Swift vs Objective-C: Which Should You Pick For Your Next iOS Mobile App?
Aug 198 min read
Senior full stack developer and CTO at Ideamotive.
It was 2014 when Apple introduced a new easier way to build iOS apps - Swift. However, in 2020 IT managers and CTOs still struggle to choose between Objective-C and Swift. To dispel any doubts we compared them and prepared this guide.
What is Objective-C?
Objective-C is an object-oriented programming language used by Apple since the 90. It combines the advantages of two earlier languages - C and Smalltalk.
In 1996 Apple overtook NeXT, which developer tools would use Objective-C. These tools were later included in Xcode. That's how Apple began using Objective-C for Mac OS X development. As a result, Objective-C became the first choice language for everybody who wanted to create an application for OS X and iOS.
What is Swift?
The history of Swift is much simpler and shorter. It was created by Apple and introduced at its Worldwide Developers Conference in 2014. It is a completely new language designed to develop software for Apple’s operating systems. The language has been vastly developed since that time. The most recent stable version has been released on April 29, 2020, and goes by the name 5.2.4.
What's the point of Objective-C vs Swift comparison?
There are at least two reasons for this dilemma.
First, they're both supported by Apple and used for their products. If you think about the native iOS application, these two will make “the most native”.
Second, Swift isn't an Objective-C's straightforward successor. The two languages have different capabilities and are simultaneously used for iOS mobile app development.
Developers and Product Managers wonder, which of them is best. Which of them will suit their needs and won't destroy their budget?
If you don't know whether to choose Swift or Objective-C for the iOS app you are planning to develop, you will find out by the time you've read this article.
How to compare Swift vs Objective-C?
We often compare technologies and programming languages. Partially to fulfill our needs, partially due to our urge to share this knowledge with you.
Although you could think of virtually dozens of features to compare, we decided to focus on the ten most important issues. They all influence the costs, quality, and convenience of iOS application development. The list and comparison below will help you find out, which technology is best for your project.
The development environment is where the magic happens. It is salient whether there is an easy-to-use environment, how expensive it is, and if there are any alternative solutions on the market.
If you use Objective-C to develop an iOS or OS X application, you will most probably use the Xcode IDE. There are other environments available like AppCode or Visual Studio Code from Microsoft, but they need Xcode underneath to work properly.
Xcode provides you with Software Development Kits that give virtually everything you will need for iOS app development. Tools, compilers, APIs, and frameworks — they’re all there. Moreover, there are customizable pre-built elements you can use in your application.
Xcode is integrated with Cocoa and, what’s even more important here, Cocoa Touch — environment for application development you will use for iOS. However, if you decide to use Swift, Cocoa Touch enables you to create apps for Apple Watch and Apple TV too.
It isn’t the only difference regarding the development environment though. There is also something calledSwift Playgrounds. You can use it to learn to code in Swift, but also as an environment for testing small parts of code without compiling all the code and creating a complete application. Simply, when you have an idea for a solution, you write the code in Playgrounds and instantly check how it works.
With Swift, you can still work in the same environment as Objective-C but you also gain access to more recent solutions that increase the possibilities. This round for Swift.
2. APP User interface
They are both native iOS languages so there's no need to worry if your application will look and work flawlessly. It will, no matter which of them you choose. The biggest difference is in iOS compatibility and the ease of UI development.
Objective-C is almost as old as the hills, so your application will run on any version of iOS available. Swift, on the other hand, needs at least iOS 7. It means you need to analyze what devices your users have and decide if it's ok for you to limit yourself to those with iPhones and iPads released after 2013. To be honest, there aren't many people who still use devices as old as 7 years, so it shouldn't be an issue.
Regarding the ease of UI development, Apple has introduced SwiftUI. This UI design tool built into Xcode 11 runs with iOS 13 (or newer, when it comes). It makes it super-easy to build native UI for all Apple platforms. You can assemble your UI by writing code or adjusting the preview. Changes are visible both in code and the preview at the same time.
It’s a draw. However, Swift’s advantage will probably grow in the future.
3. Speed of coding
The speed of coding influences the overall costs of app creation and shortens time-to-market. Despite both Objective-C and Swift being native languages for iOS, they're not alike. Swift is a much more modern language. It's also human-friendly thanks to simpler syntax. It means that it's easier to learn as well.
What's more, it's said that the same application written in Swift will have only 30% of lines of code in comparison to one written in Objective-C. A popular example is Lyft that converted Objective-C to Swift losing over 60% of the code. Decreasing the amount of code not only speeds up the development process but also results in fewer errors and quicker and cheaper testing.
Again, Swift wins.
The better and more suitable technology you choose, the higher the performance. With higher performance come better UX, easier refactoring and maintenance, and more.
Apple claims Swift to be 2.6 times faster than Objective-C. It is possible thanks to the fact that Swift has been created as a completely new language with the purpose to be... swift.
Even though Apple has equipped Objective-C with a garbage collector, it still isn't as efficient as well written Swift code. Simpler syntax and performing type checking at compile-time, help Swift to outperform Objective-C. To optimize memory management Swift employs ARC (Automatic Reference Counting). Moreover, Swift supports Dynamic libraries which boost application performance as well.
Swift wins, and its advantage over Objective-C will grow.
5. Community & support
Proper support gives you the certainty that you will have access to know-how you need for successful development. Apart from professional support, it's also helpful to be part of a community of experts who will back you up with their experience and knowledge.
Although Objective-C is still supported by Apple, it has never been an open-source language. Swift, on the contrary, is open-source, so you can see in detail how it works and understand its rudiments more thoroughly. But there's more. Openness means there are more people engaged in more projects and more sources available for Swift developers.
While Objective-C has over 30 years old community, its population will be decreasing. Newbies tend to learn Swift instead and every year there will be fewer programmers who could support you with their expertise. Even today, among StackShare users, about 3500 declare using Objective-C and over 6000 use Swift. At the same time, Swift developers' community is very vital. What's more, even other companies have developed their Swift frameworks (like IBM).
Again, Swift clearly wins this round.
Standard IDE isn't usually enough for complex development. To ensure sufficient convenience developers use additional toolkits. Objective-C or Swift programmers are no different. The supplies vary though.
As a result of the long history of Objective-C, you will find many tools provided by Apple and some third-party companies. However, I wouldn't count on the creation of new tools for Objective-C development.
On the other hand, since Swift is an open-source language, it's extremely easy to find tools provided by third-party companies and contributors for this language. Moreover, Apple gives you a wide range of tools for enhancing your development performance. Recently they have announced tools like PencilKit supporting Apple Pencil, SiriKit supporting third-party apps with Apple's assistant, or MapKit increasing the possibilities of UI adjustment.
Swift wins here too, although the advantage isn’t that big. However, in the future Swift’s environment will develop much faster than the one of Objective-C.
Objective-C has been with us for over 30 years. The last released version has been 2.0 and it's been here since 2016. It won't be any more stable than that. If there are any bugs, we already know it.
Swift is only 6 years old now, and Swift 5 was released a year ago in March 2019. Today we can use a 5.2.4 version. It shows that Swift is less stable than Objective-C, but it's due to constant improvements and development.
Despite the age difference, I will call for a draw here.
The importance of documentation cannot be overestimated. The better you know the language and its tools, the easier it is to avoid mistakes.
Both languages have vast documentation. Objective-C mainly because it's been around for over 30 years now. You can find its documentation in theApple archive. But then, documentation for Swift is constantly updated. You will find more new sources for this language. Also, keep in mind that it's open-source, so there are many more third-party sources for you to find. You should start withApple service for developers and dedicatedSwift webpage. There's also a GitHub repository for Swift available.
Thanks to constant actualization, Swift wins this round as well.
9. Maturity of the platform
Objective-C is a lot older than Swift. But does it mean it's more mature? Swift has been designed according to Apple's experience with Objective-C as well.
Therefore, even if its history is much shorter, Swift is not immature, since it draws from a long tradition. Moreover, we already use version 5.2.4, and it only shows that Swift grows up much faster.
Apple constantly makes an effort to make Swift your first choice. The environment around Swift is growing and even though Objective-C might be more matured,
Swift is an “adult” too. So, we have a draw here.
10. Talent pool
Your dream solution might be the best ever seen, but without specialists, who know how to use it, it’s futile. For a company, it’s crucial to know how expensive and easy to find their developers are.
According to the recent Tiobe Index released in May 2020, Swift is the 11th most popular language with almost three times as many votes as the year before. Objective-C received only 50% of votes coasted for Swift. The number of Objective-C developers will decline, while the population of Swift developers will grow.
There are a couple of reasons for that. First, Apple probably will steadily withdraw from Objective-C. You can observe how Swift is developed and promoted. Second, Swift is much easier to learn and start coding. Third, Swift is an open-source language, and that always promotes the growth of a community.
Swift wins the last round by a nose.
Examples of iOS apps coded in Swift and Objective-C
Yet another factor you might take into consideration is that of who and how to use a particular language. Only this time you need to be careful about the conclusions. iOS applications created before 2014 will most probably be written in Objective-C, and the main reason for that is simply an absence of Swift before that year.
Today, quite often companies examine the possibility of converting Objective-C to Swift. Meanwhile, we haven't heard about anyone trying to convert their code backward. Moreover, since both languages can be used amid the same application, very often you will come upon software written in Objective-C and Swift at the same time.
For example, Uber uses both Objective-C and Swift. Lyft, on the other hand, has moved completely to Swift. The same with LinkedIn and their apps. It’s hard to find a company that wants to stay by Objective-C. And it’s no wonder.
In this Swift vs Objective-C comparison, we wanted to give you everything you need to choose exactly what you need. However, if you're still unsure which one to pick, we have a solution.
Get in touch with us, and our software consultants will help you make the right decision for your project.
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Dawid is a full stack developer experienced in creating Ruby on Rails and React Native apps from naught to implementation. Technological superhero, delivering amazing solutions for our clients and helping them grow.