What Language Should You Build Your App With?

Mobile developers across the globe have developed and released more than 650,000 iPhone apps, 400,000 iPad apps, and 600,000 apps for Android. Are you thinking about building an app? A key step in the process is choosing the right programming language, which depends on how scrappy you’re willing to be.

Make sure you’ve researched cross-platform app design and reviewed the common pitfalls of developing your app. Decide on your audience and what platform you’ll use, and then weigh your options to select a language.

What languages have you used to build your app, and why did you choose that one? Let us know in the comments.

Objective-C


Objective-C is the iOS standard, considerd the “correct” language, according to Stephen Kaliski, who works for NYC-based start-up Poptip. The iPhone — and all iOS programming for that matter — is written in Objective-C through Apple’s Xcode integrated development environment (IDE).

Advantages of using the iOS standard of Objective-C are the following: It’s high performance, so you get to make use of the phone’s actual functions, such as the camera. Plus, there’s a larger developer community that new app developers can reach out to for help. Additionally, coding your iPhone app in Objective-C allows the app to match the ‘feel’ of all iOS supported devices. “You can write universal apps which operate on both iPhone and iPad,” says Kaliski.

However, there are some difficulties with Objective-C programming. For one, the language is not necessarily easy to learn. Furthermore, some elements of Xcode are much different than your typical development process. Finally, Objective-C does not allow the app to be scaled to other platforms, such as Android phones or Windows phones.

On the scrappier side, iPhone apps can be written as web apps. A web app doesn’t require as sophisticated a language as Objective-C — they’re usually written in HTML, CSS or JavaScript. Plus, web apps can use certain functions of the iPhone; with HTML5, you can develop web apps for iPhones with location or rotation features. Still, web apps are limited. Developers building web apps won’t be able to integrate core functionalities of the device, such as sending text messages, nor will developers be able to take advantage of App Store features, like app payments and updates.

Some argue that a mobile web app avoids the issue of scalability, since it can be used across platforms. Web apps also allow developers to bypass the Apple store’s strict update rules. Compared to Objective-C, HTML, CSS and JavaScript have easier learning curves and even larger communities to reach out to for support.

JavaScript (Plus CSS and HTML)

JavaScript isn’t going anywhere soon; it’s the language of most web browsers and apps, and the JavaScript language likely will continue to be developed and improved. Web browsers don’t really need a new language — there aren’t any major problems in usage and development, and as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“In my mind there is absolutely no way you can get companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera to all agree on a new language that they’re going to spend millions and millions of dollars implementing,” says Charlie Robbins, CEO of Nodejitsu. “They consider language a very solved problem.” JavaScript’s relatively simple capabilities assist with streamlining development as well. “JavaScript is a kind of fun language that also works in browsers, so you can hire for a single competency within your corporation, and it really streamlines the management of your team,” he adds.

On top of that, CSS and HTML, if used together, allow the separation between structure and filing, which some competing front-end capabilities have missed, says Robbins.

Node.js


Robbins specializes in Node.js cloud language development. Formerly a .NET and Ruby programmer, he saw an opportunity in Node.js when he observed programs like Silverlight and Flex fail in front-end programming. Robbins began working on JavaScript full-time and formed Nodejitsu about six months later, building efficient clouds to support application development. Robbins says Node.js is relatively easier to use because it circumvents the utility development step in the app-building process. “With Node.js, most of those utility functions that you would want and need have already been written for you, and are available in PM (package manager), which I see as a strength and not a weakness,” Robbins says.

Ruby


Ruby, apt for functional programming of web apps, combines utilities for a more streamlined development process. Robbins, who previously worked with Ruby, doesn’t necessarily see this as a positive feature. “One of the problems with Ruby is that engineers see a function that is built into a language, and they therefore think it’s fast — they don’t dig into the implementation of that function as a language,” he says. Robbins recommends using a third-party utility instead, for better all-around understanding of the app and its development. “When you’re using a third-party utility that you know is third-party, your natural skepticism is higher, and you’re going to look at that code and see what’s slow and what’s not. Ultimately you’ll have a better understanding of how exactly your application is running,” he says.

The creation of new languages and improvement of existing languages harvests healthy competition within the app world, a strength in the ever-developing industry. It is up to app developers to determine which language is right for them, always keeping in mind efficiency and functionality.

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