just one more geek in a sea of austin techies

June 7, 2011

Android programming with Basic4Android

Moving along from my initial foray into creating Android apps with Google's nifty but somewhat impractical AppInventor, I sought out other free (or nearly free) products that boasted a visual designer. Enter "Basic4Android", an IDE built using LUA to abstract the underlying Android JAVA classes and present a language very similar to Visual Basic...

If you read my post on Google's AppInventor, you'll recall that a major stumbling block of that platform is the unaccountably large APK files it generates:  4.3 megabytes just for my dead-simple "Hello World" pushbutton app.  Because that first Android app of mine was so simple I decided to make it my benchmark for each new Android IDE I test drive.  Here's what I learned when recreating the same app under Basic4Android (B4A):

  • B4A has better code optimization than AppInventor.  Only 114-kilobytes for my "Hello World" using B4A.  I believe this is still probably two to three times as large as it needs to be but I was satisfied with the results.
  • B4A uses the actual Android emulator screen as its GUI layout panel.  AppInventor provided its own design panel which gave a decidedly poor preview of the finished product.  B4A's design overlay within the Android emulator provided a very accurate preview of the finished product.
  • B4A development was faster.  Maybe it's just because I'm not used to dragging around virtual puzzle pieces. Tapping out code in B4A was much faster for me than linking up visual logic blocks in AppInventor.
  • B4A is adding new functionality at a fast pace.  B4A is still a very, very new product but, so far, the developer appears to be doing a fine job releasing new functionality on a regular basis.
  • B4A is not free, but it is fairly inexpensive and a discount may be possible.  A quick web search turned up the following 20% off discount code which worked for me:  d20  
I liked what I saw enough to buy in ($39 with discount code "d20") for a full copy of the program and a couple of month's worth of product updates -- I may pick up the two-year option ($80 with discount) later on if I don't end up settling on a different Android IDE.  There is a trail version available that's great for taking the IDE for a spin but it doesn't allow you to link any libraries so there isn't really anything useful you can create using just the trial.

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