Introducing Swift – Apple’s New Programming Language

Introducing Swift – Apple’s New Programming Language 150 150 Kerry Butters

At a recent developers conference, Apple revealed its new iOS 8. This was met with mostly favourable responses and the current beta test is being used by a number of developers. The new iOS will be generally released sometime in Autumn this year.

That’s not all of the news to come from the Cupertino based company, and it seems that Apple is addressing its programming language. The Worldwide developers conference saw the introduction of Swift, which is widely regarded as an attempt to keep developers onside. Google’s Android OS is gaining market share and so Apple needs its own innovative approach to combat its rival’s success.

Apple is targeting a younger age range of developers than it has in the past and Nolan Brown of Vindico said: “It shows extreme promise for younger demographics, 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds.”

This is a new approach but one that may also present problems. According to Brown, “You’re going to end up seeing more applications, but also more applications by less experienced developers, which may result in more bugs, (and) less-refined user experiences.”

However, reports suggest that it’s not just for the younger, or less experienced developer. It seems that the new language is already capturing the imagination for many and so for Apple, the future for Swift looks bright.

Let’s have a look at what it can do.

Faster Apps

Objective-C has been the standard for Apple programmes for well over a decade. Swift promises a change to that standard and Apple has stated that it will be 75% faster than its current aging programming technology. This will allow developers better (and more current) tools to develop more complex and graphically rich apps.

Easier for developers

We’ve already mentioned that Swift will be better suited for younger developers wishing to explore programming than its Objective-C counterpart. The other thing is that Objective-C is complex and notoriously difficult to write code for. Swift on the other hand is a much simpler syntax, and this will ensure that it’s much easier to learn for beginners. This doesn’t mean that anyone can use it and Swift doesn’t open the door to those with no programming experience. It will however make it significantly simpler for aspiring developers to experiment and devise apps on this platform.

The more simplistic approach promised by Swift doesn’t just make it easier for novice programmers but experts too. Swift’s simplifications will benefit expert programmers, as it will make their jobs easier. Apple has cherry-picked features from a variety of sources making it more familiar to seasoned developers, potentially widening the potential talent pool that can utilise this new technology.

Fewer bugs and coding errors

As a software Swift is designed to make everything that little bit easier. The programming tool will catch coding errors ensuring that they don’t make it into the final product. Ideally this will create a scenario where developer productivity is increased, and applications are designed with a much more stable basis.

‘Playgrounds’ – Interactive code edit

Swift comes with a function dubbed ‘Playgrounds.’ This is an interactive sandbox that allows developers to tweak and play around with graphical previews of how the code will work. This negates the need to compile an entire application first, once more ensuring much more productive developers and less time consuming re-edits.

Why now?

So, Swift seems set to change the programming landscape and provide a far more democratised world for burgeoning programmers to emerge and experiment within. Apple migrated development to LLVM providing the tech giant with much more control of its own runtime and toolchain.

This has made implementing changes and understanding their consequences a much simpler process. Apple has gained some experience with language development and in the past added Automatic Reference Counting, and closures to Objective-C. These changes provided Apple with an understanding of how developers might respond to future changes and additions to its programming platform.

Effectively it was all those small changes along the way that created the right environment for Swift to be introduced within. Closures, Automatic Reference Counting, and variables are all handled in a similar manner to Objective-C. Perhaps the best part is that because Apple is in control of everything, the same runtime can support both Swift and Objective-C. This allows legacy code to be mixed in with the new language and the change is hardly disruptive at all.

Basically Swift provides developers with a trade-off. In Objective-C coding was much more readable and easy to understand, but it was also more time consuming to write. Swift looks a lot like a hybrid approach but really it does provide one noticeable difference – Swift is quite a bit harder to read.  In Swift users will have to be very specific with their coding and most developers will have to develop a careful understanding of how the new language will work.

Not revolutionary, but a necessary upgrade

Swift isn’t a radical move away from Apple’s Objective-C but it is a much more modern and innovative approach. It looks like it has taken Apple around five years to play around with the software and juggle developer expectations with the reality of implementing a new programming language.

Most of Swift’s new features already exist in other programming languages and so for many developers it will seem very familiar. Apple has added mostly very good features to its programming code and the things that have been taken away were generally under utilised anyway. Effectively Swift opens up Apple’s coding practices to a new, and often younger, development pool; let’s hope that it provides some innovative new applications and tools for Apple users.

What’s New in iOS 8

What’s New in iOS 8 150 150 Kerry Butters

It doesn’t seem too long ago that Apple released iOS 7. This was perhaps the biggest overhaul to its mobile software design since 2007. The new OS came from a post-Jobs era and the design came from Jony Ive.

iOS 7 made the iPhone more up-to-date and it allowed it to be more competitive when it came to the likes of Android. Windows 8 mobile software has been struggling, so iOS 7 was a tempting (if expensive) alternative.

Now however, Apple has revealed its plans for iOS 8 and it looks to be much the same as iOS 7 – but with a better, and more rounded, design. There’s a beta version of this software for developers to play around with and the software will be generally released in the fall of 2014.

With this new OS (perhaps not quite revolutionary) there are a number of changes for users to look forward to. Let’s have a look then and see what we’ve got in store in the coming months. It’s not ground-breaking, but it is an OS update that betters the functionality of iOS 7.

Update to the App Store

The App Store is already fairly good; it doesn’t have the dross of Windows 8, and it’s less cluttered than Android’s offering. It has however had some slight functionality tweaks to make it even better. The Wish List function wasn’t something that many folks seemed to use, but iOS 8 has made it much better. Now it remembers every single app users want to download later and it keeps track of any songs users ask Siri about.

The App store has effectively become an application in itself and it can even cull iTunes Radio listens and provide suggestions in the form of Music Store previews. This will ensure that you’ll never miss a purchase again.

iOS 8’s new customisable mail

The new mail application is something that many iOS users will be happy about. There are now customisable swipe gestures that enable long-swipe deleting of messages, the left swipe can be either Mark as Read/Unread or Flag/Unflag buttons. The Mail application is smart enough to pull all related messages into a conversation no matter where those messages are hiding. It’s perhaps not quite the update that many users were hoping for, but it’s a start.

Better Battery Control

Apple iPhone’s haven’t always been known for great battery life or extended run times. Instead battery life has often been a complaint and users have to charge their smart phones at least once a day. This isn’t something that’s set to change drastically with iOS 8 but the new software does offer a solution of sorts. There’s a new option in the usage menu that lets users identify applications that are draining their battery.

This isn’t innovative, and it’s probably something that should have been included a long time ago (Android has it), but it will help iPhone users to get more out of their smartphones.

Dismiss Notifications with a Swipe

iOS 7 introduced an upgrade to the Notification Centre and iOS 8 has made it even more useful. There are now only two tabs (today and notifications) and users can customise their widgets then and there without having to head over to Settings. Users of iOS 8 will find it simple to dismiss notifications with only a simple swipe. Whilst not a huge overhaul it does provide an easier alternative for closing notifications that doesn’t involve trying to click those tiny X’s.

Upgrades to Safari

Apple comes with a number of preinstalled applications that users cannot delete or uninstall. iOS 8 hasn’t changed this unfortunately, but it has provided a revamped, smarter, and safer Safari internet browser. Users may feel stuck with Safari (there are alternatives) but Apple has made sticking with its native browser much less of an issue in its new OS.

There’s another useful addition on the favourites pull-down screen that allows users to request the desktop version of whatever mobile site they’re visiting. The favourites screen also provides a list of the most frequently visited sites for ease of browsing.

Manual camera controls

Smart phone cameras are becoming increasingly powerful and versatile and in iOS 8 Apple has taken that a step further. There are a couple of interesting additions to the application, but perhaps the best tweak is the ability to manually control the exposure setting. When users tap the screen to focus the camera, they’ll find a new option pops up – an exposure control slider. This will allow users a better opportunity to control their photographs and perhaps even alleviate the apparent need for camera filters.

Apple has also added a new time-lapse mode, and a three to ten second timer making selfies even easier (and less apparent).

The new Apple OS is perhaps nothing too new or innovative, but what it does is update the existing iOS 7 into something much more functional. The weather app has also seen an overhaul and there’s even a location-based lock screen. This allows iPhone users to walk into a store and find a tiny icon on their home screen. This shortcut will take you to an app that’ll let you purchase whatever that specific store is selling.

Look out for it being introduced sometime in the coming months; iOS 8 will be another successful smart phone innovation from the Cupertino based company. Apple’s iOS is easy to use, runs smoothly, and looks great.