All programming enthusiasts know this. Whether you are interested in web, mobile or desktop development, when the time comes to start a project, it is never easy to decide on which language, framework or tool to use.
Learning new languages and tools is time-consuming. It is therefore normal to look around for a few hours, in search of the “ultimate tool”. This one should be both “future-proof” and perfectly adapted to your needs.
In this article, we will offer an overview of the possibilities open to those who want to learn mobile development. We will first give a presentation of the three main types of mobile applications that can be created today. Then, we will list some popular languages and practical tools that will help you start programming without delay.
Native, web, and hybrid applications
Before starting with actual mobile development, it is necessary to know what can be created. Here are the three main types of mobile applications on the market, each with its own advantages and disadvantages:
Native applications are designed specifically for mobile devices in a language specific to an operating system, e.g. swift for iOS. Therefore, if you want to run an iOS application on Android, you have to reprogram it in Java or Kotlin.
Native applications are therefore very expensive, but they are also the most powerful ones. In addition, they have direct access to a device’s various functionalities such as the GPS or the camera. They can also be used offline, and be downloaded directly from the Google Play or Appstore platforms.
Web applications are mobile application that can run on your mobile device’s web browser, like a traditional website. They have several advantages:
- There is only one code to write, so no need to worry about compatibility with Android or iOS. Therefore, these apps will also be compatible with all modern browsers.
- You can easily include many types of media and display them on different types of screens.
Web applications do not offer all the features of native applications. Indeed, interaction with other applications or direct control of a device component is not an option available for them. They will also not perform as well as native applications.
A hybrid application is a mixture of the first two types of applications we have just seen. These are web applications that have features specific to native applications, such as the use of the GPS for example. They represent an interesting alternative to native applications as they are cheaper and can be downloaded from their respective download platforms. However they are less efficient than native applications and are not always as ergonomic.
Languages for mobile development
This is the language of choice for programming native iOS applications. Swift is gaining momentum and is gradually taking over from Objective-C, that used to be the main programming language for iOS, although they are still often used together. Swift has many advantages: it clarifies Objective-C syntax, facilitates the detection of programming errors, etc. If you love apple and swear by it, these two languages are for you.
It is the most widely used programming language on the planet, and the default language for the development of native Android applications. The strength of Java is that, unlike more “closed” languages such as Swift, which were designed for iOS only, Java can be used as the base code for developing programs that will run on almost every conceivable device. Moreover, the Java programming community is so huge that it is almost impossible to get stuck on a line of code. Indeed, your problem has surely already been met, and solved. You can’t go wrong with Java.
Like Java, Kotlin is a language that allows the development of native Android applications. Its syntax is simpler, cleaner and less error-prone than Java’s. Kotlin has earned its popularity and position as the “basic Android programming language” alongside Java since May 2017. Combined with Java, for even more advanced performance, Kotlin is an essential tool for any developer.
No article dealing with mobile development would be complete without a few words on the C++. This programming language was there long before smartphones and was created to develop programs for all types of applications and media, which it has done, and continues to be great at. C++ is not very modern, and its complex syntax tends to put many programmers off, yet it remains a very powerful and reliable reference in programming that still allows you to literally do whatever you want to do in an app.
Because Android and iOS are not the only operating systems on the market, it is only fair to mention C#, the basic language for developing native Windows Mobile applications. Its syntax resembles that of C++, but simplified thanks to the adoption of certain elements from Java, making its structure more intuitive.
9 practical tools for creating your mobile application
So you want to create an application, but the code gives you hives. Today, there are web and hybrid application development platforms that allow you to create applications without any programming knowledge whatsoever, such as Buildfire, Eachscape or Gamesalad.
For simple applications, Gamesalad can be an excellent alternative as it is inexpensive and very quick to install. Balsamiq, Moqups, and HotGloo are excellent wireframe creation tools that will help you design applications.
If you do a lot of work as a team, try Zeplin. It is an excellent collaboration tool between web designers and developers that will allow you to build applications exactly as you imagined them.
Software library managers are very practical when it comes to managing your libraries in a neat and organized way. The most popular are Cocoapods, on iOS, and the Gradle plug-in for Android Studio.
IntelliJ IDEA is an Android application programming tool developed to “make programming fun,” and it succeeds in doing so with programming assistance, fast navigation, rapid error analysis, and many other useful features.
Corona Labs is another very good development tool, which has the advantage of being available for all types of programs and OSes. It is particularly effective when creating 2D video games.
RhoMobile is a framework based on Ruby that allows you to create native applications compatible with a large number of OSes, including Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and others.
Now it’s your turn
Mobile development is an exciting field filled with opportunities. There are tailor-made solutions for all sizes of project, and wallet, while there are no “wrong” choices when choosing to pursue a career in this field. Regardless of what coding purists may say, if a drag-and-drop application creation platform allows you to create exactly what you need at a lower cost, and within a few hours, why not use it?
Keep in mind that there is no better tool than the one that fits your needs.
Article written by a CAWEB Master’s student.