Programming an Android app yourself is “the long, hard road” but it can be extremely satisfying! Learning how to develop Android apps without any previous coding experience means you will have to learn about Java, the Android SDK and a few programming tools.
To get started, follow these steps to get you up and running developing apps.
1. Download and install Java Developer Kit (you can skip this if you are on a Mac)
You probably already have Java installed on your computer: this is called the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). But you need the Developer Kit (JDK). I use version 6, because 7 didn’t work with Eclipse (more on that later). You can download the JDK here.
2. Download and install Eclipse
Eclipse is the program in which you actually write the code for your app. Among other things, it helps you to find errors in the code you write. It is also needed to compile the app: turning your code into a program that runs on Android devices. Getting the right version of Eclipse can be tricky, I spent some time finding a version that worked with the JDK on the 64 bit version of Windows 7. In the end I found that on my system, version 3.6.2 worked with the other tools in this guide.
3. Download and install the Android SDK.
The Android Developer Kit contains the tools to make Java code that works on Android devices. It has options for making versions of your app for different devices and different versions of Android. There is also an emulator: this simulates an Android device on your computer so you can test your apps without having to install it on an actual phone or tablet!
4. Add platforms and packages to the Android SDK.
You need to do this so you can develop apps for different versions of the Android operating system. It also has some very useful tools. Find out how you add these here.
5. Install the ADT plugin for Eclipse.
This will add the functions to Eclipse that you need to make Android apps. Learn how to do this here.
6. Start building your first app – Hello World
Making a “Hello World” program is usually the first project when a programmer starts with a new language or platform. Doing this exercise, you will be introduced to the basics of Android app development. There are several tutorials for this, I used this one.
7. Build your first real app.
What kind of app do you want to make? If it is a complicated idea, perhaps it is best to start with something simpler: for instance, an app with just one of the many functions you have in mind. Or, if you have several ideas for apps, start with the one you think will be the easiest to create.
If are planning to do all the developing yourself, you will run into problems (even if you are an experienced Java developer!). For instance, Eclipse tells you that there are errors in your code but you don’t understand the error message… or maybe if you compile and run the app it stops immediately or crashes when you push a button.
When you run into problems like that, try Googling the error message. Many times you will find the information on a site called Stack Overflow. Here, programmers come together to discuss coding problems. Many talented and experienced programmers are there to help you.
6. Publish in the Google Play Store.
Great, you’ve reached the finish line: your app is ready to be unleashed upon the masses! However, if you want those masses to actually find and use your app, the story doesn’t end here. Promoting and maintaining your app are subjects that I’ll cover in other tutorials.
By now I can imagine you are overwhelmed by all this information. Just getting the right tools in place can be daunting for some people, I know it was for me. But fear not: just take it one step at a time… It will be difficult at times but, like I said in the beginning, achieving your goals will be all the more satisfying. So get to it and let me know what you get out of it!