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Are there easier ways to build mobile apps?

As the mobile industry is maturing, so is the way apps are being designed. Learn about the latest tools and software updates to help support and build mobile apps.

Modern mobile development is now more than a decade old. During that time, developers have moved from mobile-optimized...

websites to native apps. The first movement to support mobile app development came on the heels mature client-server technologies, such as Java for Android and Objective-C for Apple. Today's developer now has newer tools to support APIs, on-demand code blocks and new security to build mobile apps.

Apple's Swift

The focus on Apple's new programming language -- only 30 months old and on version 3.0 -- is a modern development language. Apple is managing Swift as an open source project, which means any company can use Swift as their development language. As a frame of reference, IBM is now using Swift on some of their server services.

There are several ways to speed up your knowledge of Swift. The first -- and easiest to access if you have a new iPad -- is Swift Playgrounds, an app that makes it fun to learn Swift. The second way to get up to speed on Swift is YouTube. There are thousands of great how-to videos that will get you up to speed very quickly. The final tool you need to use to learn Swift is Xcode. Swift is built into Xcode, Apple's integrated development environment, and can be used to develop services for iOS, tvOS, watchOS and macOS.

A word of warning: Swift is maturing at an incredible rate. Move forward and build mobile apps with Swift, but add in time to retune your apps each June when Apple hosts its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple is building a track record of advancing Swift in big leaps that require retooling existing apps.

Microsoft's Xamarin.Native with C#

There has been a desire from Day 1 of Apple announcing the App Store in 2008 to create "one code to write solutions for all platforms." Mono, an open source project, was an early leader. The appeal is cross-platform apps can be written with C#, providing a path for the millions of Microsoft developers to migrate to mobile.

Mono matured into Xamarin.Forms, and in the last couple of years, it has matured further into Xamarin.Native. At the core, Xamarin is still about building apps with C#. The big difference now is Xamarin.Native provides the tools to build mobile apps that use the native OS -- not a watered down, one-size-fits-all model to which cross-platform tools default.

Final bonus: Microsoft purchased Xamarin in 2016 and now offers Xamarin for free.

Build with JavaScript using React Native

Facebook's open source ReactJS makes it much easier to create responsive websites. Extending ReactJS is React Native. As you might expect, React Native provides the same tools to build interactive user interfaces with JavaScript. It may be easy to assume React Native is then a clone of Adobe's PhoneGap; it is not.

React Native builds native apps that are the same as apps built for Android or iOS. The difference is you use JavaScript and React to do the heavy lifting. Still skeptical? The most popular apps, Facebook and Instagram, are both built on React Native.

If you are still using Java and Objective-C to build mobile apps, then you need to check out these modern languages. There will be no going back.

Next Steps

Bringing programming to the cloud with Swift

Building apps with cross-development platform tools

Best practices for app building

This was last published in April 2017

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