What is an SDK? Everything You Need to Know

January 31, 2019
What is an SDK? Everything You Need to Know
General

Every mobile marketer has heard the acronym “SDK” bandied about in discussions with their product and customer support teams. But how many marketers have actually asked: ”What does SDK stand for?”

To shed light on the SDK meaning as well as show you how a mobile SDK could benefit your app, read on.

What is an SDK, Exactly?

SDK stands for software development kit or devkit for short. It’s a set of software tools and programs used by developers to create applications for specific platforms.

SDK tools will include a range of things, including libraries, documentation, code samples, processes, and guides that developers can use and integrate into their own apps. SDKs are designed to be used for specific platforms or programming languages.

Thus you would need an Android SDK toolkit to build an Android app, an iOS SDK to build an iOS app, a VMware SDK for integrating with the VMware platform, or a Nordic SDK for building Bluetooth or wireless products, and so on.


The Characteristics of a Good SDK

Because your mobile SDK is meant to be used outside your organization, it has to provide value to other businesses and their developers. That value is dependent on your SDK having the following characteristics:

  • Easy to use by other developers
  • Thorough documentation to explain how your code works
  • Enough functionality so it adds value to other apps
  • Does not negatively impact a mobile device’s CPU, battery, or data consumption
  • Plays well with other SDKs

In short, it just has to work. Ideally, it should work elegantly, but when time is of the essence, as long as it gets the job done, it should be good enough.

How Will a Mobile SDK Benefit Your Brand?

There are several distinct advantages to providing an SDK download for your app.

Quicker Integration -> Shorter Sales Cycles

Let’s face it: if you’re trying to close more deals, having a mobile SDK speeds these deals along. Your devkit will help shorten the sales cycle because it makes integrating with a customer’s existing tech stack much easier.

Efficient Development -> Faster Deployment

When you take into consideration the fact that the average Android app will use around 18.2 third-party SDKs** (even more if your app is a game), you’ll quickly see that no software developer has the time to code every single tool from scratch.

user experience optimization process

Not when they can use pre-existing SDKs made publicly available by all the best platforms out there. Especially since your highly skilled developers are being paid by the hour to build a world-class app, not to ensure that functionalities like crash reporting, sending mobile notifications, or gathering behavioral analytics are all custom coded.

Say you want a way to share text or images from your app directly into Facebook. Instead of writing the code from scratch, your developer could start by checking out Facebook’s Android SDK toolkit to find code that would work for an Android device. This speeds up deployment by not needing to code from a blank slate.

You provide that same efficiency to other developers when you build an SDK for your product that they can use to bridge your product with their apps.

Great Product + SDK -> Increased Reach

If your product is valuable and its accompanying SDK allows for a generous amount of interoperability, you increase the chances that other tools will want to integrate with your product, which leads to more exposure for your brand.

Brand Control -> Mitigated Risks

With an SDK, you have better control over the elements of your user interface that show up in other apps. This allows you to dictate not just how your product integrates with other apps, but also how it looks. All while ensuring the most critical functions remain safe from being tampered with and possibly ruining a user’s experience down the road.

SDK vs API: Is there a Difference?

But wait, how is an SDK different from an API?

We can define API, also known as an Application Protocol Interface (or Application Programming Interface), as an interface between two pieces of software. Basically, it’s code that allows for clearly defined communication between two separate apps.

API: the Mailman
Think of an API as a mailman delivering your app’s request to some other software, and then bringing the response back to your app. A simple example: it’s the API that allows communication between Google Calendar and your travel app so that when a user books a trip, it synchronizes to their calendar.


SDK: the Post Office/Hardware Store
Let’s take the metaphor to its logical conclusion here. If the API is a mailman, then what is SDK in that context?

It’s the post office AND the hardware store combined.

Since it can contain everything necessary to communicate with another software (i.e. one or more APIs) as well as materials that can be used to construct an entirely new app (i.e. code libraries, debugging facilities, technical notes, tutorials, and documentation).

This could be a source of confusion for non-developers. After all, if both API and SDK can connect software together, doesn’t that mean they’re essentially the same?

In this case, go back to the SDK meaning: it’s a development kit. The SDK can contain one or more APIs plus essential utilities. The API is just one part of an SDK. Think of the devkit as a larger “container” for an entire array of SDK tools and you’ll be correct.

Conclusion

In the end, allowing other brands to use your technology via your mobile SDK opens up opportunities for your brand to reach wider audiences than you can reach on your own. And all it takes is providing a functional SDK tool that other apps can implement and integrate with.

CleverTap SDKs
If you’re curious whether we follow our own advice, head on over to our Developer Documentation page, where you can download our official mobile and web SDKs, server-side libraries, partner integrations, and community-supported projects. You’ll find that our SDKs are easy to integrate into your own mobile apps, giving you the power of our analytics and engagement platform within your own product.

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