Recent loss of market share shows that iOS seems to be having a hard time. Nevertheless, as of July 2019, iOS has been installed on 22.1 percent of all mobile devices, being the second most popular mobile platform. And that means there are still a lot of people bound to Apple devices for their business and personal needs.If you are one of those smart business owners following the iOS app development path, probably the most important decision you will make is choosing the right tech stack for your product. If you decide to go for native development instead cross-platform solutions, you still have to decide which language to use: the good old Objective-C or brand-new Swift.
What is Swift and why should you use it?
Swift is a compiled programming language for iOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS, and Linux applications. Here’s what you need to know about Swift.
Created by Apple in 2014. Backed up by one of the most influential tech companies in the world, Swift is set to become the dominant language for iOS development and beyond.
Open source. Swift creators acknowledged the fact that in order to build a defining programming language, the technology needs to be open for all. So, within its three years of existence, Swift acquired a large supportive community and an abundance of third-party tools.
Safe. Its syntax encourages you to write clean and consistent code which may even feel strict at times. Swift provides safeguards to prevent errors and improve readability.
Fast. Swift was built with performance in mind. Not only does its simple syntax and hand-holding help you develop faster, it also lives up to its name: as stated on apple.com, Swift is 2.6x faster than Objective-C and 8.4x faster than Python.
In demand. Remaining supreme to Objective C, Swift is ranked 14th among the most popular programming languages of 2018.
A Brief History of Swift Language
2013-2014 – creation and launch
First introduced at Apple’s 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Swift programming language has generated considerable debate ever since. Chris Lattner, Apple’s Senior Director, Developer Tools Department, started designing the basic concepts of the new language back in 2010.
“Initially, it was really just me messing around and nobody knew about it because it wasn’t anything to know about. But eventually, it got a little bit more serious […] So I started talking to my management and some of the engineers that were working on Clang, and they seemed excited about it. We got a couple people working on it part-time and I convinced my manager that it was interesting enough that we could have a couple of people work on it.”
– Chris Lattner for Accidental Tech Podcast, January, 2017
It wasn’t until 2013 that the team was able to solve a strategic question about how the new language would fit in with the existing Objective-C ecosystem. Forcing all iOS developers to move to a new language could have had a major disruptive effect on the community. So, the company decided to continue investing in Objective-C while also committing to the development of a new “safe programming language.”
One year later, the registered Apple developers were able to lay their hands on the beta version of the new language. In the first month post its release as a part of Xcode tools, it was downloaded over 11 million times, according to Tim Cook.
The initial reactions to Swift were mixed at best. Some developers were delighted with its features, flexibility, and simplicity, while others criticized it. Yet, most of them agreed that it was too early for Swift to be used in production. The language was evolving fast: major changes were introduced with every new release.
This, however, didn’t prevent Swift from becoming the “most loved” technology:
Stackoverflow survey results on most loved technologies. Source: 2015 StackOverflow Developer Survey
At the same time, the language was listed among the top 10 “most wanted” technologies.
2015 – turning open source
Since Apple decided to make Swift an open sourced language in 2015, its growth has been tremendous. Over 60,000 people took a clone of the Swift project in the first week after the announcement. After 2 years, Swift is officially the fastest growing language in history, according to TIOBE Index: The language reached its highest ranking as the 10s most popular in October, 2018.
Being free and open to all, the language is growing rapidly with rapidly with its last version, Swift 4.0, released September 2017. The language is actively deployed in iOS development, when building desktop apps for OSX, or even as a server-side technology, thanks to IBM.
2019 – swift 5.0, stable ABI, and backward compatibility
In March 2019, Swift 5.0 was officially released. The current version of Swift now contains a stable version of the application binary interface (ABI) across Apple’s platforms. Which is a giant step toward helping developers use Swift on dedicated OSs like iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS and upcoming iPadOS. Needless to say, Apple is building a solid ecosystem, as now standard Swift libraries are included in OS releases.
Since the release version 5.0, standard Swift libraries are integrated into every macOS, iOS, tvOS, and watchOS release. That means any app built on those platforms will be smaller, because these libraries are included. With this advancement, stable application binary interface (ABI) was also released. That allows Apple to provide support of Swift across its platforms.
Moreover, Apple provided support for all its devices: Mac, MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, and Apple Watch. Aside from Apples, there is already support for Linux, and even the Windows platform, as an open-source project.