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 or SDK for short.
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. An SDK can completely shape the development process and help developers achieve their goals.
We’ll be walking you through a complete guide on what an SDK 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).
What is an SDK?
SDK stands for software development kit, took kit or devkit. It’s a toolbox that contains pre-built components that developers use to add functionalities to applications for specific platforms. Software development kits 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.
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.
A major benefit of using a tool kit 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 kit for making a model plane. 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, a software dev kit 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 evaluate the pros and cons. There are many benefits that adding an SDK can bring to your application:
- Quicker development: Like we said, time is of the essence. Developers simply don't have the time to develop every new functionality from scratch. 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 a dev kit 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. Software dev kits can help you tailor your app and create a truly personalized user experience that stands out from the crowd.
- Improved user experience: Before you go to market and provide a great user experience, you need to make sure your app is robust with no errors or bugs. By using an existing well-built toolkit, you can ensure it works well with other applications and already runs smoothly. That means you’re spending less time on quality assurance, but this exclusively applies to a well-built toolkits. It’s never guaranteed that an SDK will make sure your app is robust. That’s why it’s important to choose the right one, but we’ll get to this.
Types of SDKs
There are a number of dev kits out there for various sectors in the tech industry (using that as an umbrella term). 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.
- Mobile SDK: A mobile software development kit 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 developing Android apps, while Apple provides iOS SDK for developing iOS apps.
- Cloud SDK: A cloud software development kit 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. Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides an SDK for building cloud-based applications, while Microsoft Azure provides Azure SDK.
- Gaming SDK: A gaming software development kit 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.
- Location SDK: A location software development kit can be understood almost as a subgenre of a mobile SDK because it’s most commonly used for helping develop mobile apps. 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. Google Maps SDK is a common location SDK used by developers to build location-aware apps, but there are a few more including us here at Roam.ai.
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 software development kit.
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 kid's after school sports activity. That’s why you get the iconic family van with the “baby on board” sticker. You think Freddy Flintstone could support his family if he got the caveman version of a Ferrari back in his day? Exactly my point.
The same applies for choosing a mobile SDK. Here are a few tips and factors to consider when choosing the best mobile dev kit 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 software development kit in question. The docs should also include code samples and examples for easy integration. The entire idea of a tool kit 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 kit you’re using to integrate but that process 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 apps growth and development
- Battery efficient and lightweight: Software development kits 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 dev kit 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. A popular example is using a payment processing API in an application instead of building one from scratch.
In simpler terms, a software development kit 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 between them and SDKs:
- 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.
To compare: the Android and iOS dev kits we mentioned earlier, they provide tools for developers to build apps. Same goes for the Microsoft Azure SDK, which provides tools for developers to build applications that run on the Azure cloud platform. Look, here’s a summary of the key differences:
- APIs communicate with other products and services to quickly integrate specific functions into your application, whereas SDKs are a set of tools that allows developers to create applications
- 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.
Alright that was a complete guide on what is a software development kit is. To sum it all up, SDKs give developers the resources and tools to speed up development time and create high quality applications. Developers benefit greatly for many reasons including customizability and quick development time. But so do marketers who will reap the benefits of a dev kit that helps deliver a polished and fully equipped app that will heighten user experience. That said, to really make your application shine, it’s important to choose the right tool kit for you. It needs to have great docs, quick implementation, and it needs to be scalable, battery efficient and secure.
Want to know more?
At Roam we specialize in mobile location technology to empower developers to create the best possible location-aware apps. We provide a precise location SDK that allows for accurate geo-tracking and APIs such as geofencing. We believe that businesses should have access to top-quality location technology without sacrificing the battery life of their users' mobile devices. That's why we've developed products that are not only accurate, but also battery efficient. If you're interested in learning more about what we do at Roam, visit our website or contact us directly. We'd be happy to answer any questions you have and show you how our technology can benefit your business.