If you want to get into mobile phone programming, you'll need to know the best languages to write mobile apps. It can be hard to choose the best mobile development languages for a project. There are a lot of options out there, and in this post I'll help you narrow them down so that you can pick the best language to write mobile apps.
Your choice of application development languages depends on what you're building. For certain apps, mobile developers may not need all the available features of a particular language. In other situations, a single app may require more than one mobile development languages. In this tutorial, I'll go through various mobile development languages and highlight some of the details that can help you make the right decision.
Native Android Languages
According to the TIOBE Index, Java is amongst the most popular and best languages to write mobile apps as of January 2022. If you want to develop Android apps, you'll probably use Java. It has a large and established developer community, and that means you can easily get technical support and help with your mobile phone programming projects.
So, when you're developing for mobile with Java, you are free to come up with any type of app you can think of. The only limits will be your imagination and the level of your Java knowledge.
- Android From Scratch: An Overview of Android Application DevelopmentAshraff Hathibelagal14 Mar 2016
- Learn Java for AndroidSue Smith24 Nov 2015
Kotlin was designed and developed by JetBrains, the Czech company known for their popular IDE, IntelliJ IDEA. Google's Android team announced in 2017 that they were officially adding support for the Kotlin programming language.
Kotlin was developed to address some of the issues in Java. According to the language's fans, Kotlin syntax is simpler, cleaner, and leads to less code bloat. This helps you focus more on solving the actual problem, rather than struggling with verbose syntax. Also, you can use Kotlin and Java together in the same project, and that makes it really powerful.
Native iOS Languages
If you want to develop for iOS devices, your best option for a mobile development language is Swift. Introduced in 2014 and declared open source in 2015, Swift has become the best language to write mobile apps for iOS developers.
According to the TIOBE programming language index for January 2022, Swift is the 10th most popular programming language and that also makes it one of the best languages to write mobile apps.
Apple added some great new features in Swift 5.5, including async/await, structured concurrency, actors, and more. Apple's huge efforts to promote Swift clearly indicate that it is backing this language as the preferred way to write iOS apps.
Objective-C was one of the original coding languages for app development in iOS. While Swift language is the state of the art for iOS development, many projects still rely on Objective-C. So the transition from Objective-C to Swift is somewhat slow, and you may still need both of them for some projects.
- Create iOS Apps With SwiftMarkus Mühlberger24 Oct 2016
- Swift From Scratch: IntroductionBart Jacobs20 Jan 2017
Cross-Platform Languages for Mobile Programming
React Native feels just like React DOM for the web, but instead of using HTML and the DOM as building blocks for the user interface, it uses the native components that you'll find on iOS and Android.
The philosophy behind React Native is "learn once, write anywhere". This means that once you learn React, you can write applications for the web, Android, and iOS.
- Introduction to Ionic 2Wern Ancheta22 Feb 2017
- Get Started With React NativeMarkus Mühlberger19 Apr 2017
Ionic framework is beneficial in creating elegant apps using its pre-designed UI components, themes, typographies, and other elements.
Dart With Flutter
Flutter is a UI framework for developing apps on iOS, Android, the web, and desktop. In 2015, Google released the initial version of Flutter, and in 2018 it launched the first stable version of the framework.
Flutter's growing popularity is driven by its vast array of features. At its core, the framework combines a high-performance graphics engine with the Dart programming language. In development, Dart provides full type safety and hot reload to help you build reliable apps quickly.
In production, Dart compiles to native machine code. This means that your graphics will render beautifully on any platform.
Flutter doesn't require any additional bridges to work on different devices, and it's not like WebView frameworks like Ionic. Flutter has its own technology to compile source code directly to machine code. This setup greatly improves speed and performance.
Other Coding Languages for App Development
Want to know more about what programming languages are a must-have to create apps? Continue reading!
C is the oldest language on this list, but it is perennially one of the most popular languages on the TIOBE index. Just like Java, its community is full of seasoned developers who could offer you valuable advice on how to write bug-free code.
Created by Dennis Ritchie while working for Bell Labs, C is a widely adopted and powerful language that allows you to directly manipulate the low-level operations of a computer. If you want to use Android NDK (Native Development Kit), you'll need to get familiar with the C language.
If you are familiar with C, then you'll really enjoy reading and writing C++ code. C++ is an extension of C, with more high-level features and support for object-oriented programming. C++ is also a favorite language of Android NDK developers. You can use C++ to develop Windows Mobile apps too. C++ goes head to head with Java in the field of software development, and it's really worth mastering.
How to Classify Application Development Languages
Mobile apps can be grouped into three categories, namely native, hybrid, and native cross-platform. Native apps can fully utilize all the OS facilities and features, and they are the fastest when it comes to performance. However, you need to maintain different codebases for different mobile platforms, as each platform uses different programming languages.
For example, Android makes use of Java or Kotlin plus C/C++ to develop native apps. Apple's iOS platform relies on Objective-C and Swift as its native languages. All of these native app programming languages are compiled, rather than interpreted.
Comparing Coding Languages for App Development and Its Features
Before getting deeper into the detailed language features, you must select a platform. You can refer to the article Mobile Development Platforms to get an idea of various platforms and how to pick the one that suits you best. Assuming that you've already selected a mobile development platform, let's see how these languages compare in terms of their features.
If you want to get into native Android development languages, Java and Kotlin are your obvious choices. So let's have a look at them.
Kotlin has better control over Null references, so the famous
NullPointerException bugs (common in Java) are much easier to eliminate. This reduces development time and improves programmer productivity.
Although Java supports concurrent operations, the relevant code may suffer heavily from readability and maintainability issues. Kotlin addresses these issues by using coroutines. The resulting code is easy to read and easy to understand too.
Java's type system isn't consistent, and this can sometimes lead to confusion. In particular, the primitive types such as integer, boolean, and so on need to be handled as special cases. By contrast, Kotlin has a relatively simple and more versatile type system that minimizes programmer errors.
Supported Programming Styles
Although Java can theoretically support various programming styles, some developers believe that it overly promotes OOP (Object-Oriented Programming). Kotlin doesn't seem to enforce any particular style of programming, so developers have more freedom to choose an approach that fits best. However, Kotlin developers need to have a thorough knowledge of software architecture and development principles.
Which One to Choose?
In a nutshell, it seems that Kotlin is better than Java, but it may take some time for a complete transformation. One challenge is that programmers are used to the thinking patterns enforced by Java. Another is that Kotlin is a relatively new language, and certain features are still experimental.
Anyway, Google has clearly announced that they offer complete support for Kotlin. In fact, Android Studio, the official Android IDE, comes with full support for Kotlin. New features and capabilities are constantly added to Kotlin. Over the next few years, we are going to experience a transition period from Java to Kotlin, at least in native Android development.
Objective-C and Swift are the two programming languages used to make apps for iOS. So let's have a look at each one's features.
Swift has simpler and clearer syntax to help programmers achieve their goals with the minimum number of lines of code. This also helps reduce programmer errors and eases bug fixing.
Swift clearly beats Objective-C when it comes to memory management. Swift enforces more robust and reliable control mechanisms, allowing programmers to avoid undesirable memory leaks.
Execution of Swift code is much faster than that of Objective-C. This clearly leads to faster app performance and a better user experience.
Supported Programming Styles
Unlike Objective-C, Swift has built-in support for functional programming too. So developers don't have to limit themselves to any predefined programming styles. That helps developers understand the problem clearly and come up with a better solution.
Which One to Choose?
Just as Kotlin is slowly replacing Java in native Android development programming languages, Swift has thrived in native iOS application development, forcing Objective-C to retire. Apple has already started extensive support for Swift, and that's going to get even better in the future. Like Android developers, iOS developers are also experiencing a transition period at the moment.
While there are several code migration tools available, it may not be possible to fully convert Objective-C projects to Swift without issues. Sometimes, specific workarounds may be required, and that might need a fair knowledge of Objective-C. So the best strategy is to give priority to Swift and learn a bit of Objective-C only when it's absolutely necessary. Also, you need to keep an eye on the latest Swift developments and trends.
Choosing a mobile development language can be tricky if you don't understand the features of each one, along with the current industry trends. With this knowledge, though, it's easy to see that choosing coding languages for app development heavily depends on the particular mobile platform too.
I'm sure now you have a clearer picture of mobile application development languages and can match the relevance of their features to the latest development trends. So just get started coding your next app with confidence!
If you want some help getting started with a new language, check out some of the tutorials and video courses linked throughout this post, or some of our other posts on mobile development!
Editorial Note: This post has been updated with contributions from Kingsley Ubah and Gonzalo Angulo. Kingsley is passionate about creating content that educates and inspires readers. Hobbies include reading, football and cycling. Gonzalo is a staff writer with Envato Tuts+.