It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out as a mobile developer or you’re a seasoned veteran. There are a few iOS app development tools that you must simply master to bring your skills to the next level. Besides, many (if not all) bigger businesses will require an iOS app at some point, thanks to the popularity of the OS.
However, while there’s a booming market for custom iOS apps, it doesn’t mean that development is in any shape or form easy. At Five Pack Creative, we aim to make the process as intuitive and efficient as possible. That’s why we’ve prepared a list of iOS app development tools that’s going to help you improve the way you work.
We recommend trying all of them depending on your project needs, and seeing which one is going to fit you best. If you’re looking for a team of experts to develop your iOS app, we can’t wait to hear from you. Let’s get in touch today.
1. The Basics of The Infrastructure
There are 4 pillars to developing an iOS app correctly. You have to make sure you completely understand them before going into further details.
1.1 Integrated Development Environment
To develop anything, you’ll have to use an IDE (integrated development environment). Think of IDEs as your graphical interface that allows you to use and consolidate all of your different coding aspects. Like a handyman’s toolbox. The better the tools, the easier it is to do your job.
By using the IDE, you’ll have all of your usual activities centered in one place (source code editing, creating/editing executables, debugging). You have a few options to choose from, but we recommend going with Xcode first.
Xcode should be one of your go-to solutions as far as iOS app development tools are concerned for a few reasons. The greatest among its benefits is that it’s offered by Apple directly. It’s also straight out one of the most powerful coding tools that are available on the market.
The platform is fast, smooth, and best of all, it keeps these qualities on a consistent basis. Moreover, you can use it for coding Mac apps too, since it supports everything Apple related. Within Xcode, you’ll find the iOS SDK, compilers, and even other tools.
Access to very useful frameworks is given to you as well, which you’ll need to design, develop and debug your iOS app. The chosen framework will help you take advantage of core functionalities of Xcode and your programming language without having to reinvent the wheel.
1.2 Programming Language
Programming is basically giving computers a set of instructions, which they execute. To give those instructions, you use a programming language. Machines only understand strings of 1s and 0s (binary), but you’ll be able to translate those into other characters and symbols that humans can understand too.
There are low-end and high-end types of programming languages. Apple themselves recommend you go with Swift for modern iOS apps. To give you a general idea, Swift elementary courses exist even for kindergarten students. So, don’t worry! There are more advanced free resources and documentations for aspiring developers too.
You’ll use simulators as a prototype of your app, but they’ll run on your Mac instead. You can test as many builds of the app as you want, and simulators are part of Xcode’s tools too. During testing, take into account that simulators act like any regular and standard Mac app.
However, you can simulate any Apple device besides the Mac itself, so that you may test your app: iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, Apple TVs.
1.4 Software Development Kits (SDK)
SDKs (or “devkits”), also generally synonymous with the idea of a “framework”, are a collection of development kits that come in one installable package. They can be packed with libraries, documentation, tools, and more.
Note that SDKs and IDEs are not the same, even though SDKs frequently include debugging tools and other utilities present in an IDE too.
SDKs/frameworks can also include sample code and supporting explanations. They let you “fill in the blanks” with templates and ready-to-use code. However, while they give you the tools, you must have extensive knowledge about what to do with them.
For example, Cocoa Touch is a collection of frameworks that includes GameKit, PushKit, MapKit, UIKit and Foundation. These are all iOS app development tools that will make your life easier as you create a standard or custom mobile app.
2. Standard Practices for Using iOS App Development Tools
You’re not on ground zero when you start your iOS development project, as many have done it before you already. Follow the next 4 steps to work in an efficient manner.
2.1 Setup Multiple iOS Environments
The best idea is keeping your environments (and so your databases) separate. This is especially true if communication with servers is involved. Why? It’ll allow you to debug with improved haste and ease.
For example, split your project into 3 environments: development, staging, and production.
All changes or new features will be done in the development environment first. This is where your code will be placed in action after writing it, and you can test if it works. It doesn’t matter if anything breaks (even badly), because the other environments won’t be affected.
Then, you push those changes to staging, much like a river stream flows from one point to another. Dedicated testers take over QA here, and they’ll report potential issues back to you. Debugging must be really serious on staging, as it’s the final stage of development before a change goes live.
When a new feature reaches production, it must be ready for end-users. Production is basically the live environment, accessible by the general public of the app. The great thing is that even if something doesn’t work or stops working on development or staging, it won’t affect production.
That’s why you should use different environments.
2.2 Keep Track of Version History
Having a comprehensive version changelog is crucial. It’ll give you control over your files, and see who and when made what modifications. This means you can always rollback easily if you encounter issues with the current implementation.
Of course, it also helps debugging tremendously, as you can accurately pinpoint when something stopped working as intended.
You can easily do all of this by using Git. Git is a free and open-source app version management system and one of the common iOS app development tools. The size or scope of your project doesn’t matter, as Git’s speed and efficiency suits both small and large apps.
A lot of skilled developers in the present day have already used Git, as it works great with loads of IDEs and OSs. Git’s architecture is distributed, and so it doesn’t have only a single place for full version history control.
Instead, every developer’s copy of the code from a particular project is also a repository. This repository contains the full changelog. We highly recommend trying Git yourself, as it’s flexible, secure, and performance-friendly.
Additionally, there’s also Git Diff, a feature that streamlines your code edits in Xcode by highlighting deltas against your Git repo.
3. Taking Advantage of Libraries and Frameworks
There are many third party iOS app development tools centered around frameworks and libraries. They’re great picks to solve a number of issues and implement more functionalities easily. Both types of tools (libraries and frameworks) reduce your development time and cost by giving you feature templates and “pre-built” functions.
However, you need the right iOS app development tools to manage all of those third party libraries. We recommend the following:
CocoaPods is a go-to solution because it can be installed with the default Ruby that’s already on macOS (using RubyGem more specifically). It’s also built with Ruby itself, having a complete Ruby library.
Go ahead and install Carthage with HomeBrew, because you’ll be thankful for it. It’s a very simple dependency manager that works with Cocoa. All dependencies are downloaded and built easily, and no change is done to the project file.
Within Xcode, you’ll then drag the binaries of a framework to Linked Frameworks and Libraries.
3.3 Swift Package Manager
A core tool for managing the distribution of your Swift code. It integrates without problem with your Swift build, and the downloading, compiling and linking of dependencies can be automated.
3.4 Third Party Options
Loads of libraries have pre-built functionalities which you can simply use. However, there are downsides to this too. Adding external code to your project is risky if you aren’t familiar with what it’s supposed to do. Depending on your situation, it might actually be better to do it all from scratch yourself.
But, if you are comfortable using third party code and understand how it’s going to affect your work, you can go for it! By saving time this way, you can focus on your app’s scalability, and the business logic behind it even more.
Testing time is also reduced dramatically when using a library, as you’re just making 100% sure if the code works, with a very high chance of it being done properly already.
These next 6 tools are generally popular, but mostly superseded by Apple’s improvements in their own frameworks. You’ll rarely find yourself in a situation where you wouldn’t want to use tools directly from Apple anymore.
Still, if you want to do your research comprehensively before deciding, here’s what you should check out.
SwiftyJson is built for handling JSON in Swift. Traditionally, the JSON-Swift combination was tricky because it was difficult to deserialize model objects. Or, you could find yourself needing way too many “nested if” statements. Even though it is rarely needed with Swift’s improved JSON handling nowadays, it’s worth putting it on your radar.
AFNetworking is a networking library (Objective-C programming language) that suits iOS, macOS and tvOS. There’s not much to say here, because it just does everything networking related. From basic things, to more advanced implementations like SSL Pinning. However, we do not recommend this one for most projects, since it is an older version.
Alamofire is AFNetworking’s “sibling”, but for Swift. We all know that networking libraries are amazing and required for iOS, and this option is just what you need. Basically, use either Alamofire or AFNetworking, depending on your programming language. However, remember that even though Alamofire is the newer version of the two, you almost certainly won’t need it. It’s a tool exclusively for very complex projects, where you’re implementing features such as multipart MIME.
PromiseKit is for both Swift and Objective-C. Do you need to make your asynchronous tasks simpler? Promise has a closure syntax that’ll help you put async functions in a chain. However, it has become obsolete. Apple’s Combine framework is a downright more powerful and intuitive alternative. This year’s new async/await features also take Combine a few steps further.
SDWebImage helps you out with a few networking features, in case you don’t want to use Cocoa. For example, setting a UIImageView image to a specific URL. The library itself is basically an async image downloader with caching, but it has become obsolete as well.
Firebase is a Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) cross-platform solution. It is owned and made by Google, but you can use it for your iOS app too. It will provide you with a variety of tools and services which you can use to develop and improve your app. Being a NoSQL database program, it stores data in JSON-like documents. To use it, you’ll need Xcode 12.2 or later, and CocoaPods 1.10.0 or later. Your project must also be directed at iOS 10 or later.
4. Creating an Optimal Architecture
Your architecture is going to determine how easy it’ll be to add improvements and to maintain your mobile app in the future. It’s the pattern that makes everything work logically and flawlessly. So, it’s important you get it right from the start.
Let’s start with MV(X) approaches.
4.1 MVC (Model, View, Controller)
The idea is separating your application into the 3 specified components.
The model is the shape of the data. These objects retrieve and store data in a database.
The view is your user interface. It’ll be displaying the data to the user, based on the model.
The controller will process user requests and the business logic. The user will interact with the view, but their request itself is handled by the controller. It will render/change the view depending on the model data.
4.2 MVP (Model, View, Presenter)
The Model and the View act as above, with the Presenter acting as the UIKit independent mediator. The View sends user actions to it, and the Presenter updates the Model. Like the name says, the Presenter is the mediator between the other two.
4.3 MVVM (Model, View, View Model, Mediator)
This is the latest version of the MV(X) type of architecture. If you’ve worked with MVP previously, this will be especially familiar to you. The View Model takes the place of the Presenter, but it’s a view representation too, not just a Mediator. Data and user actions are also shared between the View and the View Model.
A different approach from the MV(X) classifications, VIPER proposes an architecture that’s split into 5 layers. However, the layer’s responsibilities aren’t much different; it’s mainly the segmentation that differs.
It should be noted however that VIPER is quite a complex architecture. Usually, you won’t need to use it for mobile projects.
The elements are as follows:
The view is the user interface, acting exactly as in MV(X). It displays information and data using the Model, and gives users the option to modify the data.
The interactor contains the “entities”, the business logic specific to the data or to networking. It’s involved in the creation of new entities, or retrieving existing ones from the server (for example). However, the interactor will also require external Services and Managers, which aren’t a direct part of VIPER.
The presenter has the business logic for all UI related elements, but it’s independent from the UIKit. It relies on the interactor for data.
The entities will have all of your plain data objects (not including the data access layer), and the Interactor is responsible for them.
The router does all the segues between your modules.
5. Distributing Your iOS App
So you’ve used all the recommended iOS app development tools and now your product is ready to be published. Thing is, there isn’t a single way to ship your app to the iOS store. In fact, there are 3 available models.
5.1 Direct Publishing
The first model is the one that’s used the most often. It involves just uploading the app directly to the store. After it passes the checks done by Apple (both automated and manual, depending on case), it’s widely available for all App Store users. You can also set targeting parameters (country, iOS versions, devices).
5.2 Public Testing First
The second model involves testing the app before launching. This doesn’t mean doing internal QA, because that’s a must, no way around it. Instead, after in-house testing is completed, you can also use Apple’s Test Flight service. This will be a closed beta basically, as you can invite up to 10,000 users with just their email address.
You make the changes according to the feedback you get, and then you proceed with publishing.
5.3 Internal-Only Apps
The third model is exclusively for apps that are developed for internal use at an enterprise level. You have iOS app development tools such as the Developer Enterprise Program or the Volume Purchasing Program available. They’re costlier than the standard developer program, but they likely won’t exceed what you’d expect for an enterprise-level app.
For one thing, you get complete security and privacy. You’ll be able to publish the app in such a way that only your employees, partners, contractors or clients will be able to download and use it. You should investigate if this is a worthwhile investment for you if you’re part of a big organization.
Leave Development in Our Hands
Even when you correctly make use of all the iOS app development tools available to you, you don’t have to go it alone!
If you’re looking for experienced professionals who have done it dozens of times before, look no further.
We have over 10 years of experience in developing apps for iOS (and Android and web apps too), and have created products for dozens of niches. We’d be glad to earn your business, and prove to you first-hand that we’re the right people for the job.
Do you want vetted developers who use the best iOS app development tools to enhance your own team? Great, let’s talk. Would you rather outsource the whole development to us and receive the final product? Perfect, get in touch now at (972) 200-9120.