Which Is Better for Android Development: Kotlin or Java?

In 2023, Google announced that its Android operating system would be completely rewritten using the Kotlin programming language. This was a strategic move, both in terms of increasing the popularity of Kotlin amongst Android developers, and in terms of Google’s ultimate ambition of introducing a universal programming language. It was also a subtle way of encouraging Java programmers to transition to Kotlin.

It has been over a year since its initial release, and the programming language Kotlin has rapidly gained traction among developers. Whilst this may lead some to question whether Java will remain a viable option for creating Android applications, the reality is that it is still one of the most widely used and popular programming languages in existence. Consequently, Android application developers are still able to depend on Java as their primary programming language.

It is a difficult decision to make when choosing the best programming language for your project. Should you take Google’s advice and use the modern Kotlin, or stay with a more established language such as Java? To decide which one is the most suitable for your needs, it is important to compare the two languages in terms of their features and capabilities.

Kotlin: It’s Like Having a Hot New Neighbor

In 2023, Google made the bold move of releasing the Kotlin programming language to the public, with the clear intention of providing Android developers with a more efficient and powerful language. The decision to develop Kotlin was taken due to the fact that, although Java was the best choice for app development, it lacked some of the more modern features and performance that Google deemed necessary.

Kotlin‘s growing popularity amongst mobile developers has been largely attributed to Google’s strong endorsement of the language. Since Google declared Kotlin its preferred language for Android development, it has become increasingly popular and is being adopted by major companies such as Twitter, Netflix, Airbnb and Pinterest. This relatively new language has sparked a great deal of interest, with many recognising its potential as a powerful development tool.

If so, what potential outcomes could be expected from using Kotlin to enhance the Java development experience? Kotlin enables developers to address common issues, as well as introducing other improvements. These include, for instance:

  • Interoperability. Kotlin was developed with the ultimate aim of becoming the go-to language for every platform. Its great inter-operability with other languages makes it a great choice for developers. It allows for the use of a wide range of libraries and enables the creation of modules that can work with Java applications.
  • Economy as a Code. Kotlin has an advantage over Java, in that its syntax is both concise and unambiguous. This means that, when developing Android projects, the amount of time spent on them can be significantly reduced, and the risk of encountering errors, even in projects of considerable complexity and scope, is greatly diminished.
  • Ability to Write Code in Today’s Language. Kotlin is a relatively recent programming language, making it possible to use modern programming techniques such as delegates, extension functions and higher-order functions in your work. This means that you are able to benefit from the most up-to-date best practices when developing software.
  • There Are No Unrefined Individuals Here: It was once commonplace to use raw types in programming; however, even after generics became widespread, raw types were still retained for the sake of compatibility. Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged that raw types can lead to potential problems at runtime. To combat this, Kotlin does not permit the use of raw types, thus ensuring that code is more type-safe.
  • All Boxes Unchecked Some Java programmers have claimed that checked exceptions are beneficial for dealing with errors. Unfortunately, this often leads to developers spending a substantial amount of time attempting to identify the source of the errors, which often results in empty catch blocks. In order to address this, Kotlin has completely eliminated the need for checked exceptions.
  • Non-nullable Variables. The NullPointerException is an exceptionally frequent difficulty that comes up during the development of Android applications. Kotlin has a solution for this in the form of a null safety check which is applied to all variables, guaranteeing that they are never assigned a null value. The language does not provide any native support for variables with null values, but in certain situations it is possible to find a workaround.

It is clear that there are numerous benefits to using Kotlin over Java, which could lead to the conclusion that Kotlin is the superior choice. However, to provide a more comprehensive perspective, it is important to also detail the drawbacks of Kotlin. Weaknesses of the language include:

  • The Learning Curve Is Very Steep. It could be argued that it is contradictory to suggest that a language which is easy to read and write would be difficult for programmers to learn. However, those accustomed to other programming languages may find it more challenging to grasp the concept of Kotlin’s succinctness. Acquiring proficiency in Kotlin necessitates the reconsideration of the boundaries of a language.
  • Compilation Time Takes Too Long. Kotlin’s compilation time is commonly reported to be more prolonged than that of Java. Although it is conceivable for projects to benefit from Kotlin’s increased efficiency when compared to Java, this is not often the case and is considered to be atypical.
  • Standardized Writing. Kotlin is renowned for its highly declarative nature, which can unfortunately lead to the generation of superfluous boilerplate code when compiling to JVM bytecode. This can result in an abundance of verbose code, diminishing the efficiency of the language.
  • Location in a Tiny Town. Whilst Kotlin is relatively new, it is still in the process of building a strong and supportive development community. This is in contrast to the more established Java community, that offers a more comprehensive range of services to its customers.

A Classic Example of Java

Java has long been a popular choice for developers, due to its widespread use in creating Android applications. Originally, Android was coded in Java, which made it relatively simple to develop applications for it. However, since the introduction of Kotlin, many developers have been questioning whether it is still beneficial to use Java when developing Android applications.

Despite the seeming obviousness of switching from Java to Kotlin, it is not a simple decision to make. Java has been around for a long time and is still widely used, so it is understandable that some developers may hesitate to switch to an alternative language. There are a few possible explanations for this phenomenon, which we should consider before making any decisions.

  • Simply said, it’s a breeze to pick up. Java is an accessible language to learn, write and understand. Even without taking advantage of the wealth of online learning resources there are, its intuitive syntax will make it simpler for anyone starting out on their first project.
  • Portability. Java is highly portable between devices and operating systems due to the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). This means that applications and programs created using Java can be easily transferred to other systems without any alterations.
  • What Android depends on. Whilst Kotlin is increasingly becoming the language of choice for Android development, this does not mean that the platform is abandoning Java altogether. Many of the fundamental Java libraries are still included in the Android Software Development Kit (SDK), making it easier for Java developers to transition to Android development.
  • Less bulky software. Java programmes often have a smaller memory usage, making them more suited to optimisation. This is great news for those developing a new version of an app that requires improved efficiency. Additionally, the imperative nature of Java means that fewer, smaller applications can be used to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Massive population. It is inevitable that developers will experience difficulties when programming in any language. Fortunately, this is offset by the presence of a large network of expert Java developers who are able to provide assistance. If you are working with Java and encounter an issue, rest assured that you will be able to find help online.

It is clear that Kotlin is most suitable for Android development; however, there are distinct advantages to using Java. It is necessary to consider the potential disadvantages of Java, which include:

  • Verbose. Java is a highly verbose language, which means that more code must be written in order to achieve the same level of functionality as can be attained using far fewer code lines in Kotlin. This can result in a higher risk of encountering flaws and faults, as well as the potential for the programme to become overly large and complex. Additionally, this increased level of code can add to the total development time before the product is ready for release.
  • The performance was very slow. If you have ever had the privilege of working with a modern language such as Kotlin, you will be aware of the many advantages it provides over its predecessor, Java. One such advantage is the increased speed of development it offers. Additionally, Java is known to be quite memory-intensive and as a result, it may not be suitable for use on older computers, which could be a major disadvantage for those relying on such machines.
  • Not having any of today’s conveniences. Despite the frequent updates to Java, it may still appear outdated and may be discouraging for developers who are used to more modern approaches to programming. Kotlin, on the other hand, is capable of taking advantage of the latest ideas and techniques available in app development.

Which One Is Better?

It may appear that switching to Kotlin is an unavoidable step but at present, there is no such necessity. Depending on the expertise and experience of the developers, Java can prove to be an excellent choice for Android development. Furthermore, Kotlin’s strong association with Java should make the transition process relatively straightforward when the time comes.

It is yet to be seen whether Kotlin will eventually become the predominant programming language for Android development; however, it is already beginning to set new standards and introduce new techniques for Android development. These changes, for better or worse, will force developers to adjust their approaches accordingly.

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