Mobile development has taken a significant leap forward with the integration of machine learning (ML) technologies. Among the myriad of tools available to developers, ML Kit stands out as a robust and versatile library, making it easier to embed ML capabilities into mobile applications. This article explores ML Kit, its development history, practical use cases, advantages and disadvantages, and how it stacks up against other similar tools. Finally, we’ll consider the future of ML Kit in the ever-evolving world of mobile development.

What is ML Kit?

ML Kit is a mobile software development kit (SDK) from Google that enables developers to integrate machine learning into their Android and iOS apps. It offers a suite of ready-to-use APIs for common ML tasks like image labeling, text recognition, face detection, barcode scanning, and more. With ML Kit, developers can leverage Google’s cutting-edge ML models without needing deep expertise in the field. The library provides on-device processing optimized for mobile devices, ensuring user data privacy.

The Evolution of ML Kit

Google introduced ML Kit at the I/O 2018 conference as part of its Firebase platform, aimed at simplifying the integration of ML into mobile apps. Initially, ML Kit focused on providing pre-trained models and easy-to-use APIs. Over the years, Google has continuously updated ML Kit, enhancing its performance and adding new features based on user feedback and advancements in machine learning technology.

Google’s extensive experience in AI and machine learning underpins ML Kit’s development. The library benefits from Google’s research, infrastructure, and regular updates, ensuring it stays current with the latest developments in mobile operating systems and hardware.

Practical Use Cases for ML Kit

ML Kit’s versatility makes it suitable for a wide range of applications. Here are some common use cases:

Computer Vision APIs:
1. Image Labeling: Automatically identifying objects and entities within images, useful for photo organization apps.
2. Barcode Scanning: Reading various barcodes to facilitate product information retrieval, ticket validation, and inventory management.
3. Text Recognition: Extracting text from images, enabling features like digital note-taking, document scanning, and real-time translation.
4. Face Detection: Recognizing and analyzing facial features for security applications, social media filters, and emotion detection.
5. Object Detection: Detecting and tracking objects in images or videos, facilitating the development of augmented reality applications.
6. Pose Detection: Recognizing the human pose and its landmarks, ideal for exercise tracking apps.
7. Selfie Segmentation: Separating the user from the background in selfies, useful for applying visual effects.
8. Subject Segmentation: Separating subjects from the background, ideal for photo editing apps or creating stickers.

Natural Language APIs:
1. Language Identification: Detecting the language of a given text, aiding in multilingual support and content localization.
2. Smart Reply: Generating contextually relevant responses in messaging apps, enhancing user interaction through intelligent automation.
3. Entity Extraction: Detecting entities such as addresses, dates, and emails from text, making it easy to provide contextual actions.

Pros and Cons

Let's quickly go through the advantages and disadvantages of ML kit.

- High-Level APIs: Easily integrated with minimal coding effort, accessible to developers of varying skill levels.
- Cross-Platform: Available on Android and iOS, enabling consistent user experiences across platforms.
- On-Device Processing: Provides real-time performance and offline support.
- Free and Backed by Google: Continuous improvement and support from Google, with extensive documentation, sample code, and tutorials.

- Limited Customization: Pre-trained models may not offer the level of customization needed compared to frameworks like TensorFlow or PyTorch.
- Vendor Lock-In: Google’s development is an advantage for support but a disadvantage for those preferring open-source or vendor-neutral solutions.
- Performance Limitations: On-device models might not be powerful enough for complex use cases, requiring cloud-deployed models for more intensive tasks.

ML Kit vs Similar Competitors

TensorFlow Lite:
- An open-source deep learning framework designed for on-device inference.
- Offers more control and customization, suitable for building and deploying custom models.

Core ML:
- Tailored for iOS applications, providing a wide range of pre-trained models and tools for converting custom models for use on Apple devices.
- Tightly integrated with Apple’s ecosystem, offering optimized performance for iOS apps.

What’s in Store for ML Kit?

ML Kit has firmly established itself as a powerful tool for mobile developers, making advanced machine learning accessible and easy to integrate into mobile applications. With Google’s ongoing support and continuous advancements in ML technology, ML Kit’s capabilities are set to grow.

Looking ahead, the future of ML Kit appears bright. As machine learning technology continues to evolve, we can expect ML Kit to incorporate more sophisticated models and features, further simplifying the integration of ML into mobile apps. Improvements in on-device processing power and the rollout of 5G technology will enhance ML Kit’s performance, enabling more complex and real-time applications.

ML Kit is poised to play a crucial role in the future of mobile development, bridging the gap between advanced machine learning and everyday app functionalities. Its evolution will continue empowering developers, making it easier to create intelligent, responsive, and user-friendly mobile applications.

Don’t just take it from us though - try it yourself!

We created an Android app with examples of most of the features mentioned earlier. You can use it as a starting point to create awesome ML powered apps. Click here to get the ball rolling - you can thank us later!