Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems

Introduction to the design and implementation of applications for handheld systems, such as smartphones and tablets, running the Android Platform.

About The Course

Handheld systems, such as smartphones and tablets are now the most common way for people to access and interact with computing services. The demand for application development skills is therefore growing at a breathtaking pace. These skills, however, are multi-­‐ faceted, requiring students to master computer science and engineering principles, to learn the details of specific mobile application platforms, and to design artistic and engaging user interfaces that respond to how, where and why handheld applications are used.

This course will cover the fundamental programming principles, software architecture and user experience considerations underlying handheld software applications and their development environments. To bring these concepts alive, the course will involve in-­‐depth, hands-­‐on examples, implemented in the Android Platform, the fastest growing segment of the handheld system user base. Students will apply these teachings, also using the Android Platform, in laboratory projects and in a large-­‐scale semester project. 

Note: This course is part of a Coursera Specialization

This course and two others, led respectively by Drs. Douglas Schmidt and Jules White of Vanderbilt University, have been designed to complement each other. Click here to find out more about the Mobile Cloud Computing with Android (MoCCA) Specialization. Therefore, some of the programming assignments and the course project for these courses will be coordinated.

This course focuses on handheld systems and the design of user-facing applications, and will be taught first. The first Vanderbilt University course, Pattern-Oriented Software Architectures: Programming Mobile Services for Android Handheld Systems will focus on systems programming topics, such as middleware services and background processing. The second Vanderbilt University course, Programming Cloud Services for Android Handheld Systems will focus on connecting Android mobile devices to cloud computing and data storage resources, essentially turning a device into an extension of powerful cloud-based services on popular cloud computing platforms, such as Google App Engine and Amazon EC2.

Nevertheless, each of these courses stands alone. Students are not required to take all of them. Those who do, however, will gain a much more detailed, end-to-end understanding of handheld systems and their applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some Frequently Asked Questions. 
  • What are the course objectives?

    Upon completing this course, students should be able to:

    • Understand the Android platform's organization, patterns and programming mechanisms and be able to  use them effectively to develop their own Android applications.
    • Use development tools, such as those found in the Android Developer's Toolkit to efficiently create, understand, debug and optimize Android applications.

    • Understand the key forces and constraints acting on handheld devices and know how to accommodate these when designing and building their own Android applications.

    • Know where to find additional sources of information to understand and solve Android-related problems.
  • Can students take this course if they have no prior experience with Android programming or programming with Java? 
  • This course assumes that students are comfortable programming in Java and have some experience programming Android apps. If you don't have any significant Java programming background, please look on the Internet for one of the many Java-related tutorials that are freely-available.

  • When I try to watch the videos before the class start, I get an error message.
  • You can preview some of the videos by pressing the "Preview Lectures" Button at the top of the course webpage

  • Is the course broadcast live? I live on the other side of the world from you! No. Course lectures are videotaped. Students watch the lectures and do programming assignments and quizzes when it's convenient for them.
  • What resources will I need for this class?

    For this course, you'll need is an Internet connection, a computer on which to run free Android developer tools, and the time to read, write, and discuss.

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?
  • How to write the software applications that you and half the world are running on your handheld devices.

  • What computer languages do I need to know?
  • Experience with Java should be enough. As mentioned in the Recommended Background Section, those who don't know Java, but have strong familiarity with other languages may want to take a Java tutorial prior to starting this course.

  • Can students use programming language, other than Java, for the course?
  • Not really. The main programming language for Android is Java.

  • What should I be reading to prepare for class?
  • There is no course textbook. If you want to get started early, dive into the Android Developer's Website

  • Do I need to buy an Android device? 

    No. All the graded exercises will be done using the Android Emulator. 

  • What is a "trans-institution sequence of MOOCs?" 

    This MOOC course and another course tentatively called Pattern-Oriented Software Architectures for Concurrent and Networked Mobile Devices and Clouds, taught by Professors Doug Schmidt and Jules White of Vanderbilt University have been designed to complement each other. In particular, some of the programming assignments and the course project for both courses will be coordinated. The focus of Vanderbilt MOOCs will be systems programming topics, such as server-side Android concurrency, background processing, networking, and computing cloud integration, and will be taught starting in late March 2014. Additional information on our trans-institutional MOOC sequence is available  here and  here. 

  • Is it necessary to take all the courses in the sequence? 

    No. If you just want to take some of the courses in this sequence--or take them all in different order--you're certainly welcome to do so, and you'll still learn a lot. However, if you take all the courses in this sequence in the order presented you'll gain a deeper, end-to-end understanding of handheld systems, their applications and services, as well as their integration into the cloud.

  • When will the course material be made available each week? 

    All the course material (e.g., video lectures, quizzes, short essays, programming assignments, etc.), for each week will be made available at 12:00am eastern time (5am UTC/GMT). each Friday of the course.

  • How does this MOOC compare/contrast with courses at the University of Maryland? This MOOC is heavily based on courses I teach at UMD, called CMSC436, Programming Handheld Systems. The course lecture material is similar, but the quizzes, programming assignments, and level of feedback for the UMD courses are more challenging, given that we have about twice the amount of time to work on it. Also, as the UMD course has many fewer students, there's significantly more personalized guidance from the professor and TAs that can't (yet) be replicated via a MOOC. This is one reason why it's important for students to take on some of the  role of the Instructor. When we all work together, we all benefit.
  • What is the most effective way to learn material covered in the course? 

    I recommend watching the videos multiple times, looking for different levels of meaning in the diagrams and the examples. Likewise, I recommend reading outside sources of information. Naturally, participating in the online discussion forums (and ideally, a meetup group if one is available in your area) will help make the course material more engaging.

  • Will you use Eclipse or Android Studio in this course? 
  • All of my videos use Eclipse as Android Studio is still in a pre-release state. If you're using a non-Eclipse development environment, such as AndroidStudio, you may need to enlist the help of other students on the online discussion forum.

  • Which web browsers are recommended? 

    Coursera recommends using the Chrome and Firefox browsers. There's also a mobile app for Coursera MOOC, as well.

  • Where can students download the slides that are presented in the videos? 

    PDF versions of the slides will be available online as the videos are released. 

Recommended Background


This course is directed to Sophomore- or Junior-level undergraduate students. Students should already know how to program in Java, but are not expected to have studied mobile application development. 

If you don't already know Java, but have strong familiarity with other programming languages, you can improve your Java knowledge, by taking one of the many Java tutorials and online courses available on the web.

As discussed above, this course assumes previous programming knowledge. It also assumes that you are willing to search for, read and learn from Android's developer documentation. Based on our previous experience, students who don't meet these criteria often end up being quite frustrated with the course.

In short, this course is not designed for truly novice programmers. If your background is not appropriate for this class, consider first taking a less programming heavy introduction to Android such as, "Creative, Serious and Playful Science of Android Apps", by Lawrence Angrave of the University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign.