The Big Book Reboot: Why

My books need a reboot.

This may sound odd. After all, I have been continuously improving them since the initial release of The Busy Coder’s Guide to Android Development in 2008. You might imagine that I would just keep them on their current course, adding in coverage of new topics and occasionally “sprucing up” some of the earlier material.

However, my books have some fundamental issues that this approach simply won’t address:

  • The books are long, over 2,000 pages combined. Even just the original book is over 700 pages. Certainly, a fair bit of the material was written more as an expansion of the SDK documentation, to clarify and demonstrate Android’s capabilities. However, this meant that, to a large degree, all such capabilities were presented equally. It is only now, after we have done a lot more in Android as a community, that it becomes clearer what aspects of Android are less important than others, and the books ought to reflect that. Threads are more important than maps. Handling configuration changes is more important than is adding custom fonts. And so on. Yet the books do not clearly distinguish what is essential and what is merely useful.

  • The books are organized along print publishing lines. Part of the original reason for splitting out The Busy Coder’s Guide to Advanced Android Development was that The Busy Coder’s Guide to Android Development was getting too long and would exceed the limits of my binding service. Originally, I thought that print books and digital books would be roughly comparable in interest, and they definitely started that way. However, the Warescription program became much more popular, so that now the vast majority of sales come from the digital editions, not the print ones. There are things I can do in a reboot to optimize the experience for the digital readers, at the cost of making print editions somewhat more difficult to create. For example, there’s no particular reason why the presentation has to be in the form of four separate volumes, delivered in a linear fashion.

  • I tend to focus more on adding new material rather than improving the existing stuff. And even where I make the improvements, it tends to be on areas that are confusing, critical, or both, such as threading. There are lots of sections of the book that have not been touched one bit since 2008, and a lot of that material is, at best, stale. Some is downright moldy.

  • Things like fragments, the action bar, and loaders were added with Honeycomb. Heretofore, those were only critical for developers targeting tablets. Now, with Ice Cream Sandwich being rolled out not only to new devices but to many devices shipped in 2011, these newer capabilities take on added importance. It is well within reason that by mid-2012 that 25% of Android devices will natively run Ice Cream Sandwich, between upgrades of Gingerbread (perhaps one device in three) and Honeycomb (most if not all) devices plus new sales. I cannot simply keep the current coverage as something “bolted on” to the original material — I need to weave this stuff in from the outset. This will probably also involve my creating more open source components, particularly trying to leverage the Loader framework for things beyond Cursors.

  • I have been delivering training since early 2009; some of you reading this may have attended one of my sessions. Delivering 1+ weeks of training every month for nearly three years does wonders for understanding how to cover topics efficiently and effectively. While I have poured some of that experience into the books, I can do more.

So, 2012 is the year of the reboot. In addition to covering new material, I will be revamping the presentation/packaging and some of the existing material. I will not be rewriting every last word, and most of the examples will remain intact. No topics should be dropped as part of the reboot, though there are occasionally places where I drop stuff that isn’t working anymore until I have a chance to fix things (you’ll see a couple of these, unfortunately, in my next update to The Busy Coder’s Guide to Advanced Android Development).

I will provide more details of what I’m planning on in the coming weeks and will be seeking subscriber feedback at that time. I feel quite strongly that the result will be a substantial improvement over what readers have access to today. And, of course, active subscribers will be getting all of the revamped material.