Monday, 18 October 2010

Android Hacked onto the BeagleBoard OSHW GadgetPack ... with avengance

The time is 3:27 am on the East Coast as I write this. It's Sunday, I have work tomorrow morning.

I'm happy to say... Android has now officially been cracked onto the Beagle GadgetPack. Chris and I just finished hacking it onto the BeagleBoard, with a fully-integrated touchscreen OLED screen, overlay, and interface at the driver level to the BeagleTouch.

It connects to the internet.
It loads webpages, it runs scripts.
It reads and interfaces to sensors.
The touchscreen supports drag, drag and drop, sliding, scrolling, and gesturing.
It can download and run native Android APK files off of Open APK app stores.
It even runs the SL4A rapid prototyping environment that is scriptable in Perl and Python.

This was no easy task. Nick, Will, Chris, Mike all helped here and there with driver help and ideas for how to compile around the early driver problems. Thanks to the TI guys (esp. Gerald!), and the Google Groups community too for their help... and for the guys at for a good starting point reference. And of course some special help from Google themselves (names will remain anonymous because I'd hate to see someone lose their job for supporting a hacker like me)... who came in at the last minute to help me crack open the driver access level, which allowed me to make a user-space display driver to the BeagleTouch... FROM SCRATCH.

Now the most important part of all of this is the question I got from Jake, when I talked to him 3 weeks ago: why?

Because I'm sick of the iPad. Every time you go into Starbucks, you see someone digitally frolicking around on their apps, clickety clacking around with glee, pinching and spinning their fingers around a million times just to do what you used to be able to do with CNTRL-+ or CNTRL-- to zoom in and out just as quickly, all the while being wholly restricted and unable to compile any of their own apps natively, and god forbid trying to access the driver level.
The problem is simple: I am fundamentally against the entire principle and idea of the phrase, "there's an app for that(TM)." (Are you serious?!?! I have to put a "Trademark" on that?!?) I think that little phrase is endemic of everything that's going wrong with the hacker world today. It symbolizes the end of an era. It is the antithesis of open, and the optimum of control and limitation.

I don't want an app for that. I want a programming language and access to some low level OS function for that.

I'm fighting back, and this Android hack is the first step in the war. The problem with the philosophy of "there's an app for that" is that it's training the new up and coming programmers and would-be hackers and developers that if you want some hitherto unavailable functionality for your device, you should go onto a tightly controlled ecosystem of apps (iTunes app store), and pay money for a limited, controlled, censored, channel monitored, Apple-sanctioned little app that took WAY too long to write because the darn specs are undocumented.

No thank you. I want to help teach, train, and motivate a new breed of far more open sourced and efficient hardware hackers...

Apple is going to lose. Because hackers are going to use the platform that is the most extensible, most hackable, and most fun to use. Programming the iPod and iPad and app store-compatible apps is an exercise in painful, torturous sacrifice. You start out development thinking you want to build a simple little functioning app. Then you find out, function by function, that Apple has restricted that functionality to a mere fragment of it's former self. Useless!

Android is where it's at. You get driver control if you need it, you have a multitude of programming languages, an Open Source app distribution channel, and raw sensor channels for interfacing with all kinds of sensors (stay tuned for some hacks on this to come). Android is literally the perfect rapid prototyping platform. It is just high level enough to be efficient, it's just low level enough to enable embedded applications development. And it's Open Source, so if you need to, you can just recompile the whole darn thing from scratch yourself if you want to.
And that's powerful. In the coming weeks, I'm going to do my best to integrate open source hardware and open source software together, using this newly cracked Android Gadget as my platform... bring it on!


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