How To Select An Android Framework To Develop A Robust App

selecting an android framework

Are you searching for an Android framework to develop an Android app?

An Android framework provides API (application programming interface) which includes pre-built code libraries and modules to access to low-level native libraries not directly accessible to developers. A framework will make your app development much faster by helping you avoid writing boilerplate code.

The Android Platform SDK (Software Development Kit) is written in Java which means that developers must know at least the basics of Java to start developing Android apps. A second language for Android, called Kotlin, was also introduced which provides a simple learning curve than learning Java.

This prevents companies in achieving lower time-to-market apps and increases their budgets when their developers don’t know Java / Kotlin.

Third-party Android app development frameworks are a popular alternative to the native Android SDK for two main reasons:

  • Their base language matches the language known to the developers. For example, several frameworks allow the use of the front-end development tech stack which includes HTML5 / JavaScript / CSS. This makes it easier for front-end developers to start developing Android apps quickly without having to learn a new programming language.
  • Many frameworks provide built-in plugins and UI elements which reduces the coding as well as designing effort

There are many factors to consider when selecting a third-party Android framework to develop your mobile app.

How to select an Android Framework?

One of the best ways to decide what Android framework is best suited to your needs is by listing all the features you want to build and then shortlisting frameworks that best support building them.

There are open-source Android frameworks and then there are those that are paid. The open-source (free) Android frameworks are typically preferred by individual developers, whereas Android app development companies prefer to use a paid framework. And some frameworks even offer free trials for a limited period to let users evaluate the framework before they make a purchase decision.

Few criteria for evaluating these frameworks are evident but others may not be so apparent.

1. Base language, training documentation, and employability

You can select a framework helps you develop with the languages already known to your team. You could also hire highly-skilled resources from the framework’s community and create a new team. A third solution is to re-train your existing team on the base languages of the candidate framework by utilizing its training material and third-party learning resources.

Stack Overflow’s annual developer survey is also a great resource to tap into community feedback about all aspects of developer experience.

2. App’s performance

Some frameworks are inherently slower because of their compilation and runtime workflows. Check for reviews where the performance of the app developed using the candidate framework is discussed. Check if the framework can help develop a graphically intensive app with engaging animations without glitches.

3. Reloading or testing performance

With “live reloading”, developers would have to post a new build to the device for every small code change. This increases the unit testing time and ends up frustrating the developers. Frameworks that enable “hot reloading” make unit testing very easy by integrating the change seamlessly without developers having to refresh the app for every code change.

4. Pricing granularity

If your business strategy calls for a paid Android app, you can pass on the cost of developing the app to the customer. You can also recover the costs of app development by using content marketing strategies to convert free users into paid customers.

To develop a free app with basic features to consume the content and to interact with the brand, open-source frameworks are more suitable. They may also be used for developing paid apps if the framework satisfies all other requirements.

5. Cross-platform support

While developing an Android app currently, you may also want to develop an iOS app in the future.

Cross-platform frameworks enable you to develop both iOS and Android apps without having to write code in two different languages using different frameworks or SDKs. Having a shared layer not only reduces the coding effort, but it also reduces costs and time required to bring the app to market.

6. Wearable and smart devices support

Single codebase support for wearable and smart TV development is still in the nascent stage. Therefore, it’s better to build a native Android app if the majority of users will access the app from non-smartphone and non-tablet platforms.

These are your top Android Development Framework choices

Several frameworks in the market can help you develop a successful Android app.

Your Android development framework options must be thoroughly examined against the outcome you expect and your technical requirements of the app. All the frameworks listed below provide cross-platform support. Flutter and Xamarin frameworks generate a natively compiled codebase; they can also be used for native mobile app development.

1.   React Native

react native

React Native is a JavaScript-based cross-platform mobile app development framework released by Facebook. It offers the ability to use a single codebase for Android and iOS apps.

It binds each of its UI components with corresponding iOS and Android components. Therefore, apps built with React Native enable truly native look-and-feel because the components are native.

Pros of app development with ReactNative:

  • Ready-to-use UI components backed by third-party packages for functionalities that are not directly supported (by the framework) enables rapid development time.
  • Hot reloading is an attractive feature that saves a great deal of developer effort that goes in unit testing and maintenance.
  • Large community and reliance on an existing front-end technology make hiring for React Native teams simpler and cheaper.

Cons of app development with ReactNative:

  • Some important React Native components (such as Shadows) are not fully developed. Some other third-party components have compatibility issues.
  • The native mobile development experience is still needed in the team as developers need with increasingly complex apps, which could pose significant challenges for smaller teams.
  • While JavaScript is a readily-available skill set, the React Native framework requires learning JSX (JavaScript Syntax Extension) for creating layout styles. Some developers may find it difficult to pick up JSX out-of-the-box.
  • The framework’s heavy reliance on third-party plugins makes it less secure for apps like mobile banking or any class of financial apps.
  • Computation intensive apps using React Native are at a disadvantage owing to JavaScript’s inefficient memory management.

2.   Flutter

flutter

Flutter is a full-fledged open-source SDK released by Google to facilitate cross-platform apps (for Android and iOS) with a single codebase.

This framework uses Dart (an object-oriented language) that compiles directly into native code.  App’s interface is directly integrated with the OS. This enables greater control of the system to the developers as the services such as animations and graphics rendering can be controlled with the SDK.

Dart Analyzer and Dart Observatory Tools help debug the app with specific commands.

Pros of app development with Flutter:

  • Flutter provides an automated testing toolset for unit tests, widget tests, and integration tests
  • Continuous Delivery can be achieved with Flutter via Fastlane, which allows your apps to be integrated with DevOps tools.
  • A unified, widget-based object model in Flutter enables highly customizable layout for Android app design. Widgets seamlessly compile into in Material Design looks (for Android).
  • Features like hot reloading, Just-in-Time (JIT) compilation for development and Ahead-of-Time (AOT) compilation for app release enable massive productivity improvements for developers.
  • Flutter integrates automated internationalization and accessibility through its widgets, which save any setup time for developers if they want to develop for multiple geographical regions.
  • Flutter’s graphics performance is reported to be superior to Xamarin and React Native

Cons of app development with Flutter:

  • Availability of third-party libraries for Flutter is limited and might slow down the development time for advanced features.
  • Adoption of Dart by freshly-graduated software engineers is slow as the language remains a secondary choice after primary native languages like Java, JavaScript, C#, or C++. The smaller community also makes the hiring of Dart developers a difficult and costly process.

3.   Ionic

ionic

It helps you create cross-platform hybrid mobile applications based on contemporary web development technologies – HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and AngularJS. Developers can use WebView in Ionic to render web pages (as native application pages) and Cordova bridge APIs to access the operating system of the underlying device. Native functionalities can be used through Ionic Native, which is a library of Cordova plugins and integrations.

Pros of app development with Ionic:

  • Because it’s based on already-popular front-end technologies, it’s easier to use existing developer skillsets and hire fresh recruits to develop using Ionic Framework.
  • Quick drag-and-drop based prototype creation is possible with the help of Ionic Creator. Ideally suitable for creating your mobile apps using the Agile development methodology.

Cons of app development with Ionic:

  • Custom functionality plugins to access a rarely-used piece of hardware may still need to be developed by native developers.
  • Ionic may result in performance degradation of your app if it uses intensive image processing or any other heavy functionality.
  • Provides live reloading instead of hot reloading, which slows down the unit testing done independently by developers.

4.   Xamarin

xamarin

Xamarin is a cross-platform mobile app development framework that uses the Microsoft Visual Studio IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Developers using Xamarin can code in a single language (C#) to create apps that run natively on multiple platforms – Android, iOS, and Windows.

Native compilation grants Xamarin apps a much higher level of performance than browser-based apps. Because of this, hardware compatibility issues can be eliminated and developers can also access native libraries and native features like multi-window on Android and ARKit on iOS.

Up to 90% of the code can be shared across all platforms with the use of Xamarin.Mac, Xamarin.iOS, Xamarin.Android.

Pros of app development with Xamarin:

  • Flawless native user-experience (with no platform-specific variations) and rapid prototyping can be achieved through Xamarin.Forms, which converts code into platform-specific component API at runtime.
  • Robust training offered to beginners through Xamarin University. (After June 2019, Xamarin learning support has been moved to Microsoft Learn)
  • Xamarin also provides support for smart TVs, wearable devices, and IoT devices

Cons of app development with Xamarin:

  • In some cases, wrappers may be essential to integrate a third-party library.
  • Costly enterprise development due to high license costs for the professional and Enterprise edition of the Visual Studio software. (Free and open-source for individual developers only).
  • Xamarin’s pool of developers is limited. Hiring Xamarin developers can be a costly affair, as they will also need some knowledge of the native development languages.
  • Visually-intensive apps have a thick native layer in Xamarin which defeats the purpose of a shared codebase and also increases the app’s size.

5.   Corona SDK

corona

Corona is a game development framework based on the light-weight programming language called Lua. It enables developers to target multiple platforms including smart TVs (Apple / Fire / Android TV) and even desktop apps with Lua in Corona SDK.

Since this is a game development engine, businesses can use it to gamify their app’s features. Corona can also be used for cross-platform games centered on the central character of a movie or kids’ games/apps.

Pros of app development with Corona SDK:

  • It’s free for developers of all sizes – from individual developers to large enterprises.
  • Provides increased flexibility as developers can call any native library from C/C++, Java, or Objective-C.
  • Additional coverage for Kindle Fire and Nook reader apps
  • Corona simulator provides hot (instant) deployment of any code change, making unit testing and debugging fast and friction-free.

Cons of app development with Corona SDK:

  • The SDK is closed source, which means developers have to create workarounds for known issues in the SDK
  • While Lua does boast of a simplified learning curve. it still asks for developers to be fully re-trained.
  • Some commonly-used plugins may still be pretty expensive.
  • Compilation of the codebase happens in the cloud so it requires a fast internet connection.

6.   Appcelerator Titanium

Appcelerator Titanium

Titanium API, built by Appcelerator, allows developers to use a single JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS to create Android and iOS apps. This makes it easy for organizations to use existing skill sets and hire fresh recruits to build apps on Titanium.

The platform compiles the front-end code and loads it onto the device, where a device-specific (native) JavaScript engine interprets it.

Pros of app development with Titanium API:

  • Rapid prototyping feature allows quick development of prototypes and thus helps reduce the app’s time-to-market.
  • Native interpretation enables it to integrate with hardware-specific features and OS-specific controls.
  • With the code being structured in its MVC-based framework (called Alloy) and data being transferred in JSON format, mobile apps can easily interact with modern web services that power your existing web applications. In short, often only a frontend needs to be developed; your backend may need no change at all.

Cons of app development with Titanium API:

  • Routine errors, app crashes, and technical bugs have been reported with high-complexity apps. Some developers have reported serious memory concerns that don’t manifest until runtime.
  • After a 60-day trial, the SDK remains free only for individual developers. For businesses, pricing starts from $199 per user per month.

7.   PhoneGap

phonegap

The base tech stack required in PhoneGap is the front-end tech stack – HTML5 / CSS / JavaScript.

A single codebase can be used to create hybrid, cross-platform apps without having to maintain native SDKs.

The build process in PhoneGap is decoupled from the application as the code compiles in the cloud using Adobe’s customized build service called “PhoneGap Build”. Therefore, PhoneGap can be dubbed as the “Leaner Cousin” of Titanium.

Pros of app development with PhoneGap:

  • Existing front-end developer skillsets can be easily redeployed across multiple apps. New resources should also be easy to hire.
  • Faster time-to-market with quick testing and hot deployment features.

Cons of app development with PhoneGap:

  • The platform is notoriously slow for graphically intense apps.
  • There are no pre-built UI widgets as is the norm with front-end cross-platform app development frameworks. Even with third-party UI tools (such as Sencha Touch, ExtJS, or jQuery Mobile), styling with CSS would slow your development down.

Which framework is best for your Android app?

It can be quite an exhausting and intimidating process trying to identify the right Android framework for your mobile app. Most developers go with one they find easiest and quickest to adapt. But that may not be the right framework for their app, making it a very time consuming and pricey development lifecycle in the long run.

The right professionals to take that call are software solutions architects that are trained to design and analyse the app’s architecture, decide the best tech stack and the framework included.

If you don’t already have a software solutions architect in your team, get in touch with us and one of our solutions architects can help you in making the right decision, saving you hundreds and thousands of wasted dollars. Hire Android developers from Arkenea if you’re looking for a talented team to help build and launch a successful Android app.

Navin Israni
 

Navin writes about technology and its application for business growth, at Arkenea, an award-winning custom software development company. He is a student of the language, loves to learn about Content Marketing and put his learning into practice.

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