What Language Do I Use to Develop Android Apps?

Upstack
Upstack
Jun 10 · 5 min read

Android continues to dominate the mobile operating market with a 72 percent share in January 2021. Due to its popularity, the demand for apps that run on this platform is higher than ever. With emerging technologies like micro apps and Artificial Intelligence breaking into this consumer market, Android app development continues to evolve.

Since its launch in 2008, Android has been an open-source operating system. This strategic commitment from Google, who acquired Android in 2005, continues to drive its high demand as third-party phone makers can leverage this platform. As they do not have to license it or build an OS of their own, manufacturers will continue to release devices running Android for the foreseeable future. The same goes for app development. As Android is open-source, developers have the flexibility to use several programming languages and frameworks.

Native or Web?

Deciding on which language to use to develop an Android app depends entirely on what you want to accomplish. If you want your app to leverage Android device features, building a native app is the better choice. However, if you want your app to run on other platforms, such as Apple’s iOS, a web app leveraging bridging technology such as PhoneGap might better serve you.

Native Android App Development

Since the launch of the first mobile devices, native app development continues to evolve. Even though web development may cost less and offer a faster time to market, building native apps has several distinct advantages. They are typically more secure, provide a better performance, and give developers full access to device features.

Android Studio, the official Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Android apps, gives developers the ability to build native apps using Kotlin, Java, and C++. Selecting the best language for you depends on your level of experience and what you want to achieve.

Kotlin

Kotlin is the official and preferred option for Android development. It is a free, open-source, and statically typed language. Like Java, it is also multi-platform, general-purpose, and designed to run on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM).

Kotlin is a popular Android development language as it offers several unique features. It is interoperable with Java, which means that you will have no difficulty using it in a Java project. It is also more concise, so you get the same functionality with much less code. Kotlin also offers several advanced features such as string templates, operator overloading, and Lambda expressions. It is also easier to learn, and because it is statically typed, less prone to errors which it catches at compile time.

Java

Java is another officially supported programming language for Android app development. Released in 1995 by Sun Microsystems, it is much older and has been around a lot longer than Kotlin. When Android first launched, Java was the programming language of choice for the platform. Kotlin is much younger and has only gained popularity in the past few years.

Java has many features that make it a viable option to build Android apps. It also has the same statically typed advantages making it more robust and less error-prone. It supports Object Oriented Principles (OOP), making it more scalable, extensible, and flexible. As it has been around for over two decades, it has a large community and support base and is also one of the more secure programming languages. However, compared to Kotlin, it is much more complicated and comes with a steep learning curve.

C++

C++ is another cross-platform development language you can use to create native Android apps. Released in 1985, it is ten years older than Java. Even so, it remains one of the top 10 programming languages according to GitHub statistics. Like Kotlin and Java, C++ is platform-independent. It is also a general-purpose language used in a wide variety of use-cases across different technologies. Android Studio supports C++ with the Java NDK.

Web Apps

If your goal is to provide mobile-friendly content, building it as a web app instead of a native app is a viable option. A combination of HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript can give you all the basic functionality you need to render your app on an Android device. The primary advantage of building a web app is that you have a single code base across mobile platforms. It makes it more cost-effective to develop and maintain. That does not necessarily mean you should disregard web apps if you are only going to publish on Android. They do have their advantages. Web apps are easier to code, and the technologies you use are more straightforward and user-friendly. However, their disadvantages can be a deciding factor when building a mobile app for Android.

Web App Disadvantages

Web apps cannot access device features like their native app counterparts. Unless you wrap the app in technology like PhoneGap, users will need to access your app using a browser. They are also slower and less responsive than native apps.

Progressive Web Apps

A Progressive Web App (PWA) is a hybrid of a regular web page and a native app. Mobile browsers have come a long way in the past decade and now offer more advanced features. PWAs leverage these features providing users a more intuitive and interactive experience. Some of these PWA capabilities include sending push notifications and access to hardware components like vibration.

Focus on the User Experience

Ultimately, the language you choose should depend on the type of app you want to build, the time you have to make it, and the project’s objective. Web apps are cost-effective and have much shorter development timeframes. However, they do not offer the speed, performance, and user experience of a native app. Native apps provide much more as they interact directly with the device. However, there is a steep learning curve compared to web app technologies.

If you are starting as a mobile app developer, you need to have the ability to develop both native and web apps. Kotlin and Java are both supported languages for Android app development. C++ is also supported, but you need to work through the Java NDK on Android Studio. Any of these languages are well suited to building Android apps. However, it would help if you also had HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript skills to create apps that align with your project’s user experience goals.

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Originally published at upstack.co on May 14, 2021, by Chris Lazari.

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