Life for an Android developer has always been pretty straightforward. You downloaded Eclipse and installed the Android Developer Tools. The tools did the job, and they worked more or less as any Eclipse developer might expect. But now, Google is disrupting things by shipping the new Android Studio, an IDE that promises a leap forward to Android developers everywhere.
Although the branding is "Android Studio" and the software comes directly from Google's servers, most Java developers will immediately recognize the toolkit as a version of IntelliJ IDEA, the IDE from JetBrains with a fanatical following. I've known developers who will prattle on about the virtues of running a purely open source shop but change their tune when it comes to IntelliJ. One almost sneered at me for not being professional enough to invest $699 in a great tool that can save hours of work.
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Google knows Eclipse isn't everyone's favorite tool. By distributing a free version of IntelliJ configured for Android development, Google not only taps into the stream of IntelliJ zealots, but also gives Android developers a development environment that's easier to install and use, and it has all the bells and whistles. Yet the bigger deal may be what comes next.
A smarter Android IDE
Android Studio is built on top of IntelliJ's community version. The enhancements are a mixture of cosmetic and analytical. Many of the IntelliJ lovers speak fondly of the sophisticated editor and the clean looks. Indeed, Studio runs quickly and offers a responsive interface. Well, the editor does. The Android simulators continue to amaze me with their ability to run Android apps dramatically slower on my six-core desktop than on my tiny, two-year-old not-so-smartphone running Android 2.2. Android Studio only integrates with the simulators, though, so it's not really fair to grouse about them here. Still, the debug cycle pauses when you're waiting for the Android Virtual Device to start up.
The IDE also offers a deep set of analytical tools that will help you fill out your code and analyze it before shipping. The Android API, for instance, is now marked up with more meta information about which routines could send back a null pointer. The Android Studio will use this to try to highlight potential bugs if you forget to catch these exceptions. I took some code that looked fairly clean, but Studio quickly found a hundred or more ways that the code could be made a bit cleaner and, perhaps, quicker. The IntelliJ team spends a long time writing code that analyzes the code you write in the editor so that you can refactor it and make it faster.
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