changes in the bounds of the parent hierarchy. So, for example, if a LinearLayout with horizontal orientation has a layout_width of wrap_content and you want to run a transition that removes an item from that layout, then you might notice the parent snapping to the end size and clipping its children instead of animating all of them into their new positions. The new approach (enabled by default, but disabled by a call to setAnimateParentHierarchy(false)) also animates the layout bounds and scrolling values of the parent layout and its parents, all the way up the view hierarchy. This allows LayoutTransition to account for all layout-related changes due to that view being added or removed from its transitioning container.


The Android 3.0 release saw huge improvements in the visual capabilities of the platform, as we started enabling hardware acceleration and providing new, more flexible animation capabilities. Android 4.0 continues this trend as we continue to work hard on improving the performance, features, and usability of the Android APIs. We’re not done yet, but the enhancements in this release should help you create more exciting Android experiences and applications.