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Developing for the iPhone and Android: The pros and cons

By Jonathan Hassell, Computerworld
July 06, 2010 12:42 PM ET

Computerworld - Smartphones and their apps are the new way of the world, and developers are lured by their increasing popularity. But with two major platforms -- Apple's recently upgraded and renamed iOS 4 and Google's Android -- competing with one another, how does a developer choose between them?

In fact, how would developers interested in maximum exposure for their apps fare by targeting either -- or both -- platforms? What roadblocks are there, and how does a developer get around them? I'll take a look at these questions and relay advice from experienced developers on both platforms.

Programming languages

For developers who have one app in mind and envision their code running on multiple mobile platforms, the going is rough in today's world.

Android apps are written in the Java programming language. Many developers have made careers in enterprises by becoming very proficient in Java, so developing for the Android platform is a natural fit for those folks.

On the other hand, applications that run natively on the iPhone operating system are written in Apple's Objective-C, a dialect of the more common C language that has elements of Smalltalk. (Technically speaking, Objective-C is a small, strict superset language on top of C, so any C program will compile with an Objective-C compiler, and a developer can include C code within an Objective-C class.) Developers who have spent their careers working with C and C++ probably won't find Objective-C to be a difficult language to pick up, although there may be speed bumps along the way.

"There is no obvious way to write one set of code that targets both platforms," says Matthew Baxter-Reynolds, director of AMX Software Ltd., a software development firm in England, and author of the upcoming book Multimobile Development: Building Applications for Any Smartphone. "You cannot run Java on iPhone, and you cannot run Objective-C on Android."

Writing for multiple platforms

That was the story for a while -- you had to develop your apps in the native language for each device. Over the past year or so, however, new tool kits and development platforms have emerged in the marketplace to make it possible for programmers create iPhone applications without having to study Objective-C.

Tool kits such as Rhomobile's Rhodes, Nitobi's PhoneGap, Appcelerator's Titanium and Ansca's Corona make it relatively simple to create apps that will run on some combination of the iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android platforms.

However, these emulators and runtime layers are new and not full-featured. While simple applications accessing the Web and bringing information back to the phone are appropriate for these types of frameworks, mobile apps relying on intense calculations and heavy database access -- which includes some custom-written line-of-business applications -- are not good candidates, because running a compatibility framework exacts an overhead penalty on a limited-power mobile processor that most users find unacceptable.

Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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