Yesterday Android developer advocate Reto Meier asked about what developers loved/hated about application frameworks. It got me thinking about if I could change anything about Android development, what would it be? I mentioned some of these things in my comment on Reto's post, but I'll go into a little more detail here.
Less XML. There are a lot of places where XML is really unnecessary in Android. Top among those things is having to declare Activities, and to a lesser degree Services and BroadcastReceivers. I don't know about your code, but the vast majority of the Activity declarations that I've ever made simply stated the class and maybe some options about config changes and screen orientation. Does this have to be in the manifest XML? I'd prefer to not have to declare Activities in XML and still be able to navigate to them without my app crashing. I'd also like to be able to handle most of their options in Java. This could be as annotations, or maybe some kind of getConfiguration() method that you override, or maybe just as APIs to invoke during onCreate. I think I could live with any of those things. Now if you need to do something more complicated like put an IntentFilter, then that can be in XML. In fact I'm OK with XML always being allowed, just optional for the simpler cases that make up the majority of the Activities that developers write. You could apply similar logic to Services. If you have a Service that you only communicate with by binding to it and it runs in the same process as your main application, then it seems like you should not need any XML for it.
Functional programming. If you've read my blog for very long then this is probably no surprise. This probably requires closures to come to Java, but it seems like we are pretty close to that happening. I think that once that syntax is settled on, then Android should not only get this language feature, but the app framework should be dramatically upgraded to take advantage of it. Technically some of this can be smoothed over by the compiler allowing closures to substitute for single-method interfaces. I'd rather be more explicit about it. And by the way, I don't see why Android should have to wait for Java 8 to be finished by Oracle. Android needs to maintain language and bytecode compatibility, but that doesn't mean it has to use somebody else's javac...
No more Parcelables. Yeah I know that Parcelables are a faster serialization/deserializtion solution. Cool. In most cases this requires a developer to write a lot of mindless code. On one hand tooling can help with this, but why not just have the compiler handle it? Then we could get rid of Parcelable. If a class implements good 'ol Serializable, then the compiler could easily generate the Parcelable code that tooling could generate, but that is currently generated by annoyed developers. Of course it's cool to let developers override this if they want to do something clever. If a class has fields that are Serializable, then the compiler could generate a warning or even an error.
MVC. Now this one is a lot more controversial for me. I'm not a big believer in MVC, so I've always liked that Android wasn't either. However I think that a lot of developers would have an easier time if Android followed a more pure MVC pattern. I think that's one of the ways that Cocoa Touch is easier for new developers to pick up. I've had more than one new developer ask me if an Activity was Android's version of a controller. It is not. But maybe it should be? There's room for things beyond MVC as well. With ICS, Fragments should become the norm for app developers. Developers will have to decide for themselves about the best way to coordinate and communicate fragment-to-fragment, fragment-to-activity, etc. Direct method invocation? Shared memory? Message/handlers? Event listeners? Too many choices and too many choices makes life especially difficult for newbie programmers. Provide a "standard" mechanism, while not ruling out the other choices so more experienced developers can still do things the way that they think is best. The same issue exists for activity-to-activity communication.
Better memory management. I'd love to have gobs of RAM and an amazing GC. In the absence of those just do me some favors like make sure all my soft/weak references are GC'd before an OOM. Always fire Application.onLowMemory before an OOM, and give me 20ms to react and prevent the OOM. Kill all non-visible/foreground processes and re-allocate their memory before an OOM. An OOM is a crash and is the worst possible thing for users. I know lots of snooty engineers will look down their nose and say "your app needs to use less memory", but that kind of attitude makes Android seem like a ghetto to end users.
No more sync. This is one of those features in Android that sounds great on paper but is more trouble than it is worth at this point. By adding your app to sync, you let the system schedule a time for your app to synchronize with your server. Sounds great. However your app won't be the only one getting busy at that time, that's part of the point of sync. Worst of all if the user decides to launch some other app when the sync is in progress then that app has a good chance of being hosed. Tons of CPU & I/O will be hogged by the sync and that app will be sluggish to say the least and may even crash. All of this because of sync. What's more is that there is no real need for sync anymore. With C2DM, a server can send an event to the phone to let your app know that it needs to sync state with the server. Your server can decide how often this needs to happen and can make sure there are no unnecessary syncs.