Few things can be so divisive among developers as their choice of programming languages. Developers will promote one over the other, often touting their chosen language’s purity, speed, elegance, efficiency, power, portability, compatibility or any number of other features.
Android app developers are no exception, with many developers divided between using Java or Python to develop their applications. Let’s look at these two languages and see which is best for Android app developers.
Originally released in 1995, Java is one of the cornerstone languages of modern programming, and continues to be one of the most popular programming languages in the world. Java was designed on the “write once, run anywhere” principle, as compiled Java apps are designed to run on a Java virtual machine (JVM). Any computer, device or platform with a JVM installed should be able to run a Java app without it being altered or recompiled. In addition, Java is a true object-oriented programming language, with many modern features.
Because of these features, Google used Java as the core basis of Android when they began development. As a result, to this day, Java remains the primary way to create true “native” Android apps. Apps written in Java tend to have the fastest performance, tightest integration and easier access to underlying features and APIs.
In spite of these advantages, Java is not an easy language for many developers to pick up, especially those coming from a career in web development.
First released in 1991, Python predates Java by a few years, yet continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the development world. Unlike Java—or other languages such as C, Objective-C or Swift—Python is an interpreted language, rather than a compiled one. In other words, rather than compiling the completed code into machine-language instructions, Python code is executed by a Python interpreter on the fly.
Python has long had a reputation of being a simple, elegant language. Whereas other languages emphasize many ways to accomplish a goal, Python’s philosophy is that there should be a single, superior way to do it. This, in turn, gives Python a much easier learning curve for new developers.
Because of its interpreted nature, Android does not natively support Python apps. However, there are a number of frameworks available that allow Python apps to be interpreted and run on Android, even giving them a native look and feel. In spite of this, because it is not the native development environment, Python apps do not always have the same level of system access as their Java counterparts. In addition, as a general rule, Python apps tend to have slower performance, although this is increasingly mitigated by faster hardware.
In spite of these disadvantages, Python appeals to many developers who are already proficient with it, or are coming from a web development background. Because Python is an interpreted language, this gives Python apps an even greater degree of portability than Java, especially since some platforms—such as macOS—no longer install a JVM by default.
Java or Python
The fact of the matter is, both Java and Python have pros and cons. Java is the native language of Android, and enjoys the associated benefits. Python is an easier language to learn and work with, and is more portable, but gives up some performance compared to Java.
At the end of the day, each tool has its place depending on what you are trying to accomplish and what your background is as an Android app developer. If you’re not sure about how to create an Android app that will meet your expectations, you may need to seek out expert advice from people who’ve worked on similar projects before.