Top 5 Software Tools for Android App Development - Android Studio vs IntelliJ IDEA vs React Native vs Xamarin vs Unity

a year ago   •   6 min read

By Anastasiya Dumyak

In 2020, Android made up around 75% of the global OS market. And thousands more Android apps are created each year – no wonder there is a considerable need for efficient Android app development software.

The choice of available solutions is quite vast, from all-in-one IDEs to niche libraries targeted at specific tasks. Of course, there is also the ongoing discussion on native vs cross-platform development, with powerful tools available for both approaches.
Let’s take a look at some of the best Android development software available today.

Android Studio: a top choice for many

Android Studio was created in 2013 by Google. It is an official Android IDE (integrated development environment), making Android Studio the most straight-forward way of Android app development.

It features code editing, debugging, and testing tools. Android Studio is also free, making it quite unbeatable for its competitors. All things considered, it’s not surprising Android Studio is regarded as the best Android development software by many.  

One more advantage of this IDE is the undeniable fact that so many developers prefer it. There is a large community around Android Studio as one can easily find numerous tutorials and forum discussions to solve any issues that may arise in the process.

Some of Android Studio’s best features are:

  • Visual layout editor

This drag-and-drop function makes it easy to move around UI components and see how they combine. Having a preview option, developers can rely on the layout’s visual appearance rather than plain code.

  • Flexible build system

Android Studio makes it possible to customize the build and generate multiple variants for different devices from a single project.

  • Instant run

The instant run function enables faster debugging by not requiring a full build and reinstallation every time the code is changed. Only the updated part is replaced without restoring the entire file each time.

IntelliJ IDEA: a decent alternative

IntelliJ IDEA is a generalist IDE with plugins for specific platforms. This tool was launched back in 2001 by JetBrains. It is built on Java and can be used for creating code for virtually any platform via plugins.

IntelliJ IDEA is a good alternative to Android Studio. Of course, it is not Android-specific, so it may present some limitations in the development process. The fun fact is – Android Studio is based on IntelliJ IDEA, so these tools are quite similar in their essence.

Some useful IntelliJ IDEA’s features to consider are:

  • Smart code completion

The system suggests only classes, variables, fields, and methods, expected in a particular context.

  • Instant code analysis

IntelliJ IDEA analyzes the code continuously as it is being written. All current issues are displayed in the “Problems” fields, as well as possible solutions.

React Native: choosing a cross-platform approach

It’s impossible to talk about mobile development without mentioning cross-platform solutions. Many developers now prefer the flexibility of these type tools as they can create one project suitable both for Android and iOS.

React Native was released by Facebook in 2015, gaining enormous popularity in just a few years. It was the most popular framework for cross-functional mobile development in 2020, with 42% of developers making it their preference.

Clearly, the greatest perk of React Native is the ability to create both Android and iOS apps simultaneously using JavaScript. A single codebase is shared across platforms, killing two birds with one stone – or rather, one code.

React Native also contains valuable features, such as:

  • Quick refresh

One can see all the latest changes immediately, which makes the debugging process much faster.

  • Ready-made components

React Native features a set of ready-to-use components, saving time on writing code from scratch. These are highly useful for simple forms of functionalities.

  • Platform-specific native interface components and APIs

The use of native components and API gives the apps a native-like look and performance. For a regular user, it is almost impossible to tell a React Native app from an actual native one.

Xamarin: a cross-platform solution for those who prefer C#

Xamarin is another popular cross-platform development framework. After being bought by Microsoft in 2016, it became a part of the Xamarin Visual Studio Integrated Development Environment.

Xamarin uses the C# language for creating mobile apps. This framework offers both native and cross-platform development options. With Xamarin.Android, developers can create a fully native UI along with a backend code that can be shared.

Among some interesting Xamarin’s features are:

  • Xamarin.Forms framework

With this framework, developers can build UIs both for iOS and Android simultaneously. It is an alternative to using Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android separately. If code sharing is more crucial than custom UI, Xamarin.Forms is the way to go.

  • XAML Hot Reload

Similar to React Native, Xamarin allows users to see changes on-the-go as all modifications are reflected live in the running app.

Unity: if you need to develop a game

What is the most popular category on Google Play? Games. So, clearly, we can’t ignore game development. While it is possible to develop a game using a regular Android IDE, applying a game-specific tool is simply necessary for proper rendering and graphics quality.

Unity’s CEO, John Riccitiello, states around 60-70% of all games are made using Unity. Whether we choose to trust his words or not, the undeniable fact remains: Unity is one of the best game development tools present on the market.

This game engine houses incredible features that make it a top choice for game development:

  • Unity integration into native apps

Unity can be used as a library to include separate game elements in native apps. For example, it is possible to add Unity-powered AR features to the Android app.

  • Multiple platform support

As of now, Unity supports more than 25 platforms and, of course, Android is among them. One script can be compiled for multiple platforms, so if you are planning on releasing the game both on Android and iOS, there is no need to duplicate the work.

  • Tools tailored for game development

Unity is created for game development specifically, offering extended space for 3D, AR, and VR solutions.

To sum it up: which Android development software should you choose for your next project?

It’s important to understand your software choice, first and foremost, depends on the project’s specifics and needs. For some projects, native performance is a top priority. However, in other cases, it’s better to go with cross-platform solutions.

We can see that most Android developers prefer Android Studios. It is a convenient and all-in-one platform that can be used virtually for any kind of Android application, be it a productivity tool or an online store.

At the same time, cross-platform development is becoming more popular as many companies now target both Android and iOS markets. In this case, React Native or Xamarin may be your best choice being they cut the development time significantly.

At Perpetio, we prefer good old native development both for Android and iOS apps. Among the available Android development software, our choice is Android Studio – and we’re guessing there is no need to explain our decision.

Which do you think is the best android app development software? Do you agree with our choice? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. And if you found this article useful, feel free to share it on social media!

If you are looking for an app development studio – be it Android, iOS, or both – don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to discuss your project.

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