Android offers endless opportunities for developers: it is a versatile, open platform used by millions of users worldwide with a powerful distribution platform to reach a large audience. Fortunately, there are also plenty of Android developer tools to get you started and help streamline your workflow. Better yet, the number of these tools is increasing all the time, while each one continues to become more efficient and intuitive. There has never been a better time to create your own Android app!
Below, you’ll find a large range of useful and powerful developer tools. For your convenience, they have been categorized as so:
- IDEs – Integrated Development Environments are the main tools you use to build your Android apps, providing the interface where you enter your code
- Tools that come with Android Studio – These are the official Android developer tools from Google that come packaged with Android Studio/the Android SDK
- Advanced external tools – Tools like Github that you will likely use as a more advanced developer
- Other tools – A quick rundown of the other types of tools you might encounter
Let us know what we missed below, and good luck!
Top Android developer tools: IDEs
Am IDE is an ‘integrated development environment’, meaning a single interface that lets you input code, and handles things
No list of Android development tools would be complete without Android Studio. This is the official IDE (Integrated Development Environment) for Android, making it the number one choice for the majority of developers looking to make basic apps in-keeping with Google’s Material Design and with access to all the advanced features of the platform.
The IDE is where any developer will spend most of their time: it acts as an editor for the chosen programming language (Android Studio supports Java and Kotlin), a compiler that can create APK files and a file system for arranging your project. It also includes an XML editor and “design view” for arranging elements on the screen. Android Studio offers an entire suite of additional tools too – some of which we’ll examine in this post – and thankfully most of this will now come bundled together as a single download. In fact, it also comes bundled with the Android SDK itself, though you will still need to download and install the Java JDK separately. You should also check out our full Android Studio tutorial for beginners.
Developing with Java and the Android SDK does have a somewhat steep learning curve, but in terms of integration, support and features Android Studio can’t be beaten.
Visual Studio With Xamarin
Unity 3D is a game engine and IDE for cross-platform game development – and probably the best option for everyone from beginners to advanced users. Unity is easy to learn and comes with a large variety of features for game development. While it’s possible to create a game with Android Studio, Unity lends itself to that kind of work much more readily and will save you a considerable amount of time and headache. It is especially well suited to 2D games, but you also use it to create virtual reality apps for Daydream, Cardboard or the Gear VR! Check out our introduction to Unity3D for more.
Unreal Engine is also a game engine and is a alternative option for those interested in cross-platform, full-featured game development. Like Unity, Unreal offers easy support for Android and is actually graphically superior along with being open source. That said Unity has slightly better built-in support for mobile and 2D creations, and is the preferred option for most mobile game devs. Which one you ultimately decide to go with is your call and as they are both free, there’s no reason you can’t give them both a shot. Start here if you want to learn how to write a 3D game for Android using Unreal Engine.
GameMaker: Studio is another tool for game developers, this time for 2D games. This is a little easier than using Unity or Unreal 4 and enables you to create apps with effectively zero code. If you do want to add a little more customization though, then you can get to grips with the very beginner-friendly GML or ‘GameMaker Language’.
However, what you get in ease-of-use, you lose to some extent in power and functionality. It’s also worth noting that GameMaker isn’t free, although there is a free trial available for those that want to give it a shot. Check out our GameMaker: Studio tutorial for beginners for more information.
B4A (Basic for Android) is a lesser known Android development tool from Anywhere Software, focused on “rapid development”. As the name suggests, this is an IDE and interpreter that allows developers to create apps using the BASIC programming language. For those that aren’t familiar with BASIC, it’s essentially a much simpler, procedural programming language that reads closer to regular English. Despite essentially being a one-man project, B4A manages to pack in a lot of useful advanced features; including wireless debugging over Bluetooth, a visual editor for adding and arranging views and more. It’s not free, but the license is highly affordable.
If you are interested, then check out our full introduction to Basic4Android.
Tools that come with Android Studio
The AVD Manager tool is bundled with Android Studio. AVD stands for ‘Android Virtual Device’, so essentially this is an emulator for running Android applications on your PC. This is useful because it means that you can test your apps quickly without having to constantly install them on physical devices. More importantly, the AVD Manager allows you to create lots of different emulators with different screen sizes, specifications and versions of Android. This means you can see what your creation will look like on any given device and thereby ensure support across the most popular gadgets. Performance is getting better all the time, especially with the fast virt mode, which runs an Intel version of Android on your PC and removes the need for instruction level emulation.
Android Device Monitor
Another built-in Android development tool, the Android Device Monitor allows you to monitor your device or virtual device during runtime and get access to information such as how many processes are running on what thread, network stats, the LogCat and more. It’s great for testing the performance of your apps and seeing what’s going on under the.
Android Debug Bridge
The ADB shell is a useful little command-line tool that you can use to communicate with or run commands on a connected Android device (virtual or physical). It comes with Android Studio and for the most part you won’t need to worry about it. Every now and then though, you’ll be following a tutorial and find you need to open it up. To do so, navigate to the platform-tools folder of your Android SDK installation or whichever folder adb.exe is located and open up a command line (Shift + RMB > Open Command Window Here).
Advanced external tools
GitHub is a hosting service for Git repositories. In simple parlance, that’s an online tool that you can use in order to share projects and also keep track of multiple versions and “forks” of those projects when you’re working in a team. It’s handy for backing up your work, for collaboration, and for finding code samples and tutorials you can work through. For beginners, your exposure to GitHub will likely be limited to downloading sample projects that you can reverse engineer. If you ever work on a large app as a team though, this is a developer tool that you’ll need to become very familiar with. Unless the company you’re working with use Mercurial instead!
Firebase is not one tool, but rather a whole smorgasbord of Android developer tools! This is Google’s suite of cloud services for mobile and web developers, and includes a range of services from monetization through AdMob, to safer authentication, to ML Kit (next on this list), to analytics. While beginner developers need not concern themselves with Firebase to begin with, it will almost certainly come in handy at some point once your projects start getting more ambitious. If you hit a road block and you need a new feature that relies on the cloud, check Freibase first! You can find an introduction here.
ML Kit is an Android developer tool that allows you to add machine learning functionality to your app from Google. That means adding things like computer vision and OCR without needing a giant budget and heaps of big data. Start with this simple tutorial.
Other Android development tools
As well as the tools listed above there are many tools and resources out there that can come in handy for beginners. These include “app builders” like PhoneGap, Cordova or IntelliJ IDEA for building simple apps, or Genymotion if you need Android emulation without installing Android Studio and the AVD Manager.
AIDE is a useful tool for experimeinting with Android programming on an Android device, and also includes guided tutorials.
For more advanced developers, there are numerous tools, libraries, and resources that have been build by the larger community. Codota is one such tool that allows you to easily check example code from StackOverflow or GitHub without needing to leave your IDE. LeakCanary meanwhile is for quickly finding memory leaks in your app.
Codota iallows you to easily check example code from StackOverflow or GitHub without needing to leave your IDE
Developers will also need to get to grips with a range of other software to supplement their coding activities. You might consider using Photoshop or GiMP for example in order to edit images, or Illustrator for high definition vector art. Maybe you like the idea of using a wire-framing design tool such as InVision to design your app’s layout, or maybe you’d rather sketch it up by hand. Maybe you’ll use Blender to create 3D models for your Android games.
Many programs can be used as Android development tools, even if that is not their original purpose. The options that are right for you will depend on your work style, preferences and goals. Hopefully this list has given you a good introduction to some of the most fundamental tools out there, so that you can dive in and get started.
Of course let us know in the comments below which tools you are partial to!