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Profiling Swift for iOS App Development and More

Quick Summary - Swift is a fairly new programming language mostly used for Apple’s family of devices. In the past, if you wanted iOS-based software, you would probably use Objective-C.

Profiling Swift for iOS App Development and More

Swift is a much better option and it has decent cross-platform potential, too. Let’s explore what it can do.

8 mins read

What is Swift?

Swift is a programming language released at Apple’s 2014 Worldwide Developer Conference WDC. It was designed by Apple and open-source developers to replace Objective-C (created in the 1980s). Swift is a general-purpose, compiled language made to work with other programming languages. It is interoperable with Objective-C, offering more modern capabilities. It’s not uncommon to find programs written in both languages, though Swift tends to be the dominant language.

Swift is mainly used for iOS app development and it can work with Apple’s family of operating systems (MacOS, watchOS, tvOS, etc.), Linux, and as of September 2020, Windows 10. It can also be used for server-side applications. The latest version is Swift 5.4.2, released June 28, 2021.

This video shows the original 2014 WWDC introduction of Swift – the announcement was completely unexpected:

Good cases for using Swift

Swift is probably the best programming language for software that:

  • Needs designed specifically for Apple’s family of devices and operating systems.
  • Make use of device-specific features.
  • Involve complex UIs also needing to deliver a great user experience.
  • Require intense memory management.
  • Will need a high level of long-term maintenance and support.

Advantages of Swift

Just as C++ can do everything C does but more, Swift does everything Objective-C can and more, too. But, Swift also does it easier, faster, and safer. It’s advantages are extensive:

  • Open Source – No need to purchase a license for it.
  • Faster– According to Apple, Swift is up to 2.6 times faster than Objective-C and 8.4 times faster than Python. Swift is your best option for high-performance iOS apps. If you need something even faster then you might consider C++.
  • Great for UX – Swift apps install fast and have low device memory requirements helping to deliver a great user experience.
  • Safer – Swift, unlike Objective-C, does not use pointers – which can create vulnerabilities, cause, wonky behavior, and make debugging more difficult. With Swift, errors are prone to be runtime (vs. compile-time) making them easier to debug.
  • Cross-Platform Support Swift supports Apple’s OS family, Linux, and Windows 10.
  • Good memory management – Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) streamlines memory management, prevents memory leaks, and uses dynamic libraries to free up files from memory that are no longer being used .
  • Lightweight – Swift requires up to 60% fewer lines of code than many programming languages to perform the same functions. Along with clean syntax, Swift is easier to read, write, and maintain. For example, Swift doesn’t require semi-colons.
  • Easier to debug – Less code inherently equates to fewer potential defects. This is amplified by it providing a short feedback loop making it easier for developers to catch errors before submitting pull requests.
  • Low maintenance – Less code that’s easier to read provides a benefit across the software’s entire lifetime. Additionally, it keeps Objective-C header and implementation files in a single program file.
  • Objective-C Support – Swift is compatible with Objective-C so both languages can be used. In transitioning from Objective-C to Swift, some portions of the code may not require a complete rewrite.
  • Better compiler – Swift uses a Low-Level Virtual Machine (LLVM) compiler like some other programming languages (Ruby, Python, C#, etc.) do with the net effect of reducing the developer’s workload.

“Measuring programming progress by lines of code
is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight.”
― Bill Gates

All in all, lightweight code “that does more” provides a significant cost advantage throughout the entire software development lifecycle. The HUGE technical factor is that Swift reinforces lower complexity code overall. This makes it easier to read, test, debug, while decreasing the potential for defects.

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A snippet of Swift code

Disadvantages of Swift

For as many advantages as Swift has, it also has comparatively few weaknesses. As the video above explains, Apple’s engineers examined all of the things that made Objective-C “clunky” as well as key elements and trends of more modern programming languages. Apple’s hallmark is in device design – and they managed to port that over into their design of Swift as a programming language.

Still, Swift is not quite perfect:

  • Lacks Maturity – Where C dates back to 1972, Objective-C to ‘93, Java to ‘95, Swift came out in 2014 and still has some growing pains. Changes with the “latest version” of the language itself can require rework to existing code.
  • Poor Third-Party Support – Frequent updates equate to a double-edged sword. Changes in the latest version require changes in supporting tools, and not everyone can keep up with that. At the same time, some of Apple’s own development tools like XCode are also lagging in support.
  • Fewer Developers – Swift is a newer and arguably more “brand-specific” programming language. The Apple market is a lucrative one, so the number of Swift developers is growing.
  • No Hot Reloads – It’s impossible to refresh to see only files with recent code changes. This can make debugging a little slower for developers. More of an inconvenience.
  • Lacks Older iOS Version Support – Swift doesn’t work with operating systems older than iOS 7 or macOS 10.9 – both released in 2013. This is likely to be irrelevant today as most Apple users tend to upgrade to new devices every two years on average.
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Swift developer statistics

Nearly all (95%) of Swift developers are focused on iOS app development, with nearly 3 out of 10 also designing for macOS. Only around 10% of Swift developers are also actively engaged with watchOS and tvOS apps.

Swift is used exclusively by just over half of iOS developers, but nearly a third use Swift and Objective-C. Even then, dual-language developers use Swift for the majority of their efforts. Swift is almost universally loved by all of the developers who have learned it.

With fewer overall Swift Developers compared to other languages, several sets of statistics like experience and company-size are not clearly established. JetBrains State of Developer Ecosystem 2021 surveys nearly 32,000 developers from over 180 countries – and, so far, has the most extensive and up-to-date statistics for all programming languages, including Swift.

Swift tech stack help

As with every software development project, it’s important to talk with a software architect to determine project requirements. There are combinations of technologies that can do just about anything you can imagine, but you also want them to fit together efficiently.

If you decide that Swift is the best fit for your software project, you’ll be looking for developers with experience in some of the following technologies:

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Do you need Swift developers for your team?

One thing is for sure, Swift developers are uncommon. If you need Swift developers for your team take advantage of our huge pool of talent. We’ll custom match you with developers experienced in the specific technologies you need for your project. You’ll be able to interview our candidates, suffice they can be ready to start work on your project within ten business days.

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