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Pros and cons of Android app development tools

There are pros and cons to embarking on native Android app development. Find out if implementing an Android dev tool is right for your company.

Around 75% of all mobile devices worldwide run on Android. Additionally, around 40% of all active devices currently run Android, and that includes Windows, macOS and Linux PCs.

Android's popularity is largely a result of cheaper devices and an operating system (OS) that's both open source and free. For these reasons, Android now has a foothold in the enterprise, although progress in this area has been slow.

The state of Android in the enterprise

Android has a spotted history when it comes to security. For this reason, many companies avoided developing Android app development tools, which initially prevented Android from becoming a dominant force in the enterprise. Another challenge is the variety of Android devices and OS versions in use. For example, only a small percentage of devices currently run 9.0 (Pie), the latest Android release, with many devices still running versions as far back as 4.4 (KitKat) or even older. To complicate matters, different mobile device vendors offer different levels of security for protecting devices in the enterprise.

With that said, Google has made important strides in enterprise security, using a number of measures to reduce the risks from malicious attacks. Much of the effort falls under Android Enterprise, a Google program that offers APIs and other tools for integrating Android device administration into an enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform.

Companies in growing geographic markets -- such as China, India, Brazil and Russia -- cannot afford expensive devices, including much of Apple's product line. Because of this, they often opt for cheaper Android devices, such as the Motorola Moto E4.

Development tools you must use

Developers can use several different programming languages, including Java and C++, to build Android apps. However, Google is now pushing Kotlin as the preferred programming language. Kotlin is a modern, statically typed language that promises to simplify app development. Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition developers should find it relatively easy to migrate to Android development, as should .NET developers who work with C#.

The de facto tool for building native Android apps is Google's Android Studio. Google introduced Android Studio in 2014 and designed it specifically for mobile development. The company put a lot of thought into Android Studio, taking cues from leading development environments, such as Apple's Xcode and Microsoft's Visual Studio. Prior to Android Studio, developers typically used Eclipse Studio to build Android apps, but Google ended support for the Android Developer Tools plugin for Eclipse, in favor of Android Studio.

Publishing Android apps for the enterprise

Google uses Android Package Kits (APKs) to distribute and install Android apps. All APKs must be digitally signed with a certificate before device installation. IT teams can manually sign their apps or use Google Play's app-signing feature.

In addition, IT teams can publish their apps through the Google Play Console or directly from an EMM console, using the Android Enterprise APIs. To distribute apps, they can add them to the Managed Google Play store or remotely push them to the devices.

What to watch out for

Although Android was initially slow to address security and app publishing concerns, Google has made important progress in this area. Even so, there are some potential issues to consider:

  • Android app development tools are now compatible with Android Enterprise features by default. However, you can take additional steps to better utilize these features. For example, you can build apps to function best on managed devices, or allow administrators to specify custom settings. You can also optimize apps for specific device types, such as kiosks.
  • You should not support Android versions prior to 5.1. In fact, Google recommends that you stick with 6.0 or later because these versions offer more comprehensive management and security capabilities. The security concerns that come with earlier releases are too great to ignore.
  • Be specific about which Android devices you choose. You cannot support the hundreds of new Android devices that come to market each year. Make it easier on yourself and support a modified BYOD program that highlights approved devices.

With these concerns addressed, Android can offer a reasonable alternative to Apple in the enterprise. Android development offers fewer technological barriers than iOS development, devices can be much cheaper and Google is addressing enterprise concerns, making Android a strong and viable option when considering mobile application development tools.

Robert Sheldon contributed to this report.

Next Steps

A quick tutorial for Android development with Eclipse.

The case for native over HTML5 in Android development.

A quick how-to for testing in Android.

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Which tools have you found to be best for native Android development?
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For me, it’s been Android Studio, hands down. For one, it’s based off of IntelliJ IDEA, so the interface is familiar. For another, it’s hard to beat the built-in device emulation, logging, and capture of screenshots and video.
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What are the latest technologies to build super native Android application?
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