Q&A With An Android Developer – Birgertime / @romanbb


Something that hit me like a brick Tuesday was the idea of breaking that “wall” between ROM developers and the end-user. Think about it… how well do you know the person who is responsible for the way your phone acts and looks the way that it does. Sure would be nice to know them better, right?

There is nobody to blame here, these guys do NOT have to spend time away from their lives and developing to chit-chat with us and let us into their world, but I think it is special when one of them, whom I consider among the best, allows us to.

That individual is Roman, aka birgertime on XDA and @romanbb on twitter. He is a memeber of Team EDT and has been making Samsung Vibrants rejoice for a long time now. I won’t give an entire bio – lets just jump right into the Q&A. I will make my questions/comments bold to distinguish between us.

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Alright man, I believe everyone knows of you…. but we know so little about you. What is your name and what are your interests outside of Android/EDT?

My real name is Roman and I was born in Russia. Outside of Android & EDT I love what ever other 21 year old loves, hanging out with friends, movies, and beer. I used to play lots of games and such, but that was before Android took all of my free time. I played anything from MMOs to FPS. I still play Bad Company 2 on PS3 every now and then.

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Speaking of  just turning 21. What are your favorite “adult beverages” so far?

Favorite beer has to be Yuengling (Sorry Callip, Fat Tire is pretty good, but not my favorite, ha). As far as liquor goes, I love me some Whiskey.

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What bands/music really get you going?

I am a pretty big metal head. Opeth, Deftones, In Flames, Haste the Day. Also can’t live without some  Alice in Chains, Audioslave (and Soundgarden) and Radiohead. Lots of other bands I listen to, but I’ll try to  keep the list short.

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Alright, great background info… nice to actually learn WHO a developer is. Now lets focus more on Android and developing. You are an active member of EDT. Who else is on that team of developers and what the heck is EDT an abbreviation of? Jellette came up with the name right?

EDT consists of Jellette, Whitehawkx, Cmenard, Dan_Brutal, Annex, Demiurgic, and me. EDT stands for Einherjar Development Team. Jellete did come up with the name, and I believe the Wikipedia article says it all (as Jellette told everyone to look it up when he made the team, haha).

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How does development go working in a team? I personally am too hands on… can you talk me through how that process works? Do you guys plan who does what and then mesh it together?

Everyone more or less is good at their own thing, except Jellete, who is best at it all!

I can only speak of what I know and the projects I’ve worked on, so that is what I’ll use as an example. More specifically, the recently released Project V. Whitehawk and I talk pretty regularly about things we are working on so we always know what is going on with what. If one of us adds a feature, there are usually files in our inbox so that we are always on the same page. For instance, when I added a lockscreen timeout feature, I just sent him the affected files for his testing.

So basically, yeah, we do mesh it together. I wish the team could work closer together, but it’s really difficult on projects like this. Plus the Internet is a pretty big barrier as well.

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What got you interested in ROM development and Android in general?

I’ve always loved the idea of Android ever since I heard of it. I wish I had bought a G1 when it first came out, but I got stuck with a crappy WinMo phone. That didn’t stop me though! Almost exactly a year ago I bought a G1 on eBay. Hey, it was like $90, so why not? I think I couldn’t even wait 24 hours after getting it to root it, haha.

As far as Rom Development, I definitely need to thank Jellette for that. There was always something about a ROM that I wanted to customize and I never knew how. It’s scary messing with a $500 piece of equipment when you know almost nothing about it. As time went by, I got more comfortable with it and started making my own modifications. It was mainly theming for the first few months, but I hungered for more, haha.

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Anyone you feel really inspired you? Or is this something that just developed on it’s own based off your background?

Jellette, Team Whiskey, and Untermensch. All of these guys had done great things and really made me want to learn. These guys inspired me, but I don’t think I could do anything without my Java background. I’ve always wanted to learn to program and Android sort of just fell into my lap.

I keep telling anyone who messes with Android to learn Java but nobody will listen to me. It really helps with the smali code.

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WTF is smali and why are you always tweeting about it? Haha, I know you use this a lot for your new features in Project-V (which is amazing), but can you help explain what smali code is for us?

Alright, here we go. We cannot decompile Android files into Java. However, we can decompile it into smali bytecode. If you want to know more details about what exactly bytecode is, I suggest, read this or this, I won’t go into it here.
Anyhow, it’s incredibly more complex dealing with smali rather than coding in java code, we’re literally hacking Android. I’ll show an example of some code below for comparison. First you have Java, followed by the smali equivilant of it:

public void test() {

System.out.println(“Hello!”);

}

And here is the direct smali equivalent:

.method public test()V

.registers 3

.prologue

sget-object v0, Ljava/lang/System;->out:Ljava/io/PrintStream;

const-string v1, “Hello!”

invoke-virtual {v0, v1}, Ljava/io/PrintStream;->println(Ljava/lang/String;)V

return-void

.end method

The Java is pretty easy to read and it’s well organized, 1 line of code. As opposed to the 9999 lines above for it’s smali equivalent.

If you look at it closely, you’ll see it does the same thing, but it’s much more complicated. This makes it incredibly complicated to add even simple modifications sometimes because it is so picky and if you mess up one thing, there’s nothing to tell you where you went wrong. Opposed to Java, where Eclipse will underline what’s not coded properly. Knowing how Java works helps a lot, ha.

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What are your thoughts on Samsung and developing for Samsung phones?

It’s a little difficult at times. I really wish I could write in plain Java code because I’d be able to add some serious features, however due to TouchWiz, no one is able to do so.

Let me explain the process a little and why AOSP is so good. Also, I wish I was more knowledgeable so I could help the CM7 progress, but all that stuff is over my head, I’ve still got a lot to learn.

When you look at AOSP code it’s in plain Java. That’s why CM is awesome, they can code right on top of Android code. With TouchWiz, we don’t have source, so any modifications have to be done in smali, which is literally hacking features into Android.

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Are you thinking about making a switch, or sticking with Samsung phones in the future… I feel like Samsung has been trying to prove they are listening to developers… has it helped at all?

Indeed they have! I wish I was knowledgeable to work on CM so they’d send me a Samsung Galaxy SII, ha! (Callip here, atinm who is a huge asset to CM7 on the Vibrant/Captivate received a SGS2 from Samsung – told you guys yesterday Samsung is trying harder)

Honestly I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. I’m scared to grab another phone on contract because of the AT&T / T-Mobile deal, and I’m in college (read: poor), so I can’t afford a phone. Samsung’s latest moves towards developers looks really great for the community, but it will affect us more in the long run. Especially SGSII users, they should have a flawless CM7/8.

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Are there things you wish to see, as a developer that currently are not happening (anything)?

100,000 more Twitter followers. That’s about it. And I prefer the term “7zip pro” rather than “developer.” On a more serious note, I can’t really think of anything off the top of my head.

He is @romanbb on Twitter people… you heard the man, follow him.

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The Vibrant section on XDA seems slow recently, what do you feel is causing that?

Lack of a new leak, Froyo is boring.

Also, I think users don’t really care that much about the development, they just want their ROMs to work. They don’t want to upgrade very often nor do they feel comfortable doing it as some of the more experienced users do. So I imagine most of them found one that works for them and don’t check back on XDA too frequently.

I think it’s important to note that while there are a LOT of Vibrant users out there, most of them are probably casual users who don’t really care about development. I don’t think in all of the time since the Vibrant has been out, I’ve ever met anyone else (besides my brother, who I’ve obviously setup with my Trigger ROM) who mods their Vibrant. We are a small community.

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What do you anticipate will happen once a Gingerbread leak comes out, do you think everyone will jump to CM7?

It’s going to be pretty split, I think. I honestly can’t take a stab. CM7 is King, but there are always people who will want WiFi calling & the stability of a native Vibrant ROM.

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I personally love the features of CM7… but there are certain things missing, which sounds crazy given the features it packs… but not even a smart dialer like the one on a stock Vibrant… I do not understand how certain (what I consider)  key features are missing…. Thought there was going to be a question here. I guess it was more of a rambling rant.

I agree, I missed the smart dialer a lot when using CM7. It forced me to use the contacts app for once! But that’s just the beauty of Android: hop on the Android market and you have a really good selection of alternatives.

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I know developers TRULY are not out there to make money, but I was curious if you could talk about donations, ie, what they mean to you?

They are just nice. Even small donations are nice, they show that people truly appreciate your work. I honestly don’t expect any, but it is nice to receive something for the amount of time some we put into this. I don’t think people realize exactly how time consuming some of this stuff is.

It’s important to support your developers if you can, if I use an app by a dev, I’ll buy the donate version and support them. I’ve also donated to quite a few of the Vibrant devs in the past. They deserve it.

Again, it’s not necessary, but it’s nice.

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And if you’re cool with me asking, how much do you guess you’ve been given for your efforts? Is it constant stream, at releases, or when you help someone out?

There have been a few generous donations here and there, but nothing substantial.. I’d guess MAYBE around $500? Less I think… $150 towards my Nexus One (good price I got on it, eh!?), it paid for my L.A. Noire, and a couple beers here and there. All donations sent to EDT are split between all of us. Plus a lot of the donations have gone towards the EDT site. Donations mostly come when a new ROM is out. Not sure if I’ve ever gotten anything for helping someone out directly.

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Callip interrupting,I gave you $10 for answering my dumb theming questions the night before your 21rst… my only request was that you buy a Fat Tire and/or a Surfer on Acid. You have helped me, immensely!

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You’ve worked on several roms, and many updates to them. What are you most proud of, consider your flagship. ie, what do you recommend people try after reading this?

The latest and greatest of course! The newest Project V includes all the tweaks, features, and more that has ever been included in a Vibrant ROM (except of course CM7!). Combined with the Trigger theme, I am really enjoying it.  There really has been a ton of time and effort put into the new ROM and it’s custom included apps (Bloater & EDT Tweaks, both written by me :P).

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Alright man, really appreciate you answering some questions. I know people really love your & EDTs work / dedication… anything you want to tell people that may be reading this? Final thoughts on where we are heading or anything?

I just want to thank everyone for helping me and supporting me and EDT. I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much as I have if people were not supportive. Learning Android is really fun, and never ending! Also I want to thank everyone in the Vibrant community who contributes, you all make it a better place and a better reason to own this phone.

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Amen to that. I would also like to really hit home that it’s the COMMUNITY that makes the Android Community great. Do what you can to help… go on XDA and answer noob related questions, support your developers, or start a small blog and get the chance to interview your favorite developers… trust me, it feels good.

Please, sound off in the comments on what I can do to make this better or if you have questions that I did not ask. Also, hit up @romanbb on Twitter and let him know you appreciate him taking the time to do this – time away from developing for YOU!

Thank you all for reading!!

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About s15274n

I will do what I can to help support the Android Community!

Posted on June 9, 2011, in Advocate, Q&A and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Good Q&A with a great Dev. Nice read and its good to show that developers are human also, so when all these people start complaining about fixing things in roms. Devs have lives too. They are doing people favors by even working on roms.

    • Haha, exactly.

      I wanted to try and show just how much these guys do for us.. and how little they receive for it. If you check places like XDA, it’s a wonder they don’t keep it for their own personal use.

      WE owe these guys (that includes you tonic) a lot… really appreciate the feedback man.

  2. jose (fear676)

    This was great.

  3. This is an interesting read. Got to know about Smali and the way these guys are working with ROMs.
    Really appreciate their efforts.
    you should start #NeverAgain whenever source in refused/delayed.

    • I think the folks at Samsung know I’m both reasonable, but very vocal when needed. I pray they don’t withhold Gingerbread too much longer to help sell the Galaxy S2.

      • They’d be morons to think that releasing GB for the SGS could possibly slow down sales of the SGS II. My ONLY complaint with the SGS II is pixel density. They have such an awesomely beautiful display, and the only thing that any other phone has over it is density (I.E. resolution), yet they chose not to increase it, and then made the screen even bigger! That’s the only reason I am waiting for the SGS III, and don’t already have an SGS II. I love my Vibrant, but my friend’s iPhone 4’s resolution is much sharper, which really makes everything look so much better. Granted the colors and contrast are light-years behind the S-AMOLED, but the resolution almost makes up for it.

      • What I love about my Vibrant… when I have an all black background and I cut my screen off, it looks the same 🙂

        Black = Black = AMAZING.

  4. Nice write up / interview – great job!

    -Jellette / Heathen

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