Android attracts some of the most talented developers around, thanks to the continued growth of Google Play. In addition, the environment's open nature makes it a welcome haven for developers seeking refuge from the Apple App Store's strict guidelines, and a lack of any real approval process in Google Play makes investing time and money into developing an Android app a much less risky venture.
But with all the attractive qualities Google Play offers to anyone in the mobile development game, there are hurdles standing between developers and a smash-hit app. Android is notoriously fragmented when it comes to hardware, and many manufacturers have their own proprietary modifications of Android (HTC Sense comes to mind).
For those pioneers dedicated enough to look past these quirks, there is a wide variety of platforms out there that can turn Android development into a dream. These libraries and services offer developers solid foundations for apps that might have taken countless hours to build from scratch. (Some of these services offer platform support for more than just Android.)
1: Android SDK
Before diving into anything else, start with the basics. Google offers a comprehensive software development kit with a variety of packages that are available a la carte under the Android SDK Manager. Starting with tools for debugging, documentation for Android platform APIs, and system images for testing, the SDK also empowers developers with tools to fully integrate with Google's ecosystem. It even includes essentials like Google Play billing and licensing tools to make the sales and distribution side of app development a breeze.
2: Gimbal Context Aware
Apps that can alter user experience based on geography and user interests are "context aware," and they can be life changing not only for developers, but also for the users who download them. Qualcomm has made context awareness effortless with Gimbal, a full-featured platform that's energy efficient and secure. Using a web-based manager, developers can set Geofence locations that identify certain hotspots for app interaction. Gimbal also tracks user preferences and web activity to inform apps and customize experiences for each individual user. It even puts a high emphasis on user privacy and puts extensive privacy controls within the user's grasp.
3: Titanium Mobile SDK
Most developers are interested in platforms that enable them to maximize their efforts and reach as many users on as many different devices as possible. If you want to get into Android development, but are also interested in reaching iOS and web users, Titanium Mobile from Appcelerator is a total game changer. The platform boasts more than 5,000 device and mobile operating system APIs, and offers you the freedom to develop apps that run like a perfect native application developed for iPhones and Android devices. It will even help you produce device agnostic HTML5 apps that will work on any device and widen your potential user base.
4: Vuforia Augmented Reality
Qualcomm gets two platforms on this list because it has the best developer tools. Vuforia, like Gimbal, is nothing short of a miracle. Once you really start digging into Android app development, it's platforms like Vuforia that open up a wide world of possibility; in this case, it's augmented reality (AR). Vuforia promises to set developers up with computer vision tech that's built to recognize real-world images and 3D targets. If you're building a game or a geolocation app that might benefit from interaction with the real world, you don't have to worry about building that sort of functionality from the ground up. And now with the limited beta of cloud image recognition, Vuforia is setting itself up to supply developers with databases of millions of images that can be used seamlessly as part of the AR experience. If AR is where you want to be, this is your ticket.
Grady Winston is an avid Internet entrepreneur and blogger from Indianapolis. He has worked in the fields of mobile and Internet development, business, marketing, and advertising, implementing multiple creative projects and solutions for a range of clients.