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Since Android’s first release in September 2008, the number of Android users and supported devices has steadily increased. A recent comScore report shows that there are now nearly 16 million users in the US owning Android smartphones, surpassing the total number of iPhone owners. Late last year, Canalys reported that Android claims a quarter of the smartphone market segment share. Their recent report says that Android’s growth in 2011 will be twice the rate of their major competitors, including Apple’s iOS-based devices. There is a growing market segment here that presents a great opportunity to developers including those in the Android space, and those who have only developed for iPhone and iPad. For iOS developers, porting apps to Android presents a rare opportunity to tap into this market segment and a fast growing user base.
If you are considering taking advantage of this opportunity, here are key topics to be aware of when porting your apps from iOS to Android.
Differences between iOS and Android programming
Apps for iOS are written in Objective-C, an object-oriented descendent of the C programming language. Android apps are written in Java, a very popular programming language invented by Sun in 1994, traditionally used for building server-side applications over the past 15 years.
In addition to the differences in language, syntax and semantics, there is also a key runtime difference that affects how your code is written. Java has automatic garbage collection, which means that you do not have to explicitly free objects after they are used. Objective-C requires developers to manage memory explicitly.
Integrated Development Environment (IDE) options and SDK platform support
You have more options when it comes to selecting an IDE and platform when writing code for Android. While building Java-based apps, you can write and compile your code on all major operating systems, including Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. Furthermore, the Android SDK integrates with most major IDEs, such as Eclipse and Intellij, which means you can run an Android emulator and test your application on either of these IDEs and operating systems. The iOS SDK, which includes XCode IDE, runs only on Apple-based operating systems.
Apple is the only provider of iOS devices, while many vendors offer devices supporting Android
As we discussed in a previous post, Android has many vendors, which means Android devices have varying capabilities and features. iOS devices are only manufactured by Apple and are currently limited to iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. For developers who are accustomed to building apps for a small set of devices, building apps for Android presents a completely new challenge.
Ultimately, iOS developers with a good understanding of these fundamental differences will be able to assimilate well in developing apps for Android. In fact, the developer who was previously constrained by the platform limitations of iOS devices may now find the flexibility of having IDE options, SDK platform support and the nuances of the Java language to be refreshing and energizing.