Compare the best mobile operating systems for developers

The launch of the iPhone reshaped the smartphone category and quickly elevated fashionable devices into mainstream devices. Today’s phone market is mostly a mix of Android and iOS devices.

Smartphone apps have dramatically changed the way people interact with their professional and personal lives. Apps are the catalyst for turning a phone into a tool that can transform how a business operates, how consumers interact with a product, and how supply chain efficiency can improve. In order to make the right decision, buyers need to compare mobile operating systems.

Mobile vs desktop development

Since 2010, there has been a dramatic increase in sales of smartphones and, to a lesser extent, tablets, which began with the introduction of Apple’s iPad. Mobile devices have changed the way developers work and build for computers. Basic functionalities, such as email, web browsing and calendar management, are now accessible from these devices, which have changed the way people connect to the Internet.

A rich assortment of features made it easy to transfer tasks to mobile devices. For example, users now access email, video, and social media more frequently on a phone than on a desktop computer. Additionally, mobile devices have many hardware features not available on desktop computers, such as front and rear cameras, accelerometers, GPS, and 4G LTE for wireless connectivity.

At the same time, development platforms have matured and become more robust, helping to simplify application development, while making the process more efficient and better integrated with other IT systems.

The different mobile development platforms

There are two predominant operating systems in today’s mobile market: Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. According to an April 2019 IDC industry report, Android continues to dominate the global smartphone market, grabbing an 85% share. That said, iOS generates more revenue than Android, and Apple devices are more popular in the business.

However, IDC also pointed out that smartphone shipments are down. The first quarter of 2019 marked the sixth consecutive quarter of declining sales, creating uncertainty about the future evolution of mobility. Even so, mobile development remains a big concern in the company, with a clear focus on Android and iOS. Let’s compare the two mobile operating systems.

Google’s Android

Android, inspired by Linux, is the most popular mobile operating system in the world. Its popularity is largely due to Google’s distribution model: Android is an open source project that gives phone manufacturers and mobile carriers a free license to use Android and modify the main operating system of their devices. Although most instances of Android stick tightly to the kernel, the freedom to modify Android has led to many challenges, in what is now called Android fragmentation.

Even so, Android continues to grow and become more powerful with each new release. In August 2018, Google released Android 9.0 Pie, which embeds artificial intelligence into the platform, allowing a device to adapt to user activity.

The official development tool for Android is the Android Studio integrated development environment. (IDE), which Google offers for free. Prior to Android Studio, developers primarily used Eclipse, as well as Google’s Android Development Tools plugin, but Google no longer supports the plugin. Developers can publish their apps to Google Play at no cost, although they must pay a one-time $25 registration fee.

Apple iOS

iPhone and iPad devices are powered by iOS, which has its base in Darwin, an open-source Unix operating system that‘s also available in Apple’s macOS. According to Apple, there are now more than 1.4 billion active iOS devices worldwide.

The second version of iOS introduced the concept of apps, which opened up Apple’s secure and controlled environment to accommodate a new way of working with mobile devices. At the same time, Apple updated its iOS as a foundation in Darwin, an open source Unix operating system also used in Apple Xcode IDE to support iOS application development. Xcode is Apple’s official development tool and is available for free. The IDE also supports the Swift programming language, introduced by Apple in June 2014 to simplify development. Developers can use Xcode and Swift to build apps for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

The Apple Developer Program costs $99 per year and includes the ability to submit apps to the iTunes App Store.

And the other platforms?

Although Android and iOS dominate the mobile market, a number of alternatives exist and developers might find themselves building apps for these platforms.

One of the emerging technologies is KaiOS, a web-based mobile operating system that is the successor to the defunct Firefox operating system. KaiOS supports features like 4G LTE, GPS, Wi-Fi, and HTML5 apps. The operating system offers a number of standards-based web technologies including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, with Gecko providing the runtime environment for the application.

KaiOS primarily targets lightweight phones and IoT devices that require limited memory. To develop an application for the KaiOS operating system, the company must use a Firefox browser, version 59 or earlier, with the WebIDE add-in installed. WebIDE users can then connect to Firefox Developer Tools from the browser. A KaiOS application is basically a web application available for packaging or hosting. Packaged apps run locally and hosted apps run on a server.

Another mobile operating system gaining traction is Tizen, a Linux-based open-source platform supported by the Linux Foundation. Tizen gives developers the power of native customization with the flexibility of HTML5. The operating system is available in several profiles to support different types of devices. This way, companies can customize Tizen to meet the memory, processing, and power requirements of specific devices.

Developers can use Tizen Studio to build native and web apps for the Tizen platform. Tizen also provides code snippets, SDKs, and native API reference, as well as forums, design guidelines, and other documentation.

The challenge when working with platforms such as KaiOS and Tizen is that IT staff often have to learn new technologies, tools, and processes, without the benefit of a large developer community to back them up. Even so, these technologies can help fill a niche that Android and iOS might lack. For this reason, companies should compare mobile operating systems when making a purchasing decision.

Definition of native and hybrid

The rapid adoption of iOS and Android has created a problem in the development world: what operating system are developers building products for? Teams supplements typical mobile app development with supported tools such as Xcode for iOS, Android Studio for Android, and Visual Studio for Android and iOS. Developers refer to the creation of mobile platforms for a specific operating system, as well as the use of platform development tools and languages, as native development.

Mobile development is the hybrid model, which adheres to a different strategy: Build once, run everywhere. Tools such as Apache Cordova (formerly PhoneGap), Xamarin, and React Native enable developers to use a language, such as JavaScript for Apache Cordova and React Native or C# for Xamarin, to create a single codebase from which an application can be deployed on several platforms. , if necessary.

Advantages and disadvantages of native and hybrid

Hybrid apps make extensive use of technologies such as CSS, JavaScript, and HTML5, making it easier and faster for developers to build for major platforms. The learning curve is not too high and they can run an application within hours. Many corporate, sales, and supply chain deals can be completed quickly and efficiently with hybrid tools.

The challenge of the hybrid approach arises when developers have to create complex platforms. Hybrid tools are designed to support the lowest common denominator across all platforms. If, for example, they want to build an app that offers the ARKit 2 APIs for iOS, they might struggle to find a hybrid platform that supports that feature, leaving the developers to hack together a workaround.

Enterprise mobile development is often complemented by specific tools and frameworks called mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs). The goal of a MEAP is to provide cross-platform tools that make it easy to connect to databases and back-office systems. Popular MEAPs include Kony, Mendix, and OutSystems. The MEAP is best known for its drag-and-drop capabilities, which gave rise to the concept of citizen developer.

What platform do you need to develop for?

Determining whether to go for the native or hybrid approach isn’t the only consideration when choosing how to build a business mobile app. Here are some other factors to consider when selecting a platform:

  • How do you secure resources and ensure compliance?
  • How to authenticate users easily and securely?
  • Would you like to use a MEAP product for cross-platform development?
  • Will you create tools for tablets and phones?
  • How do you want to connect to your back office systems?

Mobility has become a fatality in the company. The challenge for today’s IT staff is to determine the most efficient way to develop, deploy and manage their business applications, taking into account the entire application lifecycle. Effective mobile apps can help increase productivity and improve user experience while ensuring that security and privacy cannot be compromised.

Robert Sheldon contributed to this report.

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