Android development relies on a number of different tools, whether you choose the “official” route or instead choose one of the myriad other methods available.
In fact, with so many options to get started, it can sometimes be difficult to know which one is best for you. Which tools are indispensable? Which program do you start coding with?
This post breaks down the best Android developer tools, including the essentials and the optional ones.
The first thing you need is the Android SDK. This is the “Software Development Kit” that contains all of the libraries required to build Android apps. It also includes additional Android developer tools that can be used for debugging, compiling, and more.
Among these, the ADB shell is one of the most important Android developer tools. This is the Android Debug Bridge; a small command line tool that can be used to monitor a device or virtual device while your apps are running. You should also try the new Jetpack Compose from the Jetpack tool suite. This is a powerful interface builder that will save developers a lot of time as it progresses.
Also read: How to install the Android SDK
You don’t have to interact with the Android SDK directly, but make sure it is on your computer when you start programming. Make a note of the directory as well, as most of the alternative IDEs and other tools you use will need to point to it.
To get the SDK, you need to download it directly from Google. The SDK comes with Android Studio, which is the easiest way to grab it.
The most important software for Android development is the “Integrated Development Environment” or IDE. An IDE is essentially the program that you type your code into. Then this code is packaged as an APK file that can be installed on other Android devices. This makes IDEs the most important Android developer tools.
The official IDE for Android development is Android Studio. This download also includes the Android SDK, an emulator, Android image files, and more. Everything installs in a simple process so there is no need to download any additional files.
As an official Android development tool, this setup supports whatever ambitious ideas you have for apps. This is also the one that you should learn if you are interested in becoming a professional developer in the future.
Alternative Android development tools: IDEs
Using Android Studio with Java or Kotlin isn’t particularly beginner-friendly. This option is also not well suited for 3D game development. For these reasons, you may prefer to use an alternate IDE from the following choices.
Unity and other game engines
Unity is an extremely powerful cross-platform game engine and IDE. It can be used for both 3D and 2D game development, or even for creating non-game apps. Unity is the most popular platform used by professional game developers on the Google Play Store.
Honorable Mention for Best Android Development Tools should also go to Unreal. Unreal is another 3D game engine that is very popular for game development on PC. However, in 2D development, it’s not as good as Unity and it’s more fiddly to deal with.
Alternatively, you can choose a game manufacturer such as GameMaker: Studio or Game Salad. These options are less flexible, but can still produce impressive results with minimal coding. GameMaker: Studio in particular was used to create some popular titles on Android. Game salad, on the other hand, is more of a learning tool.
Xamarin + Visual Studio
Xamarin is a tool that you can use to build Android apps using Microsoft’s Visual Studio. Not only does this appeal to those who like coding in C # rather than Java, but it is also extremely handy as a cross-platform tool as it can also create iOS and even Windows software.
Xamarin does almost everything Android Studio does and builds authentically native apps. However, Java libraries are a little less convenient to access and use, and updates arrive on the platform a little later. You can find out more here.
Also read: How to build an Android app with Xamarin
Anywhere Software’s B4X is one of the lesser-known Android development tools, but it’s also one of my favorites. B4X is a suite of tools that can be used to create cross-platform apps using the BASIC programming language. Better still, B4A – the Android developer tool – is now both free and open source!
BASIC is a particularly beginner-friendly language that does it not only for those who have no experience with Java or Kotlin, but also for those who want to get an idea out the door quickly.
If you want to know how to build Android apps without coding, the best Android developer tools are App Builders. These provide basic app development capabilities that you can use to create interfaces and even access some native functionality. They are often cross-platform as well.
We’ve written a whole guide for Android app makers that you can check out, but some good options to get started are:
Android advanced external development tools
Once you’re familiar with the basic Android developer tools, you may want to explore some of the more advanced options that give you access to machine learning, remote collaboration, and more.
GitHub is a hosting service for Git repositories. This is an online tool used to share projects and to keep track of multiple versions (called “forks”) of these projects as you work on a team. It’s handy for securing your work, collaborating, and finding code samples and tutorials to work through.
For beginners, your access to GitHub will likely be limited to downloading sample projects that you can reverse engineer. However, if you’re ever working on a large app as a team, this is a developer tool that you need to get very familiar with. Unless the company you work with uses Mercurial instead!
Firebase isn’t a tool, it’s a whole suite of Android developer tools! This is Google’s cloud service suite for mobile and web developers and includes a range of services from monetization to AdMob to more secure authentication to ML Kit (next on this list) and analytics. While beginners don’t need to look into Firebase initially, it will almost certainly come in handy at some point as your projects get more ambitious. Whenever you run into a roadblock and need a new feature based on the cloud, check out Freibase first! You can find an introduction here.
ML Kit is an Android developer tool that allows you to add Google machine learning capabilities to your app. That means adding things like computer vision and OCR without needing a huge budget and loads of big data. Get started with this simple tutorial.
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