What Android Studio 1.3 means for app developers

Google's recent I/O 2015 conference will be remembered for many things--Android M's debut, the Brillo project for the Internet of Things--but app developers will likely look back on it as the moment Android Studio came of age.

Less than a year after it officially came out of beta, Google said Android Studio 1.3 is essentially a new version of its integrated development environment (IDE) that includes built-in support for Google's Native Development Kit (NDK). That's a big deal because until now, most Android developers tended to use the the old Eclipse ADT, particularly for apps and mobile games that required C and C++ to deal with performance overhead and other challenges.

Now that I/O is over, app and mobile game developers will have an opportunity to think about what Android Studio will bring to the way they work, and the ability it might offer them to create more innovative products on Google Play.

It's coming together


Android Studio is based on CLion, a platform for creating cross-platform apps by JetBrains, a software developer based in the Czech Republic. In an email to FierceDeveloper, JetBrains' principal engineer Dmitry Jemerov said could bring some unity to a development platform that has often been criticized as highly fragmented.

"Essentially, the entire Android community can now consolidate around a single IDE, regardless of the type of project they are building," he said. "C/C++ is indeed used very heavily for mobile gaming. A large percentage of Android games, especially cross-platform ones, are built in C/C++, and people working on those games now have access to a better IDE."

Since the changes to Android Studio are largely a matter of tooling support and not about new development capabilities, Jemerov said he doesn't expect other cross-platform development tools, such as Unity, Xamarin or PhoneGap, to be significantly impacted by the Android Studio announcement. Others, however, pointed out that developers targeting a mobile OS other than Android may already have what they need.

Options and simplicity


"Whether Android Studio will become as ubiquitous as Microsoft's Visual Studio as the C++ developers chosen IDE remains to be seen," said Tony Waters, Head of SDK, Marmalade Technologies, adding that even if it takes off, Android Studio will still require some complementary products. "Developers are increasingly choosing a multi-platform strategy and the IDE is just part of the toolchain."

For example, Marmalade uses a single application programming interface (API) to replace a number of different tools to simplify their work. Middleware can also be an important addition to something like Android Studio, because it means developers have less code to write.

JT Thomas, senior director of developer products at Embarcadero, said much the same thing. His firm recently released RAD Studio, a product he said would go well beyond Android Studio.

"If you look at what's provided, there's an editor that understands C++ with some productivity and access to built it," Thomas said. "Typically the IDE has the ability to write code in a language, the ability to manage the project or build a system and access to a debugger. That's what Google has provided. It's a very basic setup."

Embarcadero's products, he added, give developers an easier way to create rich user interfaces (UIs) that can talk to cloud-based services and come with a large set of libraries that Google alone wouldn't offer. That might be vital to Android developers who are thinking of life after consumer apps.

"Those tend to be simplistic apps that require REST interactions. The whole smartphone work is still very consumer-centric," he said, adding that developers should be looking more closely at how the Internet of Things will spawn new kinds of apps for enterprise firms.

"More and more, you're going to see app developers moving into retail, health care, transportation and oil and gas exploration," he said.

A powerful tool


That said, Android Studio will be a powerful force even for existing mobile games, according to Lee Bamber, who leads British game software development firm The Game Creators. By allowing more developers to use C and C++, he said, more applications have the potential for incredible performance gains.

"Of course the learning curve is a little steeper, and you still need to be familiar with the many libraries required to create anything decent, but it's definitely a step in the right direction and should attract a lot of talent from the C++ world," Bamber said.