Fall 2013 (This is an old offering. See http://bit.ly/NUMAD14S for the next offering.)

Mobile Application Development

CS 4520 / CS5520
College of Computer and Information Science

Class Location:   Shillman Hall 220
Class Time:   3:25 PM - 5:05 PM Tue/Fri
Credit Hours:   4SH
First Class:   Fri Sep 6, 2013
Last Class   Tue Dec 3, 2013
Final exam   None
Final project due dates   4520: Wed Dec 4, 2013 by end of day
5520: Sat Dec 7, 2013 by end of day

Last optional regrade (4520/5520): Fri Dec 13, 2013
Instructor:     Stephen Intille, Ph.D.
Office:   450 West Village H
Office Hrs:   Tue 8:30-9:30 AM
Email:   ...@neu.edu
Message group   https://piazza.com/class#fall2013/cs4520and5520
Paper archive   PDFs of some readings will be posted on Blackboard
TA   Mansoor Pervaiz (pervaiz.m@husky.neu.edu)
Grader/assistant   TBD
Tutorial help session   Thu 5-7 PM (212 WVH Lab)
TA office hours  

Mon 4-6 PM, 330 WVH
Wed 9-11 AM, 330 WVH

Course Description:

This project-oriented course examines the principles of mobile application design and development. Students will learn application development on the Android platform. Topics will include memory management; user interface design; user interface building; input methods; data handling; network techniques and URL loading; and, finally, specifics such as GPS and motion sensing. Students are expected to design and develop a professional-quality mobile application that addresses a real-world problem in an innovative way. Coursework will include project conception, design, implementation, and pilot testing of mobile phone software applications, using health applications as the target domain.


There are no course prerequisites, but students in the course should be very comfortable with Java, C#, or another modern object oriented programming language. The basics of Java, which are required for Android programming, are not taught in the course, and students who do not know Java or who cannot pick it up very quickly will have a much steeper learning curve.

Course Objectives:

By the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

Students will have created an innovative and robust mobile application that will be valuable addition to their programming portfolio. Students will have gained experience describing application concepts in writing and in oral presentations.

Students in the graduate version of the class (CS 5520) will have also developed an application that uses mobile sensing capabilities in a sophisticated way.

Classroom Format: 

Most classes will be divided into two parts. The first part of the class will be devoted to a lecture and question and answer period and/or code walkthroughs on technical concepts. The last 20-30 minutes of class will be devoted to short presentations from students on various technical and design concepts from the optional readings that reinforce the required material or provide exposure to useful concepts, toolkits, programming tips, etc. Some classes will be devoted entirely to project idea presentations or project prototyping exercises. The instructor will assume all students have read the assigned material for each class before arriving.

Required and Optional Texts:

The required text will be:

Otherwise, we will use online resources for Android programming. In addition, we will read papers on the design of novel mobile applications that will be available online or made available via Blackboard.

Strongly recommended (especially for graduate students) but not required:

Other books Prof. Intille has found helpful:

Additional Materials: 

All students are required to setup a Google Play Store account for submitting assignments ($25).

All development tools required to program in Android on PCs and Macs are freely available, and many applications can be developed and tested using the emulator. Both the Eclipse/Android setup and the newer Android Studio setups are available on CCIS lab computers. Assignment 1 has a note about picking between Android Studio or Eclipse.

A limited number of Android phones of various models will be available during the tutorial sessions and the TA office hours. When necessary near the end of the term, phones may be loaned to teams for testing, pending availability. The large size of the class this term may prohibit loaning of phones overnight on a regular basis. When phones are loaned out, students are responsible for taking excellent care of the devices and returning them. Failure to return a phone will result in a grade not being assigned.

Students will find it helpful to identify friends who have Android phones upon which apps can be occasionally tested, especially in the latter part of the term.

Getting Help:

Most of class lecture is devoted to description of concepts at a relatively high level, but learning Android will require hours of effort invested in iteratively developing ideas, writing and debugging code, and testing and revising applications.

There are three ways to get additional help:

Weekly tutorial session. Mansoor will host a tutorial session each week when he will step through additional android code and answer questions. Some sessions will have a "tutorial' flavor. Others will simply be open times for asking questions -- a friendly environment where students can help students as they learn and work on their code.

Weekly TA office hours and hack sessions. In addition to the tutorial session, the TA will have office hours twice per week. We encourage students to attend and work on programming android in an environment where Mansoor can help to answer questions and students can help each other.

Piazza online help. The Piazza web site should be used to post technical questions, and students are expected to help other students when possible.

Course Schedule/Outline:

Course requirements include (1) readings for class preparation and class participation, (2) individual and team design assignments, (3) individual and team programming assignments, (4) in-class presentations of either a programming concept or a research or design paper, (5) the final programming project, and (6) preliminary and final presentations on projects.

This will be an intensive course that will require significant reading each week, design exercises, and programming. Students should be prepared to fully immerse themselves in Android programming and mobile app design and development for the semester. Students who are not comfortable in Java will most likely need to spend additional time becoming comfortable with Java syntax and libraries.

This class is being improved each time it is offered based on student feedback, and therefore some of the details in the schedule below, are subject to change as the semester goes forward.


Class topic

Reading Due
(Beginning of class)
Scheduled Presentations
(And recommended reading)
Assignments Due

Part 1: Ramping up                                                     

Fri Sep 6

Hello Mobile World! Introduction to the Course




Tue Sep 10

Academic honesty

Planning for Assignment 1

Android basics

Development and debugging tools

The Play Store (App Market)

ADG: (Android Application Fundamentals)
Hello Ch. 1 & 2
Hello Appendix A1
ADG: Workflow
Hello Ch. 13 & 14
ADG: Publishing
ADG: Signing Applications

Tapworthy Chapter 1
Tapworthy Chapter 2
Tapworthy Chapter 3

Email with presentation preference list sent to Mansoor and intro survey sent to Prof. Intille

Recommended: Have your development environment setup

Thu Sep 12 Optional tutorial: Setting up GIT, BitBucket, and your development environment      

Fri Sep 13

Mobile design guidelines

More Android basics

ADG: Get Started, Style, Patterns, Building Blocks (including Application Structure)
ADG: Activities
ADG: Using the Dev Tools App


Sun Sep 15 (by 11:59 PM)       (Individual) Assignment 1: Hello Mobile Application Development (HelloMAD) on Marketplace and GIT

Part 2: Basic GUI and design

Tue Sep 17

Discussion Assignment #1

Addictive games

Planning for Assignment #2: Ideas!

Planning for Assignment #3: Building a word game

Why Angry Birds is so successful and popular: a cognitive teardown of the user experience
Chang, Gaming Will Save Us All (on Blackboard)
Why are video games addictive?
PASP: Designing a Speech-Enabled App (Ch. 15)
FIRST Else smartphone hands-on demo from Mobile World Congress 2010 (short video)

Thu Sep 19 (EOD)       (Individual) Assignment 2: Addictive game and project idea mash up
Thu Sep 19
Optional tutorial: XML, DDMS, and debugging basics      
Fri Sep 20
(Stephen out/Mansoor does lecture)
Beginning widgets

Hello Ch. 3 & 5
ADG: Application Resources (excluding Localization Subsection)
ADG: Manifest File
ADG: Intents and Intent Filters

Mon Sep 23 (EOD)       (Individual) Assignment 3: Word Game Part 1: Dictionary

Tue Sep 24

Discussion from Assignment #2 and #3

2D graphics overview

Hello Ch. 4
ADG: 2D Graphics
ADG: Drawable Animation
ADG: Menu Design and Say Goodbye to the Menu Button



Thu Sep 26 Optional tutorial: Layouts; Intents and intent filters; Rights in Manifest files      

Fri Sep 27

1-Minute Madness
(1 minute presentations of preliminary project ideas by individuals)

Planning for Assignment #5

TBD (Individual) Assignment 4 (Part 1): One-minute MADness presentation (Due noon, before class)
Tue Oct 1 (before class)
* note change

Tue Oct 1

Discussion Assignment #4

Paper prototyping overview

Saving data and state


Rettig “Prototyping for Tiny Fingers”
Ketola, Series 60 Voice Mailbox in Rome (on Blackboard)
Bolchini et al., "Paper in Screen" Prototyping (on Blackboard)

Hello Ch. 6
ADG: Reading and Writing Logs
ADG: Data Storage
ADG: Making Android Games that Play Nice
ADG: Device ID

ADG: What to Test

Thu Oct 3 Optional tutorial: Saving state and data; Internal/external memory      
Fri Oct 4

Live paper prototyping




(Individual) Assignment 5: Word Game Part 2: Addictive Word Game (Dabble)

Tue Oct 8

Discussion Assignment #5

Planning for Assignment #7

Threading, services, and AsyncTask

ADG: Services
ADG: Processes and Threads
ADG: Security and Permissions
reread ADG: Using DDMS


Part 3: Making apps more sophisticated and robust

Thu Oct 10 Optional tutorial: Asynctask; Data from Internet      

Fri Oct 11

Pair programming

Wake locks

Grabbing data from the web

Williams, Integrating pair programming into a software development process

Introduction to Pair Programming

Pair Programming

ADG: WakeLock

Hello Ch. 7
ADG: Performing Network Operations
ADG: Transfering Data and Battery Issues


(Individual) Assignment 4And6 (Due EOD)



Tue Oct 15


Broadcast receivers

Sensors overview

ADG: Notifications
ADG: Cloud Messaging

ADG: BroadcastReceivers
reread ADG: Intents and Intent Filters
ADG: Manipulating BroadcastReceivers

ADG: Sensors Overview
ADG: Motion Sensors
ADG: Position Sensors
ADG: Environment Sensors



Thu Oct 17 Optional tutorial: Broadcast receivers; Intents/filters (more detail); Services     (Individual) Assignment 7: Word Game Part 3: Two-Player Communication (due EOD)
Fri Oct 18

Sensor data: audio and speech; TTS

ADG: Audio Capture
PASP: Using the Microphone (Ch. 14)
PASP: Matching What Was Said (Ch. 17)
PASP: Using Speech Recognition and Text-To-Speech APIs (Ch. 16)

Monday Oct 21 (EOD)       (Team) Assignment 8: Team project idea proposal and plans
Tue Oct 22

Discussion Assignment #7

Planning for Assignment #9

Sensor data: processing/using motion data

PASP: Detecting Movement (Ch. 8)
TBD (Papers on motion data processing; Wocket API)

Thu Oct 24 Optional tutoral: Internal Accelerometer Data; Wockets; Code examples of Basic Filters discussed in class       

Part 4: Designing and programming an innovative mobile app

Fri Oct 25

Custom views



ADG: Custom Components
ADG: Styles and Themes
ADG: Fragments

Monday Oct 29 (EOD)       (Individual) Assignment 9: Word Game Part 4: Two Player Dabble (+sensor secret sauce for 5520)
Tue Oct 29

2-minute madness (2 minute presentations of project plans by teams)

Planning for Assignment #11


(Team) Assignment 10: 2-minute MADness presentation

Thu Oct 31 Optional tutorial: Live paper prototyping      

Fri Nov 1

Sensor data: location and maps

Hello Ch. 8
ADG: Making Your App Location Aware


Tue Nov 5


Remote sync

Hello Ch. 9
ADG: Examining sqlite3 Databases from a Remote Shell
ADG: Data Backup
ADG: Storing and Searching for Data

ADG: Building Connectivity

Thu Nov 7 Optional tutorial: Audio & TTS example; Location services      

Fri Nov 8

3D graphics

Hello Ch. 10
ADG: 3D with OpenGL
ADG: Property and View Animation



Part 5: Final development of final project

Tue Nov 12

Useful tools (telephony, SMS, multi-touch, livewallpaper, widgets)

Hello Ch. 11
Hello Ch. 12
ADG: Media Playback
ADG: App Widgets
ADG: App Widget Design Guidelines
ADG: Copy and Paste

TBD (Team) Assignment 11: Trickiest Parts of Project and Half-way Done
Thu Nov 14 Optional tutorial: Collaborative debugging session      

Fri Nov 15

Discussion of Assignment #11

Optimization and debugging tips

ADG: Designing for Performance
ADG: Designing for Responsiveness
ADG: Designing for Seamlessness
ADG: Optimizing Your UI
ADG: Profiling with Traceview and dmtracedump

Debugging Arts of the Ninja Masters


Tue Nov 19

Wireless: Cellular, Bluetooth, WIFI, NFC

ADG: Bluetooth
ADG: WiFi Connect

Thu Nov 21 Optional tutorial: Collaborative debugging session      

Fri Nov 22

Future mobile interfaces discussion

Hinckley and Song, Sensor Synaesthesia (on Blackboard)


Tue Nov 26

Making a living – Licensing and Billing; Internationalization

Hello Ch. 13
ADG: Localization
Casting a wide net: how to target all Android devices (2010)

Optimizing Apps for Android 3.0

Has Apple Just Screwed the Business Model for Selling Software (including comments) and GDC 2010: Ngmoco's Neil Young on how freemium will change the App Store world

Articles on micropayments: Article1, Article 2, and Where are the MicroPayments

ADG: New Tools for Screen Sizes


Fri Nov 29

No class - Thanksgiving holiday

Consider testing other team apps and reporting bugs to help them out

Test other team apps and report bugs

Tue Dec 3 Final project presentations #1 (all undergrads + some grads) None  

Presentations due


Wed Dec 4       Final project due for 4520

Fri Dec 6

Final project presentations #2 (remaining grads)    

Presentations due

Sat Dec 7


  Try out other team apps Final project due for 5520

Course subject content is tentative and may change during the semester until the date of assignment.

Schedule after the last class:

Please note that while the optional regrade of final projects is not required, it is quite common for teams to take advantage of this option. Students may want to arrange travel plans accordingly.

Grading Procedures and Criteria:

Prior experience suggests that work in this course will generally fall into one of four categories:

Course work falling into these categories correspond roughly to A, B, C, and D grades. In the last two offerings of this course, grades ranged from A-F, with a modest number of grades in A range and the bulk of grades in the B range. The final grade for the course will be computed by weighting the results from each assignment according to the following formula:  

Expectations of quality work showing mastery of course material will increase with every assignment, culminating very high expectations for the final project.

Please read the late policy information below carefully.

Class presentations  

Every student will have multiple opportunities to hone presentation skills in this class, because they are critical to future career success. Students will make four presentations: (1) a 6 minute individual presentation on a mobile app development concept, (2) a 1 minute presentation on a preliminary app project idea, (3) a 2 minute presentation on a final project idea (possibly with team partner), and (4) a final 6 minute presentation on the final project implementation.

Students will be provided with a template for the presentations and will be expected to use a modified Petcha Kucha format for each (20s per slide, with an auto-advancing presentation). This format requires practice in advance! Presentations will be graded on adherence to the format and overall presentation clarity and evidence of practice, as well as demonstration by the students of a thorough understanding of the topics being discussed.

In each student's 6 minute individual presentation, the goal is for the student to teach the class an important idea/concept in as much depth as possible in a limited time (18 slides at 20s per slide). All students will develop a presentation from this Powerpoint template.

Presentations on project status and the final projects will also use a similar format (although most will be much shorter).

Code review   

In some classes, code from assignments may be randomly selected. In this case, the student(s) who wrote the code may be asked in class (without prior notice) to step through it, explaining key design decisions. Other students may be asked to critique the code. All code must be up-to-date using BitBucket and Git.

Design assignments  

The best way to reduce programming time is to spend time on effective design early in the development process. Therefore, in this class, design and rapid prototyping will be emphasized throughout. Design assignments will get students thinking carefully about design, leading towards a final project, and will ensure that students are working to help each other, across teams, to develop the most innovative mobile apps possible. In the past, some students have struggled with this aspect of the course. Students should be prepared to get honest feedback on designs, generate many ideas, and spend time testing concepts before they start programming them. An investment in coming up with a good design pays off as the final project is developed.

Programming lead-up assignments

A set of programming assignments will help individuals and then teams incrementally converge on an innovative final project. The assignments will get increasingly challenging, as individuals first make simple modifications to an existing Sudoku game and transform it into a completely different type of addictive game. Then teams will work on developing a a final project with a health purpose. (It is anticipated that most final projects will look nothing like the first addictive game developed by modifying Sudoku, thereby making it possible for students to add more than one app to their portfolio at the completion of the course: the word game and the final project.)

All assignments will be “submitted” via uploading apps to the app store and via committing code using GIT and BitBucket. For grading, the apps will be updated and run on an actual mobile phone of an unspecified model. Emphasis will be on usability design, creativity of the design, professionalism of the application, and technical robustness. For the most part, the structure of the code behind the applications will not be reviewed during the grading process unless a problem is identified, but the latest code must always be online for review, and students must be incrementally commiting code and using the feature and bug tracking features on BitBucket.   

Final project design and implementation

Although there are design and programming projects along the way, they are all designed to support the development of an outstanding final project. Students will design and implement a fully-functional mobile phone application for Android mobile phones that must be sufficiently robust so that it can be deployed with actual users. Students will work in two-person teams (recommended) or individually. Teams are expected to produce a polished and professional-looking mobile phone application that works robustly on a variety of phone models, meets the user interface design standards discussed in the course, and shows a substantial amount of creativity. The goal is not to produce yet another app that does the same thing as other apps on the app store, but to design an app that truly stands out from the crowd. Students should aim for focused apps that are addictive/fun/engaging but with a serious purpose that creatively exploit some of the unique capabilities of mobile interaction and mobile devices. The apps must address one of the key project topics presented in class. The app should be extremely easy and pleasing to use. To achieve these goals will require many rounds of design iteration and careful application of the design concepts discussed in class.    

To ensure that students can benefit from the collective experience of one another, and to focus the course to maximize the likelihood that students will develop novel application ideas, the course assignments and project will focus on the area of apps for health.

Final projects must address one of the topics discussed in the first class: (STILL NEEDS REVISION)

Android phones will be available for development and testing as needed at the tutorial/hack sessions and on a limited basis at other times. Teams interested in using other wireless sensors (e.g., Wockets motion sensors) will be provided with those as well.

At the end of the term students will present their project in class. Students will be provided with a template for the presentations, using a modified Pecha Kucha format (16-20 slides, 20 seconds each, on auto advance). Presentations will be graded on adherence to the format and overall presentation clarity on the final project, and evidence that the presentation was practiced.

Teams / Pair programming:

Students are strongly encouraged to form teams of two. Students will be able to self-select teams and we will have a class exercise that should help students find others interest in similar project topics. Students may elect to work individually, but this may make the course more challenging. Mobile phone programming can be tricky and frustrating at times, and working in pairs can not only improve efficiency but also enhance creativity of the final app. If students wish to have a partner but cannot identify one, the instructor will help with pairing to the extent possible, but students who cannot find a partner may be forced to work alone.

Pair programming has been shown to have a number of benefits including increased personal satisfaction and fewer errors. When students work in pairs, both must work together on a single computer, and both must write approximately half of the code. Very little code should be written without the other partner present and watching.

Teams are expected to apply software best practices such as tracking tasks and using software configuration management, and select appropriate supporting tools.

At the end of the semester, each team member will be asked to seperately and anonymously document the other team member's contributions. This information will be taken into account when assigning final grades.

App Competition:

At the end of the class, students in the class and a small panel of distinguished judges from academia and industry will try out the applications and vote for the top apps based on creativity, robustness, usability, and usefulness. The winning team will receive a small prize (and bragging rights!). Past prizes in various semesters were Android Nooks or Net10 Android phones for each team member. The prize this semester has not yet been determined.

Classroom Policies:

Students are expected to demonstrate qualities of academic integrity: a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values:  honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.

Actively engaging in verbal exchanges of ideas and concepts will be a component of learning in this course. This will be stimulated by readings, class discussions and case problem solving. Therefore everyone will be expected to actively and positively listen to others and to communicate their ideas during class. Some students are less comfortable speaking in class than others, but open discussion of ideas and even disagreement is essential.  Therefore, all students are expected to read course materials prior to class and may be called upon at times even if they do not raise their hands. Participation does not result from talking a lot, but as a result of critical thinking and articulation of ideas.

University policy dictates that students must seek the instructor’s permission to tape record class lectures.  I will always allow the use of tape recorders to support your learning.

As ironic as it may seem in a course about mobile application development, to facilitate discussion and learning, electronic devices, including laptops and tablets and phones and Google Glass, must be turned off in class unless otherwise specified by the instructor.

Slides shown in class will be available on the course web site 1-2 days after each class.  

Please do not eat during the class unless you plan to provide food for everyone.

Students are expected to be particularly attentive when their peers are presenting.

Writing/Presentation Policies:

Assignments that involve writing and presentation will be judged on clarity of presentation as well as content. Students who are having difficulty with writing will be referred to the Northeastern University Writing Center.

Late Policy:

Unexcused late assignments will automatically be lowered by one letter grade. Assignments will not be accepted more than one week late. Because the team project activities each week build on the prior weeks’ results, teams are strongly encouraged to turn in their work on time in whatever state it is in.

In extenuating circumstances, well prior to (e.g., two weeks before) an assignment due date, a student may request an extension with a reasonable explanation. It is the discretion of the instructor to permit late assignments and this is rare, because all students have one late assignment pass.

Get out of being late pass: Getting behind in this course creates serious problems as students go forward, because early foundational work is necessary to successfully complete a high-quality, professional final project. Therefore, assignment deadlines will be strictly enforced, following the late policy above. However, each student will be allowed one "get out of being late" pass for any assignment other than the final project and the in-class individual presentation. If this pass is used, an assignment can be turned in up to one week late with no penalty.

Academic Honesty:

All students are expected and encouraged to discuss the topics raised by this course with each other. Ideas or content (including graphical content) incorporated from an outside source or another student must be documented appropriately in the app submissions, write-ups, and presentations. Students must abide by the NU Code of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity Policy. Acts of academic dishonesty will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution.

Students are encouraged to help each other with programming assignments, but copying of blocks of code from another student or team is not acceptable. Students must be prepared and capable to explain the work they have done. Similarly, students working in teams are expected to jointly work on the code they develop and BOTH students should have a thorough understanding of all of the code.

Academic honesty is fundamental to the learning process. As a reminder,  

Any student found cheating on an assignment or with code that raises concerns about potential cheating will receive a zero on that assignment. A second offense will result in a failing grade for the course and reporting the student(s) to the Northeastern University administration. Note that even the suspicion of cheating will trigger these actions, and therefore students must actively work to prevent others from using their work in unauthorized ways.

Any code snippets or content used in any assignment throughout the class must be document in that particular assignment, as will be described in class.

These policies will be discussed in the second class.

Students with questions about what is acceptable or unacceptable collaboration on assignments should ask the instructor.


Students who have a disability are encouraged to seek accommodations though the University Disability Resource Center.  If the Disability Resource Center has formally approved you for an academic accommodation in this class, please present Prof. Intille with your "Professor Notification Letter" during the first week of the semester and speak privately with me about your needs for accommodations and strategies to support your success. This information will be kept confidential.


The instructor will distribute optional mid-term and final course evaluations, to be returned anonymously. Responses to the questions help to improve this course during the current semester and for future students. Significant modifications to the design of this course have been made based on prior surveys returned.

All students are also strongly encouraged to use the TRACE (Teacher Rating and Course Evaluation) system near the end of the course to evaluate this course. A reminder about TRACE should arrive via email about two weeks before the end of the course.