One of the challenges developers encounter when working on an iOS application development project is choosing which programming language to use: Objective-C or Swift. While these two are undoubtedly the most popular, many developers find it difficult to pick just one language.
Objective-C came out in the early 80s and has been around longer than Swift, which was first introduced in 2014. It is essential to learn and understand each of these programming languages before choosing which one to use. Knowing their history, features, functionalities, unique characteristics, as well as their advantages and disadvantages will help you pick the ideal option for your iOS application development.
Here’s a guide to help you get started.
As already mentioned, Objective-C is older among the two programming languages. Brad Cox and Tom Love co-created it. Objective-C initially did not make waves. It only started getting attention after NeXT bought it in the late 80s. Apple bought NeXT in 1996, and that was when Objective-C became the main programming language for Mac devices.
Objective-C is an object-oriented language; so, instead of getting a list of instructions, the computer uses objects in doing the action the user requires. Other users or parts of the program can reuse object-oriented codes.
Objective-C is a combination of two languages – Smalltalk and C. The object syntax is courtesy of Smalltalk while C provided the non-object one. Also, aside from its object-oriented capabilities, Objective-C also offers dynamic runtime.
Apple revealed Swift to the public at the 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference. It has undergone several changes and improvements over the years, with the latest version – 5.2.4. – released on April 29, 2020.
Compared to Objective-C, Swift is simpler and easier to learn. It is a general-purpose programming language, which makes it ideal for writing codes not only for iOS application development but also for Linux, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS.
Although Swift hasn’t been around as long as Objective-C has, it is popular among many developers because of its unique characteristics and tools. It is also an open-source programming language.
Pros and Cons
If you’re planning to use Objective-C for your iOS application development, here are some advantages you’re bound to enjoy:
- Objective-C has been around for years and is already well-tested and approved by the iOS application development community.
- There are numerous projects that were already written in Objective-C.
- It is time-tested. Objective-C has solidly performed over the years and is considered the more stable iOS programming language.
- Objective-C is a reliable language. It enables developers to easily connect with or access private APIs.
- Objective-C’s stability makes it a mature programming language. As such, there is no need for new versions or constant updates. You won’t have to worry about stretching your budget to accommodate extra expenses resulting from migrating to a newer version.
- Objective-C is also flexible. Since it’s an “old” iOS application development programming language, it is compatible and works well with earlier macOS and iOS versions. Likewise, it is also C-languages compatible.
The following are the cons of using Objective-C:
- It’s old.
- Objective-C comes with a complex syntax that can be quite challenging for first-time programmers.
- It’s harder to learn compared to Swift.
- Since there are newer, lighter, and easier-to-use programming languages, more and more developers no longer use it.
- It’s not as updated as the new ones. As such, its features and functionalities are limited compared to Swift. Additionally, its “age” can also affect security and make it more susceptible to hackers.
There are certain situations, though, that requires you to choose Objective-C:
- If you have an existing app that was written in Objective-C.
- Your app’s codebase is huge.
- If you plan to build a framework.
- If your project requires C or C++ third-party frameworks.
Your iOS application development will enjoy these benefits if you use Swift:
- Swift is simpler and easier to use. Even new developers can easily adapt to its system. As such, development time is significantly improved.
- It is an open-source programming language, so you do not have to pay for license fees. It is ideal for both commercial and non-commercial use.
- Swift’s concise codes allow a much faster dev-to-market. This is essential if you plan to monetise your app.
- Swift is a continuously-improving language, so it is always optimised to offer the best and most advanced features and functionalities. Some examples include dynamic libraries, memory management, and interaction with Objective-C codes.
- Top-notch security is another strong feature of Swift. Since its constantly updated, it is protected from online threats, bugs, and crashes. It also comes with security-strengthening features like type inference.
- Swift is ideal for cross-platform app development.
There are two major disadvantages when using Swift for your iOS application development project:
Swift does not provide support for the earlier versions of macOS and iOS. Anything that came before macOS 10.9 and iOS 7.0 are not supported by the programming language. This presents a challenge to developers who plan to build multi-platform universal apps.
Since Swift is still considered fairly “new” in the scene, it continues to undergo updates and improvements. Having new versions as often as possible does not sit well with developers because it means additional expenses and a lot of time spent for migration.
Both programming languages have strong and weak points, and both have proven that it can do the job well. The final decision is up to you. You just have to consider several factors such as the size of you iOS application development project, the schedule and timeline, your team of developers, and budget.
You also have to think about which factors matter most. Do you prefer stability and flexibility over updates and upgrades? Is security important for you? Does capability matter more than ease of use? These are the things you need to ask yourself to find out which programming language is ideal for your iOS application development.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to ask for the opinions and suggestions of your fellow developers or members of your dev team. You and your developers are the ones working on the app, so it is your responsibility to choose the most beneficial iOS application development programming language for your project.