Android Builders Summit 2012

Four weeks ago, from Februart 13rd to Februrary 17th I was at Android Builders Summit and Embedded Linux Conference in San Francisco. I was a bit busy these last weeks so I didn’t have an opportunity to write here about the conferences as I usually do. I was going to do a post about both the conferences, but after writing a little bit I realized it would be very big. So I split in 2 and here is the one for ABS 2012; the other is coming soon.

This was my first time at Android Builders Summit. Since in the end of last year I participated in a project modifying Android internals, I felt it would be really good to be in touch with people doing the same things and learn with them. Before going there I was already surprised that Google was not sponsoring the conference, but there I was astonished that there was nobody from Android’s team and I don’t remember talking to Googlers, too. I don’t know what happened but it would be really good for the next conference if Google could be part of the conference since for the very nature of how they manage the project they are the people pushing the platform forward.

In the first day of the conference Greg Kroah-Hartman, Tim Bird and Zach Pfeffer answered the question “Android and the Linux Kernel Mainline: Where Are We“: it’s done. Well, not totally done, but most of the code needed in kernel is already in mainline: except for some pieces that render your device useful it’s already possible to boot Android userspace with a mainline kernel. I think the main point of this effort is to allow companies and enthusiasts to use features from the mainline kernel and newer versions than the ones available on AOSP. As the diff between mainline and Android’s kernel decreases it’s much easier to deploy an Android device with a different kernel. More details can be found in

From the other talks I attended on the first day, the one that caught my eyes was USB Device Support Workshop. Bernie Thompson from Plugable talked a bit about the lack of proper support in Android to deal with kernel modules: it’s really hard for device maker companies like his own to have products working on Android. And it’s not because they aren’t committed to developing Linux device drivers but because of the lack of support in Android to easily deal with kernel drivers: either the external device is supported by the company shipping the Android product or there’s no way for example to plug in an external camera and get it to work. Audience was a bit confused saying that that was a Linux problem and some voices telling that in Windows lands that doesn’t happen. Not true. Linux supports more devices that any other operating system in the world, however Android is currently missing some tools to profit from it. After some discussion Bernie prepared some tables with USB devices that people could hack on, get it supported in Linux/Android, etc.

On the second day I attended Real-Time Android, particularly because of my involvement with real-time since I graduated at university and because I was curious about applying it to Android. As I said one of the benefits of  having Android kernel closer to mainline is that it’s easier to do things like this. Wolfgang Mauerer from Siemens applied the RT_PREEMPT patches to Android’s kernel so you could have a real-time embedded system and still use Android’s app. As I was expecting RT would be applied for native applications, not java based ones.

Topics in Designing An Android Sensor Subsystem: Pitfalls and Considerations was advanced talk about Sensors in Android and how one would choose one strategy over another and the tradeoffs between battery life, sample rate,  external co-processor, DIY or license the algorithms used, etc. It was not a talk for the regular Joe doing an app that uses the Android’s Sensors API  (that was what I knew about it) but more for people creating devices that would like to use sensors.

It was a conference different from the conferences I’m used to attend like ELC/LinuxCon: there was very few people who I already knew and I had the feeling that we were talking about a product from someone else, not a product we were helping to develop - instead we were having talks about how to hack a platform we do not own. In general I liked the talks I could attend and talking to people at the corridors. They even gave me some insights for my talk about kmod, later on Friday at ELC. I’ll talk more about it on the next post.

For those wanting to see the slides/videos, Linux Foundation made them available at their site - go on and see for yourselves.