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The right mobile app dev tools matter

Building mobile apps isn't easy, but developers have a plethora of mobile app development tools to choose from that can make the process less painful.

It can be a lot of work to develop mobile applications, especially because companies must support multiple operating systems and device types. Nothing can help ease the load more than having the right mobile application development tools. These tools come in an assortment of shapes and sizes, so it isn't easy to choose the right ones.

There are many mobile app dev tools at IT's disposal, from integrated development environments (IDEs) to products and services for refactoring applications. There are also mobile application development frameworks for building cross-platform apps, mobile application development platforms for developing and deploying apps, and providers that offer mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) to support and enhance applications.

Regardless of the type of available tools, they all have one goal in mind: to simplify the process of developing mobile apps. Yet choosing which tools are right for an organization and the developers that use them can be a daunting task.

Before the search begins, IT decision-makers should know what device types and operating systems the applications will target. Will they run on both Google Android and Apple iOS phones? What about tablets? Or even smartwatches? And don't forget Windows and BlackBerry devices.

Companies should also determine the types of apps they want to deliver. Native apps provide the best user experience, but generally take more time and resources to develop. Web-based apps are faster and easier to implement, and they can run on just about any platform. But they usually don't perform as well as native apps or offer the rich assortment of features. Then there's the hybrid approach, which takes advantage of both web and native capabilities to deliver something in between the two.

Once businesses determine the types of apps they plan to develop, they can choose the tools they need to build them.

Integrated Development Environments

Once businesses determine the types of apps they plan to develop, they can choose the tools they need to build them.

Most developers' primary mobile app dev tools are IDEs, which are applications that provide a programming environment for writing, editing and debugging code. Although an IDE is often specific to a development environment such as .NET or Java, it usually integrates with other systems to better manage the application lifecycle.

For example, IDEs can often interface with source control or continuous integration systems. For native mobile apps, developers should choose the IDE for the operating system they want to develop applications for: Google's Android Studio for Android apps, Apple's Xcode for iOS apps and Microsoft's Visual Studio for Windows apps.

Android Studio is a relative newcomer to the IDE scene. Before Google released Android Studio, the recommended tool for Android development was the Eclipse IDE, and developers used it in conjunction with the Android Development Tools plug-in. Now Android Studio is the de facto development tool for building apps that can run on Android devices. Most mobile devices around the world run the Android operating system, and Android Studio is free to download and use, so it's no surprise that the IDE has made quick inroads into the development community.

Developers who want to build apps for Apple's mobile operating system must use the Xcode IDE. It's also free to use, although developers must pay to distribute those applications to Apple's App Store. With Xcode, developers can also build apps for Mac OS X, Apple Watch's watchOS and Apple TV's tvOS using the Swift programming language.

The ABC's of building mobile apps

MBaaS and refactoring tools aid in app development

Many developers immersed in the .NET Framework use Visual Studio as their go-to tool for Windows applications, including those for Windows mobile devices. Visual Studio provides a feature-rich development environment for working with C#, Visual Basic, Objective-C, JavaScript, PHP and other languages, and it has the support of a strong and active user community.

Microsoft has been working to make Visual Studio a friendlier environment for developing apps that can run on Android and iOS devices. Since the company acquired Xamarin in early 2016, Microsoft has incorporated the Xamarin framework into all Visual Studio editions, which has made it possible for C# developers to build cross-platform apps that can run on non-Windows mobile devices.

Despite Visual Studio's expanding roles, developers focused on native iOS or Android development may want to use the tool best suited for the specific device architecture. Still, other developers prefer the open source nature and flexibility of using Eclipse along with the available plugins to build iOS, Android or BlackBerry apps. Luckily the IDE scene offers developers plenty of options.

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