In the past, making a mobile app was limited to using one set of instructions for iOS apps and another for Android. Nowadays, developers have more choices when it comes to creating apps. I made this guide to help you understand the most popular ways to write code for mobile apps. You can use this information to decide which coding language is best for you to learn and use in your mobile app.
For this guide, I won’t be talking about simple mobile app builders. You technically don’t have to learn coding languages for those kinds of mobile app development services. If you’re interested in those other methods, take a look at our guide on the five ways to build apps for more details.
Let’s talk about the various ways developers create apps. They usually fall into three categories:
Native apps are built using a language that matches the operating system of the device, like iOS or Android. For example, you’d use a different language to make an app for iPhones than you would for Android phones. This is useful when you want to create an app specifically for the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. It’s great for apps with lots of customization, like games or virtual reality apps. However, the catch is that the code won’t work on both types of devices – you have to make separate versions for each.
Hybrid apps work on both iOS and Android. They are written in a single language that can run on both types of devices. This speeds up development because you only have to write the code once, instead of twice (once for iOS and once for Android). However, compared to native apps, hybrids might not offer as much flexibility. Still, for most developers, it’s a good compromise.
Now, let’s dig a bit into the ongoing debate among developers about whether to go native or hybrid. As mentioned earlier, native apps are designed for a specific operating system. So, if you want your app on both iOS and Android, you have to create separate versions for each.
Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, and we’ll explore them further in this guide.
A PWA (progressive web app) is like a mini app that you can use in your web browser. It seems and works just like a regular app on your phone, but it doesn’t need to be installed on your device.
People who know how to make websites can make PWAs without too much trouble. If you’re already familiar with the coding languages for making websites, it’s easier to learn. However, these apps might not be able to use all the special features of your device like regular apps can.
Let’s explore the best 14 coding languages for creating mobile apps. Each language has its strengths and weaknesses, and the best choice depends on your skills and what you want to achieve. No matter what computer or software you use, you can find a suitable language and coder below.
The iPhone uses a system called iOS, made by Apple. If you make an app for iOS, it will work on iPhones and iPads. You can also share your apps on the Apple App Store for people to download.
To start making an iOS app, you need an Apple developer account. You’ll also have to use a program called Xcode, but it only works on Mac computers. You can’t build and fix things properly if you’re using a Windows computer.
Xcode is a toolkit that has everything you need to create apps for all Apple devices. It includes a code editor, simulators, a debugger, and software development kits (SDKs).
There are two main languages for making iOS apps—Objective-C and Swift.
Now, let’s examine each of these iOS apps programming languages more closely.
Objective-C was the first language Apple used for mobile apps. It’s a type of programming language called object-oriented programming (OO), which mixes C syntax with the object-oriented ideas from SmallTalk.
However, it’s not very friendly for developers. One problem is that the way you write the code feels a bit awkward, and fixing mistakes in the code can be tricky.
Swift came into the picture in 2014 as a programming language by Apple. The next year, it was available for iOS app developers to use in a tool called Xcode.
Now, when people make iOS apps, they usually prefer using Swift. If you’re just starting to make iOS apps, Swift is one of the best languages to learn. Since Swift came around, not many people use Objective-C anymore, especially for new apps. If you’re building something with Apple, they really encourage you to use Swift.
Compared to Objective-C and other languages, Swift is simpler and more concise. If you already know how to make apps with Objective-C, it’s not hard to switch to Swift.
Android is a type of software that lets people create and use different programs on their phones and tablets. It’s made by Google, but many companies, like Samsung and Huawei, also use it on their devices.
If you want to create an app for Android, you’ll need special tools. These tools include things like debuggers, which help find and fix problems, emulators that let you test your app, and the SDK, which is a set of tools for building apps. The best tool for making Android apps is called Android Studio. It’s like a special computer program that makes creating apps for Android easier. There are other tools you can use too, but Android Studio is the most popular one.
You can use Android Studio on different types of computers, like ones with Windows, Mac, or Linux. So, no matter what computer you have, you can still make cool apps for Android!
Let’s explore two programming languages used for creating Android apps: Java and Kotlin.
Java has been the main language for developing Android apps since the platform’s official launch in 2008. It is an object-oriented language that was first created in 1995. Despite having some drawbacks, Java remains the most popular language for Android development because it runs on a virtual machine. Many Android languages are variations or versions of Java.
In 2017, Google announced support for the Kotlin programming language as an alternative to traditional Java for Android development. Kotlin also runs on the Java Virtual Machine and has gained popularity quickly. The interesting thing is that Kotlin and Java can work together seamlessly—they are interoperable. This means they can share the same information, and you can use your existing Java libraries with Kotlin. From an execution perspective, Kotlin complies with Java Bytecode, making it a more organized and cleaner version of Java.
I mentioned earlier that the programming languages used for making apps on your phone have their good and not-so-good sides. Whether you’re working with Objective-C or Swift for Apple devices, or Java (or something like Kotlin) for Android, each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Native Programming:
Cons of Native Programming:
While these languages give you a lot of power over your app, they are tough to learn and building with them takes a long time. If you’re not making a very specialized app, you probably don’t need to use these languages.
Hybrid applications are made in a way that saves time because they are created once, but they use a programming language that can be used on different types of devices.
Usually, a single development process can be used for both iOS and Android. Some hybrid languages can also be used for other platforms, like progressive web apps (PWA) or mobile web apps. This is helpful if you want your app to work well on the web.
C# is a type of computer language made by Microsoft. People use it to create programs, especially for making games and doing certain tasks on Android phones.
Some other options, like OutSystems and Kony, are easier to use because they work with different languages. There are also other languages for making phone apps that are similar to C#.
When you use a special tool called an IDE, it helps you make apps that can work on both iPhones and Android phones.
Xamarin is not a language itself; it’s a tool that Microsoft owns. App developers use Xamarin to make apps using C#, and these apps can work on iPhones, Androids, and Windows.
Pros of Appcelerator:
Cons of Appcelerator:
Cordova/PhoneGap and frameworks like Ionic are basically built on top of the Apache Cordova programming language. When developers use this language, they create hybrid mobile apps by adapting a web experience into a native one.
The apps might not be as smooth, especially if you’re creating mobile games, machine learning apps, or augmented reality (AR) apps. For these types of applications, a different programming language might be more suitable since they require a higher frame rate.
Progressive web apps (PWAs) are like mobile apps but work from a website. They’re fast and reliable, even offline, and can use features like the camera and GPS on your device.
Now, let’s talk about the languages you can use to create PWAs:
In summary, each language has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to building progressive web apps. Choose the one that suits your needs and skills
Different programming languages have their own strengths and weaknesses. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to which one is the best because it depends on factors like the type of app you want, your budget, how much time you have, and your technical skills.
Native development is usually the most costly and challenging to learn. However, it’s essential for certain types of apps, such as games.
Hybrid like App Development using Flutter are easier to learn if you already know a bit about technology and web development. This method allows you to launch your app faster because you don’t have to use two separate processes.
Apart from choosing a specific language, you also need to decide on your approach. We have a detailed guide that explains the differences between synchronous and asynchronous programming to help you choose between these two popular methods.
If you’re just starting to learn how to create computer programs, using apps like Grasshopper, Sololearn, and Mimo is a great idea. These apps are designed to help beginners like you.
Another way to make an app is by using something called an app builder. Apps like BuildFire let you create apps without needing to write any code. This means even if you don’t know much about technical stuff, you can still make an app for both iPhone and Android.
But, if you don’t plan on becoming a professional programmer, using an app builder might be your best bet. Learning different programming languages takes time, and it might not be worth it if you only need one app for your business. Even if you do learn to code, your first app may not be good enough for real users.
MBaaS (Mobile Backend as a Service)
MBaaS, which stands for Mobile Backend as a Service, is something important when making mobile apps. Whether you’re using hybrid frameworks or programming languages specific to a certain device, they all have something in common—they need to be created from the beginning, and they’re missing a big part.
If you’ve ever made a mobile app before, you know that the app itself is just one part of the whole picture. You also need something called MBaaS, or a massive mobile backend service. This is like the behind-the-scenes support for your app.
Why do you need MBaaS? Well, here are a few reasons:
There’s more to the list. Basically, these are servers in the cloud that you also need to create to make sure your app works well. Unless you’re making a really simple app, like a calculator, you usually need things like user authentication, a database, and a content management system (CMS).
Your final thoughts highlight important considerations for choosing the best programming language for mobile app development. Tailoring your choice to the specific needs of your project, business, and goals is crucial. Here’s a summary of the key points you’ve mentioned:
Ultimately, your decision should align with your project’s specific requirements and constraints. Stay informed about the latest developments in the programming world, and be ready to adapt your choices based on the evolving landscape of mobile app development.