The Case for Kotlin: Risk-Free, Cross-Platform, Future-Friendly… and Ready to Work – Right Now

The Case for Kotlin: Risk-Free, Cross-Platform, Future-Friendly… and Ready to Work – Right Now

It’s madness, really.

An app is written for the Web.

Then, it’s written for Android.

Same app, different code.

Oh, and it needs be written for iOS, too. At the same time.

Again, different code. The question is, “Why?”

Development teams are essentially tripling their coding and testing efforts to ensure cross-platform coverage. It’s costly. It’s time-consuming. And – this might be the craziest part – it’s uncertain what the shelf life of the code will be. As we know, the future is unwritten.

As always, the goal is to be able to implement products more efficiently, and with better testing across platforms. And up to now, every cross-platform coding solution that has come along really hasn’t worked that well.

The good news is that there is now a better way. And a proven way.

We at Touchlab have been writing code in Kotlin and deploying it to Android and iOS platforms, with no hiccups.

That’s why we’ve gone all-in with Kotlin.

Kotlin is a true multiplatform language

Kotlin enables you to write once, and test once. No siloed development teams. The same code can be used across Android, iOS and Web apps with no changes, eliminating the need for a translation layer. In essence, you’re reducing the amount of business logic coded by frontend developers by consolidating it efficiently with native code, but not oversimplifying abstractions.

What’s not to love about that?

No wonder there’s a groundswell of enthusiastic support in developer communities around the world. There are 1.5 million developers currently using Kotlin, with 96,000 GitHub repositories containing 100 million lines of code. And the numbers keep growing. It’s one of the top two languages that developers are hungry to learn.

Kotlin was developed as a completely new language eight years ago, built from the ground up as a pragmatic approach to coding – a way to develop cleanly, clearly, and quickly. Simply put, Kotlin is more readable, reusable, interoperable, and safer, offering a first-rate developer experience.

Kotlin is your best bet on your complete tech stack

More important, it’s a low-risk way to code because it dovetails seamlessly with the native platforms on Java, iOS, and the web. It’s a modern language that enables you to build on what you’ve already coded, without re-working or re-inventing what you already have. Plus, because the code you share is optional, you can start small and increment as desired.

Kotlin is really an extension of Java, so it’s not a big leap for Java developers to start using Kotlin at all.  In other words, you don’t have to make a big, potentially expensive decision to get started.

In fact, on Android, Kotlin was built for direct JVM interoperability. On iOS, Kotlin is ready for prime time, and the first half of 2019 will see rapid mainstream adoption. And Google officially recommends Kotlin as a language of choice.

The big considerations for any development team are cost, time, resources, and risk. And the big problem with the siloed approach is that organizations are often tripling them.

At the same time, the wrong teams are working on the wrong projects. Back-end developers should focus on architecture as well as APIs – but not UI. Enabling your back-end developers to code and test the client and server features as a unified whole enables more rapid development with safer, higher quality and identical implementation.

Our experience with Kotlin so far?

No siloed teams. More streamlined workflows. Real cross-platform functionality.

Yes, it’s working now!

Touchlab Partner Jeff Namnum @ Tech Inclusion NYC 2018

Touchlab Partner Jeff Namnum @ Tech Inclusion NYC 2018

Last week, Google’s third annual Tech Inclusion conference in New York brought folks who are leading efforts to build the innovate technologies and cultures of our future together with those who care to discuss solutions to diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

One seldomly discussed form of diversity and inclusion is mobile development. Often, organizations will develop an app for iOS first, Android second. This exclusionary development process has implications for diversity and inclusion in tech because it omits certain users initially. Touchlab is an early pioneer in multiplatform development, which enables engineers to build iOS and Android apps at the same time. This is more efficient and inclusive as it allows for organizations to release iOS and Android apps simultaneously.

Jeff brought this unique perspective to “The Future of Products, Ethics, Inclusion, and Innovation” panel, in which four panelists explored what it means to create new, more inclusive products for a diverse global audience and how crucial that effort will be for the future of the tech industry.

From Left: Jeff Namnum, Annie Jean-Baptiste, Netta Jenkins, Gary Johnson, and Matthew Ström



  1. Multi-platform is a form of inclusion: “[At Touchlab] we firmly believe that if you’re making digital products, your defaults are your ethics. Your default settings show your ethics more than your statements do.”




  1. It’s not just the sob story or the right thing to do…there’s a business case for inclusion:You’re leaving untapped opportunity on the table if you’re not thinking about the multitude of users that have a diversity of perspectives. You need to make sure you are constantly getting feedback information from different types of people in all phases of the process. And you need to make sure you have a wholistic, more accurate perspective of who your [target] user is.”




  1. Ongoing efforts are required: “It starts with the product ideation sessions—[there] has to be partnering with external organizations as well and bringing them in to test the products as opposed to just relying on [your] employee base and that’s it.”




  1. Employees need to understand what inclusive digital practices look like: “Being really cognizant of the training and the lexicon of how to approach these conversations is important before we even get to product development.”




  1. Your organization’s problems are your products problems and your product’s problems are your organization’s: “If you don’t value inclusion, representation, diversity, and ethics, then your products are going to reflect that. Taking a mindset of inclusion with your products will make the product better for everybody who uses it, not just for the people who are directly benefitting from accessibility work.”



Jane Goodall Institute: Mobile Innovation for Tracking Deforestation

Jane Goodall Institute: Mobile Innovation for Tracking Deforestation

When the Jane Goodall Institute approached us to build their first mobile app, Forest Watcher, we were more than excited. We had the opportunity to build something with a lasting impact on communities suffering from deforestation and non-profits battling to make a difference. Forest Watcher is the brainchild of The Jane Goodall Institute (in partnership with Global Forest Watch (GFW), some great folks at the Google maps team, and Touchlab and was funded by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Touchlab partnered with these organizations to put Global Forest Watch data into the hands of local African decision-makers by harnessing their capacity to monitor forests using mobile technology and creating a model that can be replicated across the globe.


Client Challenge

The goal of the mobile solution was to improve forest conservation on the ground by enabling local stakeholders with limited and occasional internet connectivity to use and contribute data to the Global Forest Watch platform using mobile and cloud technologies.

Tracking and preventing deforestation is a complex logistics problem that was normally managed with inefficient manual paper data entry. The network connectivity for a potential mobile solution in Africa and digital literacy was also low. The local government needed to control how deforestation data was shared and played a critical factor in the development of the mobile solution. 

Touchlab’s Solution

We understood that Forest Watch was the organizations’ first mobile product and that user features needed be defined. Through design thinking exercises, user surveys and workshops with clients, we defined the features that would deliver the most value to users.

The Forest Watcher App serves as a real-time tracker for forest rangers, local community members, farmland owners, and other affected parties. Forest Watcher users can download offline maps over wifi, and use the app to find GFW alerts, mark areas with signs of tree removal, and upload field data such as photos. With crowdsourcing, more frequent reporting, and accurate documentation, local decision makers and conservationists can collect evidence, track damages, and perhaps prevent further loss by visiting deforestation hotspots.

See below: Lilian Pintea presenting the Forest Watcher App at Geo For Good 2015


After countless months of testing in the field, the beta version of Forest Watcher has launched in Uganda to promising reviews and feedback.

  • “Around 90% of users are able to use the beta and the alerts generated to guide their activities.” – Lillian Pintea (client stakeholder)
  • “Because of the alerts I know where illegality is occurring and also make follow ups.” – Actual user feedback
  • “It will make my work EASY, get proper information from forests without having to move randomly.” – Actual user feedback

The beta and product we developed was expanded upon by the Global Forest Watcher team and our initial product was eventually also developed for iOS. You can view the current iteration of the product here.