Learning to build your own mobile app is easier than it seems. But it does require a lot of upfront work and some willingness to code.
If you’ve only ever worked with frontend development then moving into apps can be a whirlwind of confusing terms and practices. But the programming process is very formulaic; you just need a learning resource to help you pick it up.
There’s plenty of stuff online but I’ve found the best materials in programming books that guide you from start to finish. And thankfully there are dozens of awesome programming books geared towards aspiring app creators.
I’ve curated my top picks to help you learn the ropes and get moving with app development whether you wanna build for Google, Apple, or any other mobile operating system.
iOS Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide
I’m a huge fan of all the “Big Nerd Ranch” guides because they just know how to teach. Every chapter guides you naturally along a learning path makes sense, and the information should stick with you for years if you follow their practical exercises.
iOS Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide offers a massive 415+ pages to help you pick up the iOS programming process. It’s perfect for learning the ropes and figuring out exactly how you go from an idea to a finished product.
This current version of the book was made for Xcode 8 and Swift 3 with updated sections for iOS 11. The Big Nerd Ranch team usually updates their books every year so you may want to look out for a newer version if it’s available.
However this is one of my favorites and it’s definitely a book worth grabbing if you’re willing to learn.
Swift Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide
Another similar book is Swift Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide also written by the same team.
Apple’s iOS runs on the Swift language so this book may seem verbose. However it’s really geared towards the language itself rather than just creating mobile iOS apps.
This book will teach you how to write amazing Swift code that compiles for iOS and MacOS apps. You’ll learn the fundamentals of programming in Swift, how to set variables/functions properly with typecasting, and how to create your own workflow in Xcode.
I actually recommend this book as a starting point combined with the previous guide. Both of these books are crucial to mastering Xcode and iOS application development. But you need to feel comfortable pushing yourself with the Swift language.
Again, it helps if you’ve already done some programming but it’s definitely not required.
Android Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide
Here’s one of the newer books I’ve found with the most recent edition released in early 2017. Android Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide follows the same format as all the other “big nerd” guides.
Yet this is one of their guides focusing on Google’s Android operating system. You’ll learn how to create applications that run on Android-powered smartphones and tablets with handy tricks for new app developers.
Unsure of where to start with Android coding? This book has everything you need with over 620+ pages of exercises and guided walkthroughs.
You’ll learn how to create all kinds of Android apps from todo lists to mobile games and social platforms.
This really is the ultimate guide to learning Android app development and it’s perfect for anyone serious about building mobile apps in general.
iOS 11 Programming Fundamentals with Swift
Looking for the most up-to-date learning experience for Apple’s mobile iOS app dev? iOS 11 Programming Fundamentals with Swift should be your go-to resource.
This book covers everything new in iOS 11 with updated APIs and some newer features based on the iOS technology. This includes Apple’s newest iPhone X with a much faster processor and a larger display to boot.
While this is really helpful, most developers aren’t just concerned about performance. That’s why this book also gets into topics like animation, user inputs, and storing data in local databases.
By the end of this book you’ll have a strong grasp of iOS 11 and how it works from a developer’s perspective.
It certainly helps if you already have some knowledge of coding apps but it’s not required.
Although this is the newest book in my list with a release date in Q4 2017, shortly after the iOS 11 announcement. So it’s jam-packed with the latest info for compliant iOS application development.
Beginner’s Guide to iOS 11 App Development Using Swift 4
Here’s another similar guide with a stronger focus on iOS 11 and the newer changes in Swift 4. The updates in this book are crucial for app development and will make a huge difference in your workflow.
The Beginner’s Guide to iOS 11 App Development Using Swift 4 actually follows true to its name being a real beginner’s guide to mobile apps.
You can pick up this book with no prior experience and still learn a ton. It’s really the ultimate guide for anyone hoping to make their own iOS apps without any experience.
Does this cover everything you’ll need to know? Certainly not.
But it does cover everything a beginner needs to know, and the exercises are super beginner-friendly so you’ll never feel lost while learning.
Head First Android Development
Moving towards Google’s Android platform we have the fantastic Head First Android Development.
This is one of my favorite books just for its size and level of detail. You can follow this guide to learn pretty much everything about the Android experience. You’ll learn how to craft interfaces using Google’s material design along with tips & tricks for new coders.
With a massive 750+ pages I cannot imagine a thicker guide to Android app development. Although it’s certainly not perfect and some passages can be rather confusing, I know this will help anyone learn the ropes by following practical advice rather than theory and boring documentation.
The quickest way to learn anything is to do it yourself. If you just read through Google’s docs you may learn the ideas behind apps but you won’t have any hands-on experience.
I always prefer books that teach with a hands-on practical style because they’re so much easier to absorb.
But you do need to put in the work to learn, so don’t expect that reading through this title will grant you instantaneous Android coding abilities.
Android App Development & Programming Guide
While the title of this book may be somewhat of a misnomer, it really does follow as a guide to Android app development. It’s a dated book with a few years since its release but I find the information just as accurate today.
Android App Development & Programming Guide first came out in 2015 and it covers all the fundamentals of coding a kick-ass Android application.
The book itself is smaller than most with only 180 pages and 22 chapters. But I still find the contents incredibly valuable for anyone serious about Android development.
You can pick up lots of great advice from each lesson and it’s so easy to read thanks to the writer’s natural teaching style. Try not to let the date put you off&emdash;the information is incredibly practical and you’ll find loads of actionable steps to take.
Learn how to work with XML data, how to customize the Android keyboard, handle event listeners, and deal with different info/list views in the Android coding environment.
The intricacies may change a little with each year but the fundamentals stay the same. And that’s exactly what you’ll learn in this book.
Learning Java by Building Android Games
If you’re trying to build mobile games for Android then I can’t think of a better book. Learning to build quality games takes a while, but once you get the programming down pat you can focus more in the interface and experience.
Learning Java by Building Android Games teaches you two specific areas: how to build games and how to code Java.
If you’ve worked primarily on the web then you likely have little-to-no experience with the Java language. It’s verbose and very technical with a syntax that really requires some effort to learn.
But if you’re serious about creating awesome games I cannot think of a better book to pick up.
These practical exercises teach you how to use the Android Studio and how to plan your game’s experience whether it’s a side-scroller, first person shooter, or a puzzle game.
In fact, you’ll learn how to build a series of different games from scratch all meant to teach you the fundamentals of Java for mobile game design. Absolutely recommended for anyone interested in this field and especially for newcomers just learning Java.
Android App Development
The simply-titled Android App Development may sound like just another coding book. However this is actually one of the most recent books on the market being first released in early 2017.
It totals over 680 pages with extremely practical exercises for learning the ropes with Android. You’ll pick up practical app dev skills for working with custom calculators, custom touch actions, graphics, sounds, and so much more.
The chapters feel incredibly practical where you’ll learn how to build real applications that teach many different concepts.
And with almost 700 pages to work through you’ll have plenty of learning materials.
I’d call this a beginner’s best intro to Android programming since it’s pretty long and has a newer release date. But look out for any updates in the coming years. You never know what’s to come in the mobile space and things chage fast in the tech world.
Android Application Development All-in-One For Dummies
I usually steer clear of the “for dummies” books, but this one really caught my eye. It offers a simplistic look into Android coding but it feels like a solid intro for newbies who just cannot grasp the concepts.
Android Application Development All-in-One For Dummies is 768 pages of introductory guides to the Java language & the Android development environment.
You’ll learn how to craft every type of application you can imagine from simple games to more complex social apps and to-do lists. Many developers need an easy place to start because Java isn’t one of the simplest languages.
And in my opinion that’s exactly what makes this book so great. It’s the perfect primer for anyone hoping to learn Android without all the complexities.
Just note this book will not make you a pro. It’ll give you the foundations required to move forward and keep pushing yourself to learn more.
Mobile Design Pattern Gallery
While this isn’t technically a programming book, it is a really valuable learning resource to UI/UX design for mobile apps.
The Mobile Design Pattern Gallery is a library of design ideas for smartphone applications. You’ll study all kinds of trends that emerged over recent years since the launch of the App Store and subsequent rise of mobile.
With 400 pages and dozens of chapters you’ll delve into real-world applications studying how they work, how you can clone their interfaces, and what you should do to increase the usability of your applications.
I specifically recommend this as a desk reference if you’re trying to pick up ideas for mobile design. It may not be perfect but it’s definitely one of the strongest guides to mobile design patterns out there.
Use this as a reference and for inspiration when you’re past the beginning phase of coding & once you move into building your own apps from scratch.
The App Factory Playbook
The App Factory Playbook is a really cool book with a different twist on app development.
Note this is not a programming book, nor a design book, but rather a marketing and ideas book.
If you’re trying to build mobile apps for profit then you need a plan. Money doesn’t just fall out of the app store and you really need to put in effort to see the results you want.
Thankfully this book is perfect for anyone learning how to build mobile apps from scratch. It’s meant for non-technical designers, or developers who might know a little about coding, but who really just don’t have time(or patience) to learn Java/Swift in detail.
Over 130 pages you’ll learn how to plan your ideas, how to structure an app interface, and how to get a strategy ready for launch & marketing. Will you offer a freemium version of your app? Is it worth monetizing through ads or in-app upgrades?
These are crucial questions that everyone needs to ask themselves before moving into app development.
I think of this title more like a supplementary book to go along with the others in this list.
You can pick this up as a non-technical designer and learn a lot. But it also works great for anyone who wants to learn coding and also study the business side of app development.