Cloud-Based Tools for Android Development

Demand for cloud-based, integrated development environments are on the rise as developer tools transition from the desktop to the Internet.

Google, for instance, has developed its cloud-only Chrome OS, but hasn’t yet created a fully Web-based Android development platform. Chromebooks seems like a nice alternative to managing laptop updates, but they don’t work well as development machines where access to the file system is required.

Other mobile devices, such as tablets, might also be candidates for cloud-based development. This is where my journey to the cloud is focused.

UmbrellaSDK

While there are several cloud-based IDEs available, I found and tested only one created specifically for Android development. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on tablets,  since it only runs on desktop computers.

It’s called UmbrellaSDK. It’s a development platform built with the magic of HTML5 and Javascript that allows rapid development via the Web browser. Developing iOS and Android is as easy as opening your browser. The UmbrellaSDK allows Javascript developers to create an app once and deploy on Android and iOS.

UmbrellaSDK is more than just a Web-based IDE. It also offers some shorthand for common routines. For example, “Hello World” is one line:

function AppMain(){Screen.TextAdd("Hello, world!",10,10);}

Umbrella handles and compiles native code server-side. You see the output in real time. Testing is done through the Umbrella Browser app available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play. Your app on UmbrellaSDK is given an ID. When this ID is entered into the Umbrella Browser app, your app shows up ready to test.

An added bonus are the HTML5 capabilities built into Umbrella Browser. If you’re interested, the app scored 189 out of 500 at html5test.com on my aging Motorola Droid Android 2.2.2 phone.

UmbrellaSDK is a paid service that will submit apps to both Apple’s App Store and Google Play on your behalf for $25. But bear in mind that updated Google Play terms may limit third-party submissions like these in the future.

Cloud IDE

Chances are good you’ve already heard of Cloud IDE, a free collaborative development platform from Exo IDE. Curious about this platform’s future, I asked for more information. I learned Cloud IDE is more than an IDE. “It’s a complete local runtime based upon CloudFoundry,” Tyler Jewell, CEO of Exo, told me in an email. “Within our cloud, developers can collaborate on a project to do real time pair programming, run parallel builds (we’ll scale up resources to compile multiple files simultaneously), do server-side debugging (breakpoints and introspection), along with pushing deployments to the runtime target of choice.”

Cloud IDE supports multiple languages, real — time collaboration, versioning and more. It’s currently free for the purpose of collecting feedback. Commercial versions are scheduled for release in the second half of 2013. The possibility of adding Android development support to Cloud IDE is real, but not on the roadmap for iterations coming in 2012. Said  Jewell:

The challenge isn’t including and linking the appropriate libraries. Rather, it’s providing a proper emulation environment for compiling, debugging, and testing Android apps within the same environment. We’ll add it into our backlog. We are spending a lot of time supporting the fuller Google stack, and our engineers are looking at options for Android.

Robust, cloud-based IDEs are the future of app development. Web development already has plenty of full-featured tools available. In time, the market will respond with Android development tools, as well.

What do you think? Will cloud-based IDEs become the norm? Tell me in the comments below.

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