Technology Explained

The Best Languages for Mobile App Development in 2016

James Frew 25-03-2016

With smartphone sales predicted to reach 1.4 billion units in 2016, there has never been a better time to get into mobile app development. Ever since the iPhone launched in 2007, mobile apps have become a huge industry with a lot of money being thrown around.


In the years since, there have been many other challengers to Apple’s throne, most notably Android. Together, these two platforms account for over 90% of the mobile market, and as of 2015, there were 2.6 billion active smartphones and nearly 3 million apps in existence.

Whatever your reason for getting involved, there’s one important decision you have to make before diving in: which programming language are you going to use? Fortunately, we have you covered. Here are the best programming languages to master if you want to get started.


In 2015, when Java marked its 20th birthday, there were many reasons to celebrate. Java is one of the most widely used programming languages in the world with an estimated 9 million developers.


Google’s Android operating system uses Java as the basis for all Android apps. While Android Java isn’t quite the same as regular Java, it’s pretty close — so learning Java of any kind will put you in good stead for picking up Android app development.


Android currently runs on a staggering 60% of the world’s mobile devices, meaning that if you want a coding language with the largest potential So, You Want To Develop Android Apps? Here's How To Learn After so many years, one would think that the mobile market is now saturated with every app imaginable to man - but that's not the case. There are plenty of niches that still need to... Read More , then Java should be your weapon of choice.

Key Features

What You Need

Install an IDE:

  • The most commonly used are Eclipse and Android Studio.
  • Android Studio is currently Google’s recommended IDE.

Install the Android Software Development Kit (SDK):

  • The Android SDK contains the source code, libraries, development tools and emulator for you to create Android Applications.

Learning Resources


For most of its life, iOS apps have been written using the Objective C language. In an attempt to simplify the learning curve and workflow for developers, Apple released their own programming language Apple's Swift Is Going Open Source: So What? Even if you aren't a programmer yourself, Apple's decision to open source Swift will impact you. Want to know why and how? Read More for iOS and OS X called Swift.


Swift - Screenshot

Not only has Swift been designed to provide the best conditions for iOS and OS X app development, but the focus on simplicity makes Swift easier to get to grips with.

As it’s a newer programming language with a lot of growing hype around it, Swift could be one of the most valuable languages you can learn So You Want To Make iPhone Apps? 10 Projects For Beginners Want to create iPhone and iPad apps? Start by learning the basics of Swift. Read More and will make you an in-demand developer. This is great news if you are are looking for a career in iOS or OS X development.

Key Features

  • Currently only compatible with iOS and OS X.
  • Simplified form of Objective C.
  • “Sugar” syntax allows for simplified code that’s easier to read and reduces errors.
  • It’s the future of Apple’s development framework.
  • Easy to extend and maintain with Dynamic Libraries.

What You Need

  • Mac OS X Mavericks or later (10.9+).
  • Install the XCode 7 IDE.

Learning Resources

HTML5 + JavaScript

HTML is the markup used to render Web pages. You can’t make apps with it, but you can combine HTML5 — the latest iteration of HTML standards and features What Is HTML5, And How Does It Change The Way I Browse? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few years, you may have heard the term HTML5 every once in a while. Whether you know anything about web development or not, the concept can be somewhat nebulous and confusing. Obviously,... Read More  — with JavaScript to create both mobile and Web apps.


HTML5 - Shutterstock

HTML5 app development can be preferable to building native apps because you usually only have to code the app once, then you can bundle the code in different ways: whether for iOS devices, Android devices, desktop computers, etc. This is pretty neat as it means a reduction in development time and maintenance costs.

Key Features

  • Device agnostic.
  • Can be used for apps and Web pages.
  • Responsive design to fit any device or screen size.
  • Built-in media playback that requires no third-party tools.
  • Offline caching, which allows certain elements to be accessed offline.

However, even with these benefits, there is a trade-off in performance. Native applications have access to the entire operating system’s development framework, which is optimized to give the best performance. HTML5 apps might be great for flexibility and cross-platform feasibility, it can result in below-average app performance.

If your app needs access to hardware on the device, like the camera, this can also be difficult using HTML5.


There is a way around this, which is to use the best-of-both-worlds approach of creating a “hybrid app”, which is an HTML5 app inside a native app wrapper. This allows for the flexibility and lower maintenance requirements of HTML5, while wrapping the app to provide operating system functionality and interface elements to make the experience more native and intuitive to the user.

What You Need

Install software for writing HTML. You only have to pick one:

Learning Resources

Which Language Will You Go With?

As with all programming endeavors, there is no right or wrong answer. Each language has its own use in the software world and its own benefits. If you are looking to develop for the two major mobile operating systems, then Java and Swift are both great places to start.

Learning to code is much like any other skill and will take time. You will make mistakes, but you will poke around and learn from your mistakes How to Learn Programming Without All the Stress Maybe you've decided to pursue programming, whether for a career or just as a hobby. Great! But maybe you're starting to feel overwhelmed. Not so great. Here's help to ease your journey. Read More  and it will make you a better developer. Sometimes just making the language stick in your brain can be difficult 7 Useful Tricks for Mastering a New Programming Language It's okay to be overwhelmed when you are learning to code. You'll probably forget things as quickly as you learn them. These tips can help you to better retain all that new information. Read More . Make sure you take full advantage of all the free resources out there. Most of all though, have fun!

Which language do you want to learn? Would you add any languages to this list? Have you learned a language and made your own mobile apps? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Credit: Gil C via Shutterstock.comGdainti via

Related topics: App Development, HTML5, Java, JavaScript, Programming, Swift.

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  1. Robert Smith
    December 29, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Swift for iOS and Java for Android app development. Swift is a modern language which has inherited many features from many existing programming languages and has improved upon the deficiencies of Objective C.

  2. Eido
    September 19, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    IMO current best "software for writing HTML" is Atom IDE, was surprised for not seeing it in your article.

    Many thanks for your information.

    • James Frew
      September 20, 2016 at 5:11 am

      Atom is one of the best IDEs and its the one that I personally used. This article was more about which language to choose but we have done an article before on Text Editors v IDEs.

  3. mark
    August 23, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Really great content about mobile apps development thanks for sharing this.

    • James Frew
      September 7, 2016 at 9:27 am

      No problem Mark, hope you found it useful!

  4. Kim
    August 7, 2016 at 5:37 am

    I have zero knowledge of any of these... what do you recommend I take? Can I go directly learn mobile app development without having a background on the basics (I assume HTML and CSS are the basics?)

    • James Frew
      August 7, 2016 at 7:37 am

      Well it really depends on what you want to do and on what platform. You can learn whichever language you want first. Some people recommend some as "first languages" but really its like saying learning French will help with learning Spanish - there are some similarities but really they don't interconnect and you can learn one without the other.

      If you want a large market - develop for Android and learn Java, but if you want the more design-centric iOS market then go for Swift.

      Good luck!

    • Jerry
      August 12, 2016 at 8:26 pm

      Don't listen to James, learn C#

      • James Frew
        August 13, 2016 at 9:52 pm

        C# is also a good choice. Each to their own :)

  5. Lily
    August 5, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Thanks for the post, it is very informative. I do not know any programming languages, but I want to learn. I am still not sure whether I would like to learn the basics of Android or iOS development so I hesitate between Java and Swyft. And I do not even consider learning Objective C, there is a simpler version, after all. I am thinking of some alternatives to Java, actually. I have heard that C+ or Python can be useful, and they are also used in software programming. What if I go for one of them?
    Forgot to mention, I know HTML5 already but I realize it is not enough if I want to fully understand the code our developers write.Here they also mention C#. Do you think it can be useful in terms of mobile development?

    • James Frew
      September 7, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Its great to hear that you are putting thought into which language you want to learn, and although any would be a great start if you are having trouble deciding then making sure that you know why you want to learn. What is it that you want to do afterwards? I think you suggest in your comment that you work in this enviornment - if so, is that a place you wish to stay for a while and in that profession? What do they use? Do you want this as a hobby or profession?
      Once you've got those questions nailed I think it will be easier for you to make your decision. With regards to C# take a look at this to see how it compares to Java and C+.

  6. Mark Talent
    July 12, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Good article I was wondering what the norm was. I think you missed something though, I just wrote a native app android and iOS using c# and Xamarin through Visual Studio. It was my first attempt at mobile development. I have experience with Visual Studio. I wrote the Android version first which was a challenge and took a couple weeks. I was pleasantly surprised when I began the iOS version basically all I had to do was build the user interface (for my app it was several screens with buttons and labels) which took a couple days. Then I just wired it up to the same c# code from the android version (a couple hours) and it was done. I will add that to compile the iOS version you need a MAC connected to your wireless lan which Visual Studio on your windows machine uses to compile the code. I would recommend C# as a definite programming option for mobile development

  7. Anonymous
    June 14, 2016 at 7:33 am

    It is true; Java is for android app development while Swift is for iphone app development. Html5 and Css3 is also in demand to develop mobile app. The article I have found here is very informative and providing excellent tutorials to learn more.

    • James Frew
      June 14, 2016 at 12:09 pm

      Glad you found it useful

  8. Anonymous
    April 2, 2016 at 5:49 am

    All the three languages are equally important for app development business. Their importance is increasing day by day with the increasing market of smartphones. Good article, really liked it.


  9. Joe J
    March 26, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Link to Brackets goes to Sublime.

    • James Frew
      April 27, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks - will try and get that sorted.

  10. Anonymous
    March 26, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    I'm leaning toward C# on the Xamarin platform. I like the language although I haven't yet acquired facility much less mastery. I like the cross platform nature of Xamarin. And C# (with .net) skills port well to Windows app development should I ever want to stumble down that path.

    • James Frew
      April 27, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      You've made a start though which is awesome. Programming can take a while to get used to but "practise makes perfect" as they say. Good luck!

  11. Anonymous
    March 25, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Personally, I like object orientated languages. Java is for me. For a long time, I was using XML and Java. But, I must say, HTML5 is really good for layout, but the simplicity of Javascript, ehh, sometimes I wish I had something greater. Never really tried Swift though...

    • James Frew
      April 27, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      I hadn't done much with Swift before researching this article but it does seem pretty easy to use. I really think Apple is going to push this in the future so if you want to get into iOS development it might be worth looking into.