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The benefits -- and tradeoffs -- of a mobile SDK

A mobile SDK can do wonders for mobile app development. But how does it work, and what are the pitfalls to watch out for when you take this approach?

Mobile SDKs can simplify mobile application development, ensure developers follow business guidelines and remove some mobile back-end complexity. However, not all SDKs are made the same, and there are a few caveats to understand before you decide to use them.

Let's look at some examples of mobile SDKs, examine their major benefits and go over some of the complexities to watch out for when using them.

Mobile SDK examples

In addition to the Android, iOS, Mac and Windows SDKs, there are SDKs for just about everything: Analytics, payments, location tracking, debugging, customer engagement -- you name it.  

For example, Firebase from Google helps users develop mobile apps and host these apps from a single, unified platform. Appsee, an SDK for both iOS and Android, provides detailed information, like the sequence of events that led the app to crash, which encourages users to backtrack and even simulate bugs and crashes. And the Instabug SDK suits continuous testing and helps gather user feedback because it enables beta testers to send feedback in-app.

Mobile SDKs can mean faster integration

Fast performance is of the essence when it comes to mobile applications, and mobile SDKs are built for speed. Redirecting users from your application to other outside services takes time, and it slows down the development process. With this in mind, many SDKs are built to be comprehensive so developers have all the feature and resource integration requirements built into the SDK itself. 

The PayPal Checkout Native SDK is a great example of this. It keeps client-side integration lightweight while providing a path for server-side integration. This setup encourages a fast mobile experience for the user and maintains feature parity with PayPal's web checkout system. 

Mobile applications can yield a competitive advantage for the business with these native lightweight experiences that substitute for actually accessing external resources. Mapbox, a popular live location SDK, furnishes maps to gig-economy apps directly within the user's interface. 

Integration implications

While SDKs can make it simpler to integrate external services into mobile apps, there are tradeoffs.

For instance, the integration can increase app size and the network load to carry out its processes. SDKs can create stability issues. Mobile application developers must evaluate an SDK's specific impact on battery life. They also must verify compatibility with other existing SDKs.

Developers should also make sure to choose SDKs that are well documented and supported, and make efficient use of resources, to minimize these negative outcomes. Fortunately, there are SDKs specifically designed to mitigate these setbacks.

Airship, a customer engagement solution, is a good example of a lightweight SDK. It has a static file size of 22 MB on iOS and an Android AAR file that takes up 556 KB. Mapbox only adds 3 to 4 MB to the total size of the application, which developers can consider a worthwhile tradeoff for the powerful map capabilities. Good SDKs also access the network only when absolutely necessary so as to not contribute to network load and latency. 

SDKs are the future of mobile app development. But choosing a platform to integrate with your enterprise applications is an important decision that requires thorough evaluation of the benefits, drawbacks and possible outcomes. Mobile SDKs have a ripple effect on the applications and tools that depend on them, because bugs, glitches and security risks will travel downstream once an SDK is part of the app.

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