Learning Android app development for beginners might sound complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s start at the very beginning. Why would beginners want to learn Android development?
There are plenty of good answers to that question. Android gives you direct access to more than two billion monthly users. It’s the number one mobile operating system and stands well above iOS in terms of sheer numbers. Android doesn’t just run on phones, but also on tablets, televisions, and smartwatches. Now Android apps can even run on Chrome OS! Sure, iOS users traditionally spend more on their apps, but even that gap is starting to close, as Android users become more willing to shell out for their software.
Android is also relatively easy to develop for. It’s not necessarily simpler to code for, but there are fewer barriers to entry than other platforms.
Creating something popular on Android is far easier than having success on PC or Mac.
Releasing apps is simpler on Android
To get started with Android app development for beginners, you need the Android SDK, probably Android Studio and the Java JDK. It’s all free and we’ll see just how easy that is to set up soon. Building a simple app isn’t that hard — most of it can be done through a visual designer — and if you get stuck, there are plenty of tutorials available right on this site!
Once you have your app ready to go, it’s a very simple process to create an APK (a file that will contain your app and allow for easy installation) and submit it to the Google Play Store. A single one-off fee of $25 is all it costs — then you’ll be able to upload unlimited apps at any point after. Even the review process is automated (no humans are involved), meaning your app will be visible within a few hours. The Google Play Store makes it a breeze for people to find and download your app. As a “route to market,” this makes it very easy to get the word out and to let people start enjoying your creations. Creating something popular on Android is far easier than having success on PC or Mac.
With just a little bit of basic knowledge, you can create a professional-looking app and release it to an audience of billions in no time. Android development is a skill in high demand too. Better yet, Java (one of the official programming languages of Android) is the number one language sought by employers! The “other” official language is Kotlin, which is similar enough to Java and C# that you should easily be able to transfer your skills to other roles.
This perfect convergence of factors makes Android an ideal development platform. Getting an app released on iOS is considerably harder and means you’ll be reaching a smaller audience. Developing for PC means struggling to find a platform to get word out about your device. Android development means building apps for the devices in our pockets already and placing them on a store many people check regularly.
Getting started with Android app development for beginners
Convinced? Great! So what do you need to get started?
You’ll need a computer with fairly decent specs — nothing too major. If it was made in the last few years and runs Windows, you’re probably good to go. From there, you’ll need to download a few things:
- Android Studio
- Android SDK
- Java JDK – potentially
Start with the latest version of Android Studio. At time of writing, the latest version is 3.2.1, but this changes rapidly. Choose whichever one is recommended on Developer.Android. The Android SDK comes with Android Studio now, so there is no need to download it separately. The only other thing you’ll need for Android development is the Java JDK, which you’ll need to download separately from Oracle’s site here.
We’ll go into how to download and set everything up in a more detail in future posts about android app development for beginners. For now, let’s concentrate on what these components actually are.
The JDK: The JDK is the “Java Development Kit.” It will enable your computer to understand and interpret Java code (which is the preferred programming language of Android, alongside newcomer Kotlin). This is important because your apps will be written using Java — you’ll need it for the rest of this to work. You’ll never need to touch this again unless you move computers, but you do need to download and install it initially.
Android Studio: Android Studio is the official integrated development environment (IDE) for Android Development. It will act as your central hub for development. This is where you will enter the Java code, run and debug apps, and manage all your project files. This is the piece of software that provides your interface for coding and testing, but it requires the other elements on this list in order to do that.
The SDK: The Android software development kit (SDK) is a selection of tools required for Android development. These tools include additional code that will serve as a bridge between the Java and the Android devices (so you can access native Android features), features that will help to actually compile and run your apps, and other useful tools that can be beneficial while coding, like an emulator to test your apps on. (An emulator runs Android on your PC so you can test the apps you’ve created without needing a separate piece of hardware).
The SDK comes bundled with Android Studio. To get started, you just need to install Studio and you’ll be ready to go! As with the JDK, you won’t need to use this directly until a much later stage. For most tasks, Android Studio will interact with it for you.
Other than installing the JDK then, Android Studio will handle most of the installation and set-up for you.
The big decision: Kotlin or Java?
When you decide to get into Android development starting from scratch, you will be forced to decide on the best programming language to learn: Android or Kotlin. You can read about the differences here, but suffice to say that on the whole, Kotlin is a slightly streamlined alternative to Java that helps to iron out some of Java’s unique quirks. That said, Java is more widely recognized and as mentioned, is sought after by employers. Google is pushing Kotlin hard, so more and more coders are currently making the transition.
Summary: what does Android app development for beginners involve?
With all this in mind, we are starting to build a basic picture of Android app development.
Effectively, an Android app is code written with Java (which requires the JDK) that has additional functionality layered on top thanks to the Android SDK. It also consists of various images, layout flies, music, and other “resource” files. Android Studio puts all this together for us and when you hit Run or Export, the code and all the assets are placed into a container called an APK. This is something like a .zip file, in that it is compressed, and like a .exe, in that it works as an installation file. At this point, there’s just a single file you need to share and run in order to distribute your programs.
There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the basic gist. All that’s left is to actually learn to program, which you can do by following tutorials and starting out with simple beginner projects. If you’re itching to dig in, you can find a whole host of posts on this site. Here’s a great place to start everything you need to know about your first android app.
Better yet, check out the Introduction to Android App Development course over at DGIT academy for the fastest and easiest way to learn Android app development for beginners. Stay tuned for future posts like this, which each week will walk you through the basics.