Mobile apps have become pretty much a necessity for all medium-size and larger businesses. They give you the competitive edge you need to reach your audience and increase your ROI, or to enhance and improve your in-house procedures.
iOS has had a market share of 57.62% in June 2020 – June 2021, so it’s a safe OS to choose for your mobile app. However, you still need to understand how iOS app development is done.
If you’re a developer looking to master the best iOS programming language (or a business owner looking to understand the process better), there are 3 in particular that should catch your eye.
After you have a keen know-how of each of them, you can make an informed decision about which would be the most appropriate for your project.
This is also the first step in your iOS app development, as not all languages are equal or do the exact same things. So, how you’ll use them also differs
Remember – You Don’t Have to Reinvent The Wheel
If you’re just starting out with iOS aoo development, remember that you don’t have to lay the foundations anymore. Tens of thousands of people have already done that for you.
There are already many pre-built codes out there for a lot of common (and less common) functionalities. You can easily use them for your project, and make your life that much simpler. This will also increase the speed at which you can take your product to market.
Such pre-built options are called frameworks, SDKs (software development kits) or libraries. They’re mostly interchangeable terms, but sometimes you’ll see it mentioned that an SDK contains a collection of frameworks, or that a framework has many libraries in it.
Frameworks will be a core part of your integrated development environment (IDE), which is the “toolbox” you have for your project. The better the tools, the easier it is to complete the work.
Frameworks also differ in the programming language that they use, but some are more common than others. To give you the basics, we recommend that you research Xcode as an IDE, and Cocoa Touch as an SDK.
To learn more about these aspects, check out our 5 iOS tools that you should use.
What You Need for Your First iOS App Development
As we’ve quickly mentioned above, you can’t get down to coding right from the beginning. You’ll need at least one tool that allows the work to be done, so there’s no escaping it. This is what’s known as an integrated development environment.
What’s more, you wouldn’t even want to escape it anyway, since IDEs were made for the benefit of developers.
For iOS app development, you should really go with Apple’s own software, Xcode. Think of it as an editor for the app’s code, but also a debugging tool. It allows for both the creation and the revision of the product before it is launched.
One of the great features is that the IDE lets you optimize your iOS app for a variety of devices. Currently, there are over 12 types of iOS devices on the market, but none have a strong majority of users.
This means you’ll need to emphasize app responsiveness and performance, since you’ll be dealing with different screen sizes, resolutions and overall technical specifications.
If your app must work around a more advanced hardware feature, you’ll have to limit yourself to newer devices. However, hardware won’t be the only bottleneck. As of June 2021, 9% of all iOS users worldwide still used a pre-14 OS version. While that’s nowhere near a majority, it’s a statistic that could affect you.
Thankfully, Xcode let’s you simulate many types of devices and OS versions, so that you bugfix and improve accordingly.
Xcode is free to download, but you’ll need to run it on a Mac. Actually submitting your app to the store will also come with a $99 subscription cost, plus going through a complex approval process.
What Programming Languages can be Used to Develop iOS Apps
Things are pretty simple here, as you don’t really have that many choices. Still, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad thing, so don’t worry.
Currently, the market is dominated by two titans: Swift, and Objective-C. But, we want to give an honorable mention to Python too, so we’ll get into a few details about it as well.
Of course, you’re free to use any programming language you think is best for your iOS app development, but there’s a reason why the above are the most used ones. Other options will require you to use workarounds and write and implement your code in a less organic and natural manner.
In a nutshell, these are the benefits of each:
- English-like syntax makes reading, learning and writing easier
- Less code required for the same tasks when compared to C/C++ or Java
- Increased development productivity thanks to less attention needed to syntax or language behavior
- Line-by-line code execution (any identified error stops the code execution and is reported)
- Data types are assigned during execution (no need to declare variables)
- Huge standard library
- Written code is portable to any platform (if you don’t include system-dependent features)
- More stable than Swift
- Reliable and tested by many developers (tons of projects use the language)
- Supports many great third-party frameworks
- Better when more customized solutions are required, as private APIs are easier to use
- Great compatibility with C and C++; smooth code operation
- Reliable for coding Binary Frameworks
- Open source; highly supportive developer community
- One of the easiest codes to write and understand (great readability)
- Compact code and highly reusable
- Light maintenance for code files (the .h and .m files combine into one, .swift)
- Faster apps compared to Objective-C and Python
- Does not use the C programming language, but it’s compatible with Objective-C
- Less likely to generate errors
- Supports all Apple devices
- Can use dynamic libraries (linking a Swift app to a different version of the app)
- Has better security
- Integrates with memory management
- Less prone to bugs or crashes
- Very beginner friendly (check out the “Playgrounds” tutorial app; interactive coding)
One of the great sides of Python is that it’s very readable thanks to its English-like syntax. Picking up and learning the language isn’t very intimidating, so beginners can try their hand at it. Additionally, less code is needed than for C/C++ or Java to do the same things.
That written code is also then executed line-by-line. If errors are detected, the execution stops, and the error report is shown. Even if there are multiple errors, only one at a time is shown, so debugging is made easy and approachable.
Custom app development also goes hand-in-hand with Python very well. It is free, open source, and you can even modify it and then distribute that version to others. You can then use the modified version for bespoke projects that require uncommon behaviors.
Lastly, the libraries you can access are incredibly numerous. Even if, by chance, the standard library doesn’t have what you need, the Python Package Manager (pip) lets you import others (about 200,000 packages to choose from).
Should You Learn Python for iOS?
Well…not necessarily. Python is slow, like really slow. The fact that it’s an interpreted and dynamically typed language is good for usability, but makes execution drag on a lot. Extra work is needed for what Objective-C and Swift especially streamline a lot.
The simplicity it offers also has a drawback. Namely, it consumes a ton of memory, which is a tradeoff you can’t afford when building memory optimized apps. Also, the database access just isn’t the best. Its access layer is not as refined in comparison with JDBC or ODBC.
You can still use Python, but you’ll have to deal with the associated headaches. We recommend having a read about Objective-C and Swift before deciding though.
This was the first language created by Apple for iOS app development. Steve Jobs himself was actually involved in the licensing back in the 1980’s.
As the name suggests, the language is based on C, just lie C++ or C#. So, if you know the basic syntax and structure of C, you’ll find Objective-C pretty similar. The main features are also very similar to C.
This language can really give you a technical insight into how programming works at its core level. Similarly, if you learn it well, you’ll have indirectly created a connection between yourself and other C branches, in case you want to learn them too.
For example, you can do powerful and highly dynamic development through the language. It offers dynamic typing, message syntax that’s expressive, categories, dynamic run-time, automatic garbage collection and access to iOS-specific technologies.
Objective-C’s main boon is that it’s a mature and aged language. It’s been used extensively for iOS development, and it’s actually only for iOS and macOS devices. The foundations have been set in stone for a long while now, so you’re unlikely to hit roadblocks.
However, it’s not really the best option anymore. Even Apple themselves don’t really recommend it nowadays. Instead, they’re pushing Swift more and more for iOS app development, and are constantly updating it as well.
Should You Learn Objective-C for iOS App Development?
Objective-C still works with code divided into 2 blocks (header interface files and implementation files), and it’s harder to learn because it’s distinct. Memory management works differently, and its legacy is made to be understood by C and Smalltalk. The entry barrier is simply higher.
If you’re looking to hire, you’ll also find it harder to find developers qualified for Objective-C. Most are moving on to Swift, or learning it from the get-go. Similarly, Objective-C is a bit of a subpar tool for many common software projects.
However, there’s still a place for Objective-C, and it’s not going anywhere really soon. 3 advantages worth outlining are the easy compatibility with C and C++ (and such frameworks), and also the ease of building new frameworks with it. Swift isn’t really ABI (application binary interface) stable, so go with Objective-C if you’re developing an SDK.
Likewise, if an app was already built with Objective-C and the code base is significant (think 100,000+ code lines), it’s not worth it at all to switch at that point. Continue with the same language.
The newest addition to iOS languages, Swift promises to be the leading force behind the platform for many years to come. It is easier to use than Python or Objective-C, while also being technically superior in many ways.
Swift has a safe programming pattern, but it also provides you many features for flexibility and ease of development. Moreover, the Swift SDK integration makes it a viable choice for iOS app development and web apps too!
For all intents and purposes, you can consider Swift to be the distilled form of Objective-C. Everything that’s great about Objective-C is still there, but Swift makes it more approachable and understandable. Even Apple themselves have declared it to be the future of iOS app development.
Many big names of the cyberspace (like Firefox and the WordPress iOS app) already built their apps with Swift, and more will surely join. The programming language is all about staying ahead of the curve and familiarizing yourself with future-proof technology.
Perhaps the best thing about Swift is that it gets its job done without issue, while also being easy to learn. A lot of the complicated and techy phrasing of Objective-C is gone, and the more intimidating syntax has been re-thought as well.
Should You Learn Swift for iOS?
Yes. With Swift, Apple has managed to remove many limitations that Objective-C presented for modern programming. Currently, Swift is as advanced of a mobile programming language as they come. For example:
Swift is Fast
It doesn’t use C++ (considered to be the fastest in algorithm calculation), but its speed almost matches it 1:1. Swift 2.0 even overperformed C++ in many computation exercises, such as the Mandelbrot algorithm. A big part of this is because Swift doesn’t use any C API legacies.
Moreover, Swift integrates with Cocoa Touch and its APIs flawlessly, for any Apple device. But, of course, exactly how fast your Swift is all depends on the experience and skill of the programmer doing the job. You can code slow apps in Swift too.
Swift is Readable
The language’s code closely resembles English, making it easier to figure out what you’re looking at. Generally speaking, you also need less code to perform the needed functions, so it’s not overtaken by other languages in this department either.
Swift is Compact
This doesn’t mean that Swift code is basic or simple; sometimes, it can be pretty difficult to write. Instead, you need to write less of it, and you can reuse it later too. Less lines of code, better performance.
Swift is Less Prone to Bugs
Objective-C code can have more accidental errors because of its syntax and language constructions. Swift has a type of “quality control” that removes these problems, ensuring fewer crashes and unexpected behaviors.
Take note though that this only means that accidental mistakes are less likely. There’s no auto-fixing for bad coding.
Swift is Memory Management Friendly
The Clang compiler uses a digital objects memory management functionality named ARC (automatic reference counting).
Objective-C’s procedural code is based on the Corel Graphic API. So, the developer has to control it.
However, handling it in Swift is easier, through the Cocoa API. Attention to each digital object isn’t required, only concentration on the general app logic and its features.
Swift is Open Source
With Swift, Apple understood that a successful programming language should be available to a wider audience. So, it’s not restricted to iOS. It’s already been used to develop many frameworks, and this keeps attracting a growing community.
Cooperation between developers building the same app for multiple platforms is also a lot easier with Swift. Non-iOS programmers can still understand the language, and when explanations are required, they’re usually minimal.
Finally, you can also use Swift as a scripting language, for unifying the code of build scripts. This isn’t as popular yet though, with Ruby and Python leading the charge, but it’ll probably get more attention from Apple in the future.
Swift is Apple’s Priority
Apple has made it clear that Swift is their ongoing focus. You can expect improvements for it consistently, which is another reason to learn it.
The Best Language to Code iOS Apps
Overall, Swift takes the trophy home. It addresses all modern programming needs, while also giving users a lot of opportunities for standard and custom projects.
Even if you’re a native developer for another platform, there’s a good chance you have the fundamentals to grasp what Swift is all about. From the ground up, the language is built to be readable, understandable, and easy to pick up.
Leave Development to Us
If you’re looking for great iOS app development, no need to look further. In fact, we’re ready and eager to tackle Android or web app projects too. We’ve already been doing it for over 10 years after all!
Not only do we have carefully vetted and experienced developers, but an entire iOS app development team made from outstanding talent. Project managers, designers, strategists, QA, front-end, back-end, we do it all. When you need a full service agency, you just have to contact us today.
We also have a nationwide network of professionals that we can provide through staff augmentation, in case you want to keep development in-house. Just give us a call at (972) 200-9120 to discuss the details.