Is it Time to Invest in Swift?

Glenn Gruber | February 26, 2015 | Mobile App Development

I think so.

Almost a year ago Apple introduced its new programming language, Swift, at their Worldwide Developer Conference. Swift is the future of iOS and Mac development, and for many was long in coming, particularly since Objective-C was getting long in the tooth.

As Craig Federighi said during the keynote: “Objective-C has served us so well for 20 years…but we had to ask ourselves ‘What would it be like if we had Objective-C without the baggage of C?’” Enter Swift, the Apple programming language for the next 20 years.

Swift promises to be a modern language with more intuitive and efficient syntax, designed for safety and security in mind. In addition, it boasts faster performance and a level of development interactivity (via Playgrounds) that allows programmers to see the impact of their code in real-time.

Alas, when it was released at WWDC it was still in beta. But that didn’t dissuade public interest. In the day after the keynote, 370,000 copies of The Swift Programming Language were downloaded from iBooks. According to the TIOBE Index, In its first month, Swift made the Top 20 most popular programming languages.

But while initial interest was high, not many organizations made any significant investments in building competency. Pundits noted it would be years until Swift really replaced Objective-C. Others observed that since Apple hadn’t delivered any apps built in Swift, why should we?

Well, since then some pretty well-known companies have built apps that incorporate Swift.

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The Apple team has continued to enhance Swift with the 1.0 GM release in September 2014 and version 1.2 released earlier this month.

Momentum is Building

These recent improvements have helped sustain interest in Swift. The TIOBE Index now has Swift ranked at #27. Not quite as high as the first month, but not a significant slippage either. As a point of comparison, in 2010 Objective-C was ranked #22 and going into 2015 was ranked third.

But the really interesting Swift-growth-trajectory story was told by RedMonk’s Stephen O’Grady. In their Programming Language Rankings, Swift saw a meteoric rise from #68 in Q3 2014 to #22 in Q1 2015. What makes the RedMonk rankings a better indicator of future adoption is their index doesn’t just look at current usage levels, but factors-in the volume of discussion about a language (via StackOverflow) as well as the number of projects (via GitHub).

Here’s the important bit of O’Grady’s analysis in my view:

“Even so, the growth that Swift experienced is essentially unprecedented in the history of these rankings. When we see dramatic growth from a language it typically has jumped somewhere between 5 and 10 spots, and the closer the language gets to the Top 20 or within it, the more difficult growth is to come by. And yet Swift has gone from our 68th ranked language during Q3 to number 22 this quarter, a jump of 46 spots.”

Swift’s arrow is certainly pointed upwards, but at an unprecedented trajectory—a sure sign we should all be paying attention. As anyone who has watched Apple in the iPhone era knows, it’s not in the year a new technology is announced that we all feel the impact, it’s the year after.

In 2014 through early 2015, Swift earned its sea legs. Dollars to donuts, I think we’re going to see even more focus on Swift at WWDC ’15, both in terms of greater maturity and in features that increase its gravitational attraction to developers as well as aggressive exhortations to adopt Swift.

From an enterprise-development perspective, the fact that you can incorporate Swift code alongside existing Objective C and C code, introducing Swift to advance current native apps is almost risk-free. It’s pretty easy to coach-up staff and let them cut their teeth on targeted enhancements with Swift rather than risk a full app re-write in a new language.

If you run an existing Mobile Center of Excellence, start investigating Swift (if you haven’t already). Better yet, formulate a plan to integrate Swift into your development roadmap (if you don’t have an MCOE, call us).

For those companies not already invested in mobile (Are they really out there? You betcha!), Swift can be a great way in.

In either case, if it is time to invest in mobile, it is time to look at Swift.

The Developer Perspective

The introduction of a new language also levels the playing field among developers. Remember, Swift is less than a year old, so no one has more than a year’s experience. The modern features and syntax of Swift should make it easier for developers already familiar with languages like Python and Ruby to take up Swift—as opposed to taking on the more unique syntax of Objective C. So now is a good time for non-Objective-C developers to get into the game.

Besides, we all know that [good] developers like to expand their skills and take on new challenges, so encouraging your developers to start to building expertise in Swift will also likely boost morale as well.

So what are you waiting for? Get going!

Glenn Gruber

Glenn Gruber is a Sr. Mobile Strategist at Propelics. He leads enterprise mobile strategy engagements to help companies determine the best way to integrate mobile into their business -- both from a consumer-facing perspective, but also how to leverage mobile to empower employees to be more productive and improve service delivery through the intelligent use of mobile devices and contextual intelligence. Glenn has helped a wide range of enterprises on how to leverage mobile within their business including Bank of Montreal, Dubai Airports, Carnival Cruise Line and Merck. He is a leading voice in the travel sector as a contributing Node to Tnooz where he writes about how mobile and other emerging technologies are impacting the travel sector and a frequent speaker at industry events.

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