Programming languages exist to help us speak with computers. We’re surrounded by different forms of computers, from the phone in our pocket to the smart fridge that shows its internal temperature on a screen. We give them data and in return, they give us answers. All computers speak the same binary language made of ones and zeros. To your average human, a bunch of 1s and 0s look like absolute gibberish. Therefore, we need different programming languages to help us communicate with the computer and interpret what the computer tells us.
What is a programming language?
Think of a programming language like a translator. Instead of translating from English to Italian so we can order gelato in Rome, the language translates from English to ‘computer speak’ so that the computer knows we want to send a text or turn on GPS.
Each development language is a tool to aid in this communication process. The best tool for the job depends on what you want to accomplish. While a hammer is great for putting a nail in a wall, it’s not helpful if you want to cut a piece of wood. The same is true for programming languages used in mobile apps. So if you want to ask yourself what the best coding language for mobile apps is, you first have to decide what you need it to do.
Types of Mobile Apps
Before diving into the pros and cons of different mobile app development languages, it’s important to know what types of mobile apps they all create. There are three main buckets of mobile apps that developers can construct.
- Native Apps – Native apps are written in a language developed specifically for that device’s operating system. These languages work in sync with the platform and integrate smoothly with related APIs and libraries. These languages don’t transfer between platforms. So for example, if an app is written in an Android app code language, then that app won’t function on an iOS phone.
- Cross-Platform/Hybrid Apps – These apps are becoming increasingly popular, as one codebase creates an app that can run on multiple platforms. Instead of developing the same app multiple times for it to work on Apple, Android, and Microsoft, the app is developed once and can be deployed on all three platforms. As the programming language isn’t written in the device’s native OS, it is usually bridged or contained, relying on help from libraries to run on different platforms.
- Mobile Web Apps – These are websites loaded via a browser, but are given the look and feel of an app. Information changes its display to fit the screen of the device. This occurs by either showing a responsible mobile design or in the case of Progressive Web Apps, by allowing the user to add a link to a device’s home screen that looks like an app.
Best Languages for App Development
In determining the programming language that is best for your app, consider choosing a popular language. Popular languages are known by more developers, which in turn results in more tools, frameworks, and support for using that language. As well, some languages are more functional than others. Any language that gives the developer control in creation without needing an abundance of outside resources is handy and more convenient to use.
Ultimately though, the decision will come down to the functionality needed in the software and which language can deliver it best. The following mobile programming languages are all well known, with some pros and cons to each.
Languages for Native Apps
This language was a favorite for creating apps on the Android platform. It’s still one of the most widely used languages today, with a lot of legacy software having been written in Java.
- Well suited for large, complex tasks.
- There is an extensive amount of resources and libraries available, so it’s unusual for a developer to have to create new code in problem-solving.
- It takes longer to write code for lightweight, quick tasks.
- Has some outstanding inefficiencies, which have been solved by other languages like Kotlin.
Swift is a native language for iOS. It has surpassed Objective-C, which was Apple’s previous choice of coding languages. Designed specifically for iOS, it makes it easy and convenient to develop software for Apple devices.
- Easy to read as a language.
- Due to its interactive nature, Swift makes it simpler to catch errors while coding, thus saving overall development and debugging time.
- Swift provides a great user experience and often requires less on-device memory.
- Apple products work great within the Apple ecosystem. However, compatibility with other operating systems remains an issue. An app written in Swift doesn’t translate as easily to Android and other platforms.
This codebase has become the new preferred language for Android development. Though relatively new, we can only expect to see more mobile apps coded in this programming language.
- This language is interoperable with Java, making it easy for all Java-based programming to be expanded upon and improved with Kotlin.
- It provides native-level support while still running on multiple platforms.
- Since Kotlin is a newer language, there can be less information and limited resources on it. This makes it tricky when developing and problem-solving.
Before Swift, iOS software was written in Objective-C. It’s fallen out of fashion with new development, which favors Swift. But there is a lot of remaining software that was created in Objective-C and still runs today.
- Works incredibly well within the Apple ecosystem and supports older versions of iOS.
- Its maturity as a language has created a wealth of resources for it.
- Some inadequacies remain that are fixed in newer languages like Swift.
- Though the age of Objective-C is a plus, it is also a weakness, as it’s less secure than newer versions and some apps built in Objective-C are more vulnerable to attack.
Languages for Cross-Platform Apps
5. C# and Xamarin
Pronounced “C Sharp,” this language is a great option with native support for Android app development. Initially, a drawback was that it could only run on Windows systems, but with the invention of the cross-platform framework Xamarin, C# can now run on any platform.
- It provides a near-native level of performance and speed on iOS and Android.
- C# Xamarin has simplified maintenance, which helps in minimizing continuing development hours.
- There can be a comparative lag in API calls
- It’s not a great choice for apps with a complex UI
6. Dart and Flutter
Flutter isn’t technically a language, but a cross-platform app framework developed by Google. The language powering Flutter is Dart. Flutter is quickly gaining popularity as a framework, as it allows the developer to write code once and have it deployed on multiple platforms. Therefore, the importance of knowing Dart is also on the rise.
- The programming language can be shared across mobile apps and web-apps.
- Mobile apps can be launched across platforms quickly.
- Flutter provides a smooth, near-native user experience that is often only enjoyed by native apps.
- There is less backend support in comparison to other established languages.
- There are fewer language packages available, which can mean more time spent in creating them from scratch for some applications.
- Its longtime use means there are a lot of frameworks, patches, and support available.
- It is the basis for some cross-network coding languages, like React Native, which is growing in popularity.
- Since the code is viewable by the client, it’s not as secure as other languages and more open to malicious attacks. Although, this isn’t so much of an issue on a mobile app as it is on a website.
Languages for Mobile Web-Apps:
Python is one of the most popular languages, as it’s a general-purpose language that powers many versatile purposes. The cross-platform codebase uses the framework Kivy for app development.
- There are a ton of libraries and toolkits that support Python – especially for big data and researchers.
- Python is a very readable language and many developers know how to use it, so it’s easy to hire someone who specializes in it.
- It doesn’t perform well in some high-performance specialized tasks.
- Python isn’t native to either iOS or Android, so for mobile app deployment specifically, it can cause some cross-platform inconsistencies.
This programming language is similar to C++. It’s great when you’re developing under time constraints and looking for something to go cross-platform, as it can feed into Flutter with an FFI (foreign function interface).
- It allows developers to discover errors during the time of compilation, often resulting in more quality code.
- It is a memory efficient language, designed as well for performance and safety.
- Difficult to install and run on Windows operating systems.
- Rust can be comparatively slow during compiling.
More commonly this language is simply called “GO.” Stemming from Google, the designers wanted to make a programming language that created applications quickly and easily. By using its compiler “Gobuild” and its binding system “Gobind,” the GO language can be translated to work with other languages and on all platform interfaces.
- It’s more secure than many other languages.
- Go prioritizes speed and is, therefore, a very fast language.
- A complex program written in this language can be less efficient.
- Though efficient in its simplicity, it makes calling complicated code written in other languages tricky, so integration can become slow.
Pronounced “C Plus Plus,” this language improved upon any inefficiencies in the older, yet popular language “C.” It’s very adaptable, in that a developer can write the code once, then run C++ on any platform that has a compiler for the language. It can become a cross-platform codebase by using Microsoft’s tools in Visual Studio.
- It’s an incredibly powerful language, which has built impressive programs like Google Chrome, Photoshop, and PayPal. It exists in sectors ranging from banking to VR.
- C++ can run the same program on different operating systems and interfaces, even if the original code isn’t supported.
- It optimizes memory storage and can deliver very fast results.
- It is a very complicated language to learn. If a developer is not proficient in the app language, it can result in more errors as C++ isn’t as forgiving as other languages.
- There is no garbage collection. Depending on your opinion, this is either a pro or a con. But it means that memory is not automatically being managed by the application.
Ask any developer what the ‘best’ mobile app development language is and they’ll all give you a different answer. Just like spoken languages, people naturally gravitate towards some and shirk others. It’s opinion based and often personal. One developer’s struggle with a language could be exactly why another loves it.
Ultimately, it’s about determining what is best suited for your goals. Do you need a quick launch to market? Or do you care more about the ease of maintenance and bug fixes? Do you plan to release an app just on iOS or do you want it on every platform?
Every app programming language has its advantages and pitfalls. As long as you choose one that suits your app’s needs and can scale to support your growth, then you’ll be establishing a good foundation.
Interested in discussing what a user flow for your app would look like? Let’s talk about it!
You might also like: