When it comes to mobile preferences, the United States differs significantly from the rest of the world. While Android dominates the global market with a 72.7 percent market share, iOS holds just 26.4 percent as of August 2021. However, if we focus on the US market, iOS leads with a 56.7 percent share, leaving Android with 43 percent.
With a substantial number of people’s unwavering loyalty to Apple devices, iOS app development remains more relevant than ever. The choice you face is selecting the right tech stack for your product. If you opt for native development over cross-platform solutions, you still need to decide which language to use – the traditional Objective-C or the newer Swift.
Swift is a compiled programming language designed for iOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS, and Linux applications. Let’s explore what makes Swift an attractive choice for developers and businesses.
Backed by one of the world’s most influential tech companies, Swift was introduced by Apple in 2014. This support positions Swift to become the dominant language for iOS development and beyond.
Swift’s creators recognized the importance of openness in building a defining programming language. Over its seven-year existence, Swift has amassed a large and supportive community, along with a wealth of third-party tools.
Swift’s syntax encourages developers to write clean and consistent code, often feeling strict. It offers safeguards to prevent errors and enhance code readability.
Swift prioritizes performance. Its simplicity and guidance facilitate faster development. According to Apple, Swift is up to 2.6 times faster than Objective-C and 8.4 times faster than Python.
Swift’s popularity continues to rise. It ranked 20th among the most popular programming languages of 2021 (Objective-C ranked 25th) and 8th among the most loved languages.
The Swift programming language was first introduced at Apple’s 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Chris Lattner, Apple’s Senior Director of the Developer Tools Department, began designing the language’s basic concepts in 2010. It wasn’t until 2013 that the team resolved how Swift would fit alongside Objective-C in the iOS development ecosystem.
The beta version of Swift was made available to registered Apple developers shortly after its release as part of Xcode tools. In its first month, it was downloaded over 11 million times.
In 2015, Apple decided to make Swift an open-source language, leading to rapid growth. Over 60,000 people cloned the Swift project in the first week following the announcement.
In March 2019, Swift 5.0 was officially released, introducing a stable version of the application binary interface (ABI) across Apple’s platforms. Standard Swift libraries were integrated into OS releases, reducing app size.
Swift 5.3, released in September 2020, expanded platform support to include Windows and additional Linux distributions. The language now encompasses the full Swift ecosystem on Windows.
The latest version, Swift 5.5, as of September 2021, introduced improved concurrency support using async/await mechanisms and actors, which allow controlled access to mutable state.
Swift’s advantages make it a compelling choice for iOS development:
Swift’s clean and expressive syntax simplifies coding, requiring less code compared to Objective-C. Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) manages memory, reducing development time.
For instance, Lyft rewrote its iOS app in Swift, reducing the codebase from 75,000 to less than a third, while completing a new onboarding process in just a week.
Swift projects are future-proof and easier to scale. Apple’s support for Swift enhances long-term investment prospects. Swift’s natural language-like syntax aids in onboarding new team members.
Swift’s focus on performance led to a 40 percent increase over Objective-C in its initial release. The language’s strong typing and error handling minimize crashes and errors, reducing bug-fixing time and deployment risks.
Swift’s integration of standard libraries into platform releases reduces app size. Stable ABI support allows Apple to offer Swift support across its platforms.
Swift is compatible with Objective-C, facilitating the addition of new features to existing Objective-C codebases or the use of Objective-C elements in new Swift projects.
Swift’s Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) simplifies memory management, improving performance without increased CPU usage.
Swift supports server-side development, integrating with popular backend technologies. It offers extensive code sharing and reuse, supporting a variety of Apple devices, including Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Apple Watch, as well as Linux and Windows platforms.
Swift’s active open-source community, supported by Apple and IBM, ensures rapid growth. It ranks among the top 5 most starred languages on GitHub. Swift Playgrounds, official Apple resources, and third-party learning materials facilitate language adoption.
Despite its advantages, Swift has limitations and challenges:
Swift, introduced in 2014, is relatively young compared to Objective-C, which has been around since the 1980s. Frequent updates and changes can create concerns about code compatibility.
The Swift community, while growing, remains smaller than that of other languages. This may lead to difficulties in finding experienced Swift developers.
Frequent updates can make it challenging to find suitable tools for certain tasks. Xcode, the official Apple IDE, may experience issues with syntax highlighting, autocomplete, refactoring tools, and compilers.
Swift, originally designed for native iOS development, is less suited for cross-platform development compared to technologies like React Native, Xamarin, and Flutter.
Swift can only be used for apps targeting iOS 7 and later, making it unsuitable for legacy projects running on older versions.
Choosing between Swift and Objective-C depends on team experience and project requirements:
For existing Objective-C applications with substantial codebases, rewriting in Swift may not be practical.
Swift is limited to iOS 7 and macOS 10.9 or higher. Objective-C may be necessary for apps targeting older OS versions.
Swift adoption requires time and effort for training. If project deadlines are tight, sticking with Objective-C may be more feasible.
Swift’s frequent updates may pose challenges for larger projects with extensive codebases.
Objective-C offers better support for integrating C and C++ libraries, which may be essential for certain projects.
To learn Swift, consider the following resources:
Swift Playgrounds is an interactive development environment available on macOS and iPad, teaching Swift coding interactively.
Explore resources like Hacking with Swift, YouTube channels, podcasts, web courses, and online manuals for in-depth Swift learning.
Consider the following IDEs for Swift development:
Apple’s native IDE offers a user-friendly interface, autocompletion, and essential features for Swift development.
Developed by JetBrains, AppCode provides refactoring tools and improved development performance but lacks certain Swift features and comes with a subscription fee.
GitHub’s Atom text editor, while basic, offers extensive customization through open-source packages, making it suitable for cross-platform development.
In addition to IDEs, Swift developers use various tools:
Swift has a powerful standard library and a Core Libraries project for portable code.
SwiftUI is a framework for building user interfaces, simplifying UI development on Apple platforms.
Swift Package Manager facilitates dependency management, package sharing, and source code distribution.
Developers use tools like Alamofire for networking, Google Analytics and Firebase for services, image libraries like Kingfisher and SDWebImage, and more to enhance Swift development.
Swift has already seen success stories with companies like Uber, Lyft, and Fitbit adopting it. The language continues to mature with ongoing updates and improvements.
While Swift faces challenges such as its relatively young age and limited talent pool, its numerous advantages make it a promising choice for iOS development. As Apple extends platform support and adds new features, Swift adoption is likely to continue growing, potentially displacing Objective-C as the primary language for iOS development. Businesses should be prepared for these changes, considering Swift as a strategic investment for the future of mobile app development.
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