What is an SDK?

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to add new functionalities to your software project. A software development kit (SDK) provides you with code samples, libraries, APIs, and other tools to create custom software solutions that integrate seamlessly with your existing codebase.

The history of SDKs can be traced back to the early days of computing in the 1960s. Back then, hardware manufacturers provided developers with the necessary tools and documentation to run software on their machines. In the 80s, companies like Microsoft and Apple adopted this approach to facilitate software development for their products. From the 2000s onwards, this trend continued for mobile and web applications.

SDKs are now ubiquitous and available for almost any programming language, platform, and niche. This reflects the diversity of developers and businesses requiring specialized tools and functionalities to build applications that meet their unique needs.

Which functionalities can be added using an SDK?

While virtually any software feature can come in the form of an SDK, some are more commonly integrated than others. These include user authentication, payment processing, social media integration, cloud services, and analytics.

At this point, it’s important to distinguish between an SDK and an API (application programming interface). While an SDK gives developers the tools to integrate software components into their projects, an API enables their applications to communicate with other software or services. In fact, SDKs often include APIs.

Imagine you want to give your app’s users the ability to share something on social media. With the appropriate SDK, you can easily integrate this functionality into your code. To actually send a share request to a given social media platform, your app will then use the appropriate API.

How easy is it to integrate an SDK into a mobile app?

Ease of integration is essential to every SDK, as they are meant to replace time-consuming and costly in-house development. The effort needed to implement an SDK’s features depends on the code’s clarity and the quality of its documentation. Another factor is the availability of developer support, often included in paid SDKs.

It also matters how an SDK can be used on your target platform, meaning with which programming languages, tools, and frameworks. If your developers are already familiar with them, they will have a much easier time implementing the SDK’s functionalities.

One major advantage of using an SDK is not having to maintain the functionality yourself. Especially with paid SDKs, updates are frequent and well-documented, enabling you to keep your project up to date with minimal effort.

What to consider before deciding on an SDK

After you have defined the requirements an SDK needs to fulfill for your project, you may want to evaluate the following aspects to narrow down your options:

  1. Pricing: Transparent pricing is vital. Some SDK vendors use a volume-based pricing model, which leads to increasing costs as your business grows. There may also be update fees and similar charges. For complete control over the total cost, look for a fixed-price solution.
  2. Developer-friendliness: High-quality documentation and quick support go a long way toward making an SDK’s integration painless. See if you can access the documentation beforehand to gauge its usefulness and find out how you will communicate potential issues.
  3. Data security: Prioritize data security in your buying decision. Check if the SDK communicates with a third-party server, and ensure it can operate without unnecessary internet access. This minimizes the risk of data leaks.
  4. Try before you buy: Check if the vendor offers a trial or proof-of-concept phase so you can test out the SDK before committing to it. Make sure you will have enough time to get a meaningful impression.

Vetting vendors with these aspects in mind makes it easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re lucky enough to be left with multiple promising candidates, you’re in a good position to negotiate.

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