All programming enthusiasts know this: whether you’re interested in web, mobile or desktop development, it is never easy to decide on which language, framework or tool to use when the time comes to start a project. Learning new languages and tools is time-consuming, so it is normal to look around for a few hours, in search of the “ultimate tool” that is both “future-proof” and perfectly adapted to your needs.
The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the possibilities open to those who want to learn mobile development, first by giving a presentation of the three main types of mobile applications that can be created today, then by listing some popular languages and practical tools that will help you start programming without delay.
Native, web, and hybrid applications
Before starting with actual development, it is necessary to know what can be created. Here I list 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 and in a programming language specific to a given operating system, e.g. swift for iOS. This means, using the previous example, that if you want to run your iOS application on Android, you will have to reprogram it entirely in Java or Kotlin. Native applications are therefore very expensive, but are also the most powerful. In addition, they have direct access to the functionalities of the various components of the device, such as the GPS or camera, can be used offline, and can be downloaded directly from the Google Play or Appstore download 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’s only one code to write, so no need to worry about compatibility with Android or iOS as these apps will be compatible with all modern browsers.
- Other web-based advantages include, ease of insertion of many types of media and display management on different types of screens.
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 GPS for example. They can be an interesting alternative to native applications because they are cheaper and downloadable from their respective application download platforms, but 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’s almost impossible to get stuck on a line of code: 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 it 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 ally if Android programming is your thing.
No article dealing with programming 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 because 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 imagine them.
Software library managers are very practical when it comes to managing all your libraries in a neat and organized way. The most popular are Cocoapods, on iOS, and the Gradle plugin for Android Studio.
IntelliJ IDEA is an Android application programming tool developed by JetBrains 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 that it can be used 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.