Get a Degree in Mobile App Development

The history of computers isn’t a long one, but there are some things we know about the microprocessor. The first and most important fact is they’ve gotten more powerful over time. Since the late 1970s, computers have become millions of times more capable, and at the same time, they have become smaller, more versatile and less expensive.

The culmination of these decades of work on computer hardware are platforms like mobile phones and tablets. Gone are the peripherals, cables and keyboards. In their place are touch screens, wireless communications and integrated electronics.

Simply put, the little device you are carrying around is a powerful computer. Only a few years ago it would have been considered a supercomputer. It is also a portable television station, electronic book and game console. All of those functions require software. With the right skills and study, anyone can aspire to a career in mobile application development.

Writing applications for your mobile device is almost as easy as using it.

The Mobile Platform 

The details of writing an application for a mobile phone or tablet depend heavily on what operating system the device is running. iPhone and iPad developers write for a system called iOS using tools like xCode provided by Apple.

Most other mobile phones and tablets run either a standard or modified version of an operating system called Android, which is a bit more forgiving in terms of what tools can be used and what languages applications can be written in.

Most Android applications are written in Java. Google, which owns and licenses Android, offers a free Integrated Development Environment, or IDE, for application development called Android Studio. Google also maintains the Android Software Development Kit, or SDK, which is a set of tools and documentation allowing developers to take full advantage of the Android platform.

The basic principle between the two systems, however, is the same: mobile devices are computers, similar in many ways to PCs and Macs. Writing applications for them isn’t all that different from writing software for desktops or laptops.

Hardware 

Where mobile platforms and PCs diverge is in their use of particular kinds of hardware. The mouse, for example, while an integral component of the PC going all the way back to the Xerox PARC program, is rarely used with mobile devices. External monitors, keyboards, touchpads, etc. are also unnecessary, since mobile phones and tablets use a touch interface.

Designing a mobile application, therefore, must take into account the fact that a user can’t use traditional GUI conventions like double-clicking or pressing a control sequence on the keyboard. Other mechanisms like screen gestures and press-and-hold must be used instead.

Distribution 

Unlike PC software, which is now distributed mainly by free online repositories, e-commerce sites and in rare cases boxed discs, mobile software comes from what the industry calls “ecosystems.” Apple has the iTunes App Store. Google has the Google Play marketplace. Amazon has the Amazon App Store and so forth.

Each of these distribution platforms are keyed either to a particular kind of hardware like the iPhone or Kindle, or a particular operating system like Android. To publish on these sites, developers must often pay a fee and configure their applications with signed keys so they can be identified by both the distributor and its customers.

Education 

If you are seeking a career in software development in general and mobile app development in particular, there are a few consistent requirements you’ll want to keep in mind.

Because mobile app development is at its core computer programming, a degree in a field like Computer Science, Electrical Engineering or Mathematics is a good choice for a foundation. Skills like technical writing, research and planning are crucial as well.

Many of the tools made available to build mobile applications are proprietary, but the languages used are not. Java, for example, is owned by Oracle, but is an open specification with decades of documentation and example code available for anyone to review and study. iOS device software is written with a language called Objective-C which is based on the industry-standard C language developed by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie in the early 1970s.

While computer programming might sound like an arcane practice, the truth is modern tools and workflows have made the process much simpler than it used to be. There have been few other times when computer programming had as much potential as it does today.