--Updated on February 7th 2024--
In Short: SDK stands for software development kit, or devkit. It’s a toolbox that contains pre-built components that developers use to add functionalities to applications for specific platforms. SDKs save developers from building every aspect and writing every line of code of an application themselves. Essentially an SDK is a set of lines of code that get added to a mobile app.
If you've ever been involved in app development, whether that’s building one or upgrading an existing app, you'll have come across the term software development kit.
As a developer, you’ll be familiar with the term. But marketers, product managers, and anyone in between can also benefit from a good understanding of how SDKs play a vital role in app development. A devkit can completely shape the development process and help developers achieve their goals.
We’ll be walking you through a complete guide on what a software kit is, why you should use it, the different types to choose from, and how to find the perfect one for you (we’re still talking about an SDK here, this is not a dating show).
SDKs usually contain some basic ingredients: documentation, code samples, APIs, programming tools, a debugger and more. SDKs are designed to allow developers to create applications on specific platforms, such as using an iOS or Android SDK.
For a mobile app developer, the main benefit of using an SDK is time-saving. Apps take time to research and develop. If you’re building a location-aware app, you’ll need to manually write code, and that can be time consuming and tricky to do from scratch. With an SDK, you can save time by integrating vital app functions like payment, location, messaging, analytics and advertising quickly and reliably.
A fairly common real-world analogy for an SDK is a a model plane building kit. When you sit down to build a model plane, you'll have all the tools at your disposal to start building; the pieces, the glue and the assembly instructions. Much like the model airplane, an SDK contains all the necessary components required to integrate new capabilities into an application.
Why should you use an SDK?
When you're thinking about using a third-party mobile SDK instead of building your own functionality, it's important to know the pros:
- Quicker development: Like we said, time is of the essence. Developers simply don't have the time to develop every new functionality from scratch. Whether it's because they are on a tight deadline, have a knowledge gap, or lack the resources. SDKs allow developers to integrate precoded features simply and efficiently and in turn accelerating development and reducing the time to market.
- Cost-saving: You might see the initial cost of an SDK as being more expensive than building a functionality yourself. But using an existing SDK means you significantly reduce engineering time and the costs needed to maintain and update your code.
- Customization: Whatever your use case, there is an SDK for you. SDKs can help you tailor your app and create a truly personalized user experience that stands out from the crowd.
- Operating System Support: Devkits are usually available for developing apps on Android and iOS devices. They are regularly updated, so that your app can continue to function seamlessly.
- Improved user experience: Before you go to market and provide a great UX, you need to make sure your app is robust with no errors or bugs. By using an existing well-built SDK, you ensure it works well with other applications and already runs smoothly. You’re spending less time on quality assurance. It’s never guaranteed that an SDK will make sure your app is robust-- but that's why you need to find the right one (we'll get on this point later).
Types of SDKs
There are a number of SDKs for various sectors in tech. This ranges from mobile app SDKs, cloud SDKs, and gaming SDKs.
I’ll list here the 5 common types of SDKs and briefly what their service provides.
A mobile SDK is a set of software development tools that allows developers to build mobile applications for platforms, such as Android or iOS. It includes libraries, documentation, and sample code that help developers to quickly and easily create apps for mobile devices. Google provides Android SDK for Android app development, while Apple provides the iOS SDK for iOS apps.
A cloud SDK is a set of development tools and APIs that enable developers to build cloud-based applications. It includes libraries, tools, and APIs for connecting to and interacting with cloud-based services, such as databases, storage, and messaging. Examples: Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides an SDK for building cloud-based applications, and Microsoft Azure provides Azure SDK.
A gaming SDK is a set of tools and APIs designed specifically for building video games. It can include graphics libraries, physics engines, and other components that make it easier to create games for various platforms. Most popular of all gaming SDKs used by developers for building video games are Unity and Unreal Engine.
A location SDK is a subgenre of a mobile SDK because it’s used for helping develop mobile applications. It’s a set of tools and APIs that enable developers to build location-based services and applications. It includes tools for geocoding, reverse geocoding, mapping, and other location-based services. Developers can use this SDK to build applications that use location data, such as navigation apps or location-based marketing apps.
How to choose the right mobile SDK
Now that we’ve covered the type of SDKs you might come across and hear about, it’s time to narrow down on choosing the right mobile SDK.
When you’re thinking about using a third-party mobile SDK instead of building the functionalities from scratch, it’s important to evaluate the pros and cons. It’s like buying a new car for your family.
Yes, the two seater sports car is cooler and faster, but it’s going to be useless for grocery shopping and bringing all the equipment for your kids after school sports activity.
That’s why you get the iconic family van with the “baby on board” sticker. You think Freddy Flinstone could support his family if he go the caveman version of a Ferrari back in his day? Exactly my point.
The same applies for choosing an SDK for mobile application development. Here are a few tips and factors to consider when choosing the best mobile SDK for your business.
- Great documentation: An SDK is made for developers, so by all means make sure the documentation is up-to-date and functional. A good indication of whether the docs are up-to-date is the changelog updates to see whether there is active development and fine tuning of your mobile SDK in question. The docs should also include code samples and examples for easy integration. The entire idea of an SDK is easy integration and to help speed up the development process. With an SDK you should absolutely be able to build your app faster than adding all the functionalities yourself.
- Quick to integrate: This depends on the type of SDK you’re using to integrate but the integration process of an SDK shouldn’t be overly complex. It should be logical, and with minimal need for support. In an ideal world that means integration should take between 5-10 minutes.
- Scalable: If you’re planning to grow your business, an SDK needs to be extensible if it is to scale with your software application growth and development
- Battery efficient and lightweight: SDKs can be demanding on a CPU and devices battery, which is detrimental to the performance of your app and the effect it has on your user experience. When choosing an SDK make sure it is both lightweight and mitigate the impact on battery life
- Secure: You should make sure that any SDK you choose and use protects your user’s data and your app information. It must have an opt-in permissions flows according to current guidelines. Privacy and personal data is important, and you do not want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg standing before a court and failing to drink water like a normal person. Then again, you might want to be Mark because he’s been enormously successful and has made a fortune (perhaps a slight understatement).
What’s the difference between an SDK and API?
There is often confusion when it comes to what constitutes an API versus an SDK. While there is some overlap, it's important to understand the difference.
An Application Program Interface (API), as the name suggests, is an interface that allows apps, programs or platforms to interact with each other. If you've already built an application but need a new feature, you can use an API to integrate a ready-made functionality that communicates with an external service.
In simpler terms, an SDK provides a set of tools to help developers build applications, while an API provides a set of rules for how different software components can interact with each other.
Here are some examples of APIs to illustrate the difference:
- Google Maps API: allows developers to integrate Google Maps into their applications and provide functionality like directions, location data, and geocoding.
- Twitter API: allows developers to access and interact with Twitter data, such as tweets, users, and timelines.
- Stripe API: allows developers to integrate payment processing into their applications.
Here's a succinct summary of the key differences:
- You build with an SDK; you use an API
- While SDKs contain APIs, APIs never contain SDKs
I hope it’s clear now. If not, all I can say is that I tried my best.
To sum it all up, SDKs give developers the resources and tools to speed up development time and create high quality applications for mobile users.
Developers benefit greatly for many reasons including; customizability and quick development time. Marketers benefit too because a software development kit helps deliver a polished and fully equipped app that will heighten the user experience.
Bottom line, to make your application stand out, it’s important to choose the right SDK for you. It requires: great docs, quick implementation, scalability, battery efficient, and secure.
Want to know what we do at Roam?
if you’re looking to build location-aware mobile apps, and utilize location technology, contact our team or sign up to our dashboard and discover how to build your app with Roam.ai’s Location SDK and APIs today.