iOS Development and Swift Code – What you need to know

Everyone knows the two major players on the mobile platform market – Apple and Android – but what makes these platforms tick?

If you’re an iPhone user, your phone runs on iOS, which utilizes the programming language Swift. Swift was released in October of 2014, and is currently in its fourth iteration, aptly named Swift4. As our third installment of How to Build a Mobile App: the Ultimate Guide, we’ll go over what you need to know in order to make informed decisions about iOS development, and key terminology that will help you better communicate with (and understand) Swift developers.

Disclaimer: If you’re a developer or software engineer, there might not be any new information for you to find here. For a more in-depth discussion about app development, check out our addition to the native vs. hybrid debate.

If you’re a CFO, business developer, or appreneur who’s trying to figure out what a software engineer is talking about when they say “back-end integration,” or want to know just what exactly is an API, you’ve come to the right place.

As of June 2018, iOS accounts for 44.5% of the worldwide mobile market – a growth of 15% since January of 2012. In the US, iOS boasted a market share of 63% in 2018. With over 2.1 million apps on the App Store, Swift can be used to create programs on all of Apple’s platforms – iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

Swift is based on and emulates the functionality of the C family of programming languages, including Objective C and C++, with an open source community of developers at swift.org. Swift’s open source code is hosted on Github, an online community of over 28 million developers for hosting and reviewing code.

Due to the open source nature of Swift, the Swift community has compiled libraries to share with other developers. These libraries are resources of generic, useful code that can run on all platforms supported by Swift, and include character sets, support for dates and times, interaction with the file system, and many more functionalities. Swift comes with a default library, but these extended libraries, named the Swift Core Libraries, are continuously updated by the open source Swift community – allowing developers to utilize the newest innovations in Swift code (without writing it themselves). This code can then be customized to fit any need.

Swift can also be used on a Linux distro to build both libraries and applications, and the open source community is currently working together to bring Swift to other computer platforms.

The tools available to developers

While coding, Swift developers use XCode to write, and can use playgrounds to view their code’s outcome in real time. While working collaboratively, developers will use organizational tools such as beanstalk, which are used to keep track of code and current projects. These organizational tools are especially important when collaborating on a project, as any difference in a line of code between two workspaces will result in a merge conflict. When this happens, both lines of code must be compared in order to identify the merge conflict, adding extra time to the debugging process.

Coding best practices dictate it’s always better for a software engineer to work in an isolated branch to avoid merge conflicts altogether.

Developers can use a git client such as Sourcetree to check code in and out of collaborative databases. Think of it like Google Drive – it’s a shared workspace for multiple developers to remotely access code from the same database.

The Swift process

Android Pie and iPhone 12.1.2

The overarching structure of a simplistic app designed in Swift is:

  • View Controller –Think of this as the frame of a painting. The view controller, which is aptly named, controls what you see on the screen of your mobile device.
  • View – Within the view controller is the view. Think of this as the canvas of a painting – the view makes up the sum of all visual aspects of the app. Each screen of an app is a different view.
  • Subview –Subviews are the individual sections that collectively make up the view. Think of a subview as specific sections of a painting, such as how the subject matter is distinguishable from the background. More specifically, a subview would be the keyboard section of iMessage, or the section where text messages display.
  • Buttons –Buttons are… well, buttons. Within subviews, buttons are the interactive elements of apps. Think of the individual letters of the keyboard section of iMessage.
  • Images – Also within subviews, images are used to display specific pieces of visual information, and range from photos to logos and icons. An image can function as a button.

In order to do this, developers:

  • Start with building the basic UI (user interface)
  • Connect the UI to their code
  • Work within the view controllers (different screens will have different views)
  • Define the data model (the structure of information in the app)

First, a software engineer will layout the screens of an app in a storyboard. This acts as the roadmap for what the completed app should look like, and individual elements on the screen are then connected to code. These elements are referred to as classes, and the code inside these classes controls everything that element does, and how it behaves. For example, a class could be set to darken whenever an element is interacted with by the user, or set to cycle through images at specific time intervals. Classes can be coded to act in almost any way the software engineer can imagine. As classes are built, the UI is connected to the code.

Next, the de-bugging process starts. This is where pull requests come into play. When individual software engineers write code, they work on a branch (a section of the apps’ code) separate from the master branch, in order to minimize the risk of depleting the robustness of the app’s original code. Before implementing the code they are working on into the master branch, a software engineer will make a pull request based on their individual branch versus the master branch. This pull request is in essence a review process – having a second pair of eyes look over code is a great way to catch bugs before they are implemented. The branch is tested, and after its final iteration, is implemented into the master branch.

Developers will repeat this process for every view controller until the app is completed.

The next step in development is beta testing, which we will cover in detail later down the road. After the app is thoroughly tested, the app is submitted to the App Store for review by Apple. During this step, you set your app’s availability (what regions it is available for purchase in) and pricing, and then after approval from Apple, the app goes to the marketplace.

Adding an app to the App Store costs $99 per year, and Apple keeps 30% of each sale. For more information about how much it costs to build an app, check out our blog post on this topic.

Down the line, we’ll go over Android development, so if you’re looking forward to that, don’t worry.

Glossary of developer jargon:

  • Adaptive interface:An app that adapts to the available screen resolution. Essentially the same idea as a responsive web page.
  • API: An Application Programming Interface is a set of functions, classes, and protocols that define how pieces of software interact with each other. They facilitate code creation by providing tools and building blocks that help companies connect their software with another set of software, or even other companies’ code.
  • API calls:Sometimes referred to as an API request, an API call is essentially a piece of software in an app connecting to a server, and requesting a data transfer.
  • Back end development:This forms the logic and data structure of the app.
  • Back end integration:This allows an enterprise system to connect to an app – for example, connecting the database of a website to an app, in order for users to access the database through the app rather than the website. The information is hosted on the website’s server, but is still accessible through the app itself.
  • Control:This is a type of view that responds to a user’s input, like our example of a button turning dark after interaction.
  • Enumeration:Referred to by developers as “enums,” an enumeration defines a common type for a group of related values, and allows you to work on these values in a safe way within the code.
  • Front end:This is the layer of the app that users interact with.
  • Adaptive interface: An app that adapts to the available screen resolution. Essentially the same idea as a responsive web page.
  • Function:A function is a reusable (and named) piece of code that can be referenced from many places in a program.
  • Iterate:To perform a certain task or function repeatedly.
  • Method:Like a function, a method is a reusable, named piece of code that’s associated with a particular class, structure, or enumeration.
  • On demand app:These are apps that allow users to find, connect with, and book a professional service.
  • SDK:A Software Development Kit is a pre-made software tool that can be used for a variety of functions. Some SDKs help with analytics, others provide debugging and maintenance utilities, and a whole host of other functions.
  • Structure:When written in Swift, structures are designated by the keyword “struct.” Structs allow developers to store data in the form of properties and functions.
  • Tokens:A token is a software based security tag that produces a single-use login password or PIN.
  • UI/UX:User Interface and User Experience are intrinsically tied to each other. UI is the layout and design of the front end of an app. UX is how the app flows, functions, and responds to the user’s inputs.

AR – It’s time to start thinking about it

There seem to be new technologies and trends emerging every day as the internet of things grows to envelop and shape the way we interact with each other, our jobs, and our hobbies. Today, one of these hot-topic-pieces-of-tech is augmented reality (AR).

With the release of Apple’s ARKit in June 2017, and Android’s ARCore in March 2018, mobile developers now have the tools to natively develop AR apps for smartphones, wearables, and even cars. If you’re a business that isn’t in the industry of user-facing software and products like Google or Snapchat, it might be easy to overlook the value of implementing AR into your daily procedures, or difficult to determine just how AR would work for you and your company.

Before we get into how your company can implement AR into its business model, let’s go over why AR (despite being a relatively new and untested technology) is probably the most exciting field of innovation for consumers and business alike.

In October of 2001, it was difficult to imagine that the iPod would completely revolutionize the technological landscape. We’d seen the evolution from records to cassettes and 8-tracks, to CDs and Walkmans – but all that had changed was the size and mobility of the music player – listeners still interacted with their devices using play, skip, stop, etc. It wasn’t until the iPod came to the market that a device changed the way listeners interacted with their music – suddenly, you didn’t need a backpack to carry your CDs, and track titles were visually displayed in searchable lists. The planning required by an individual to take music on the go was replaced with the ease of picking up a device with all of your favorite songs on it, and simply putting it in your pocket. This led to a drastic shift in the way people thought of their interactions with their music players – you listen to a Walkman, but you use an iPod.

We all know what came next – the largest shake-up the music industry had seen since the switch from analogue to digital recording – and like any significant change to a market, there were growing pains aplenty as artists and producers alike adapted to the changing climate.

It’s a trend that has continued rapidly ever since, as advancements in technology revolutionize every industry imaginable. In 2007, when the iPhone was first introduced, people stopped talking on their phones, and started using them. A year later, Android phones were on the market, and soon enough, smartphones evolved from a trend-setter status-symbol to ubiquitous multi-tools used to enhance almost every aspect of our daily lives. It took only six years to go from a device that holds 1000 songs to smartphones that put Captain Kirk’s communicator to shame.

Well, it’s 2001 all over again; except this time, it’s not music – it’s augmented reality.

Training and quality control

Imagine hiring a new HVAC technician. For that new hire to be successful, they must be trained, which means another technician is either pulled from their current job, or given the extra responsibility of teaching while also working. This is the way skilled trade knowledge has been passed down from expert to apprentice since the dawn of time, but it lacks the efficiency AR provides.

With an AR enhanced training program, that new technician can learn the ins and outs of HVAC systems on their own, without receiving instructions from an experienced employee – greatly increasing productivity and reducing the total cost of the hiring process. New employees are not only trained on their own – they are also trained more effectively, as AR ensures each training session disseminates the correct information and processes every time.

AR allows that new technician to see every layer and part of the HVAC system – from individual screws to the entire ventilation structure – and how each piece fits together. Your trainee can experience every possible type of mechanical failure for the system, and learn the appropriate remedy at their own pace.

Imagine being able to provide real, on-the-job experience without ever risking inefficiency or error at an actual job site; with AR, a technician can become an expert without ever going into the field.

When it comes to manufacturing, AR is the ultimate quality control assistant. Manufacturing jobs such as those on automobile production lines require high levels of accuracy, utilize a staggering number of parts, and rely on step by step processes that can easily be forgotten or implemented in the wrong order – especially during a long shift.

AR can, in real-time, highlight the next step in the assembly process, show where and how the parts are implemented, and check for accuracy after the step has been completed.

To see how this works, check out this amazing AR system by SCS Concept Group, VPG+.

Efficiency

Industries that utilize automated equipment, such as manufacturing or mining operations, can easily be enhanced with AR diagnostic systems. A fun project we did for Luckstone (one of the largest family-owned and operated producers of crushed stone, sand, and gravel in the U.S.) was an AR app that enhanced the productivity of quarry operations by providing the foreman with an interface that allowed on-site remote data analysis in real-time. The user points their mobile device at an operating machine, and a tag is displayed on the device’s screen – that tag can be expanded, providing real-time data on pounds of stone moved, operating efficiency, and any other data point relevant to the operations of the machine.

This saves foremen the wasted time of either walking across the quarry to the specific machine, or leaving the job site to analyze data in their office. This system was adapted to their business development team’s needs, and we developed an app that gave sales representatives the ability to access cloud data on past, current, and prospective clients based on geo location.

The sales representative points their phone towards a business, and in real time, information on past interactions with that customer is displayed on their device, giving them the ability to research potential clients, follow up on leads, and ensure they don’t mistakingly visit the same business twice, all in real time.

AR may be new, but it may just be the next big thing

It was only in 2017 when Apple released ARKit, after all; but AR is already making waves in the mobile industry. In 2018, Snapchat, which heavily invests in AR technology, posted a net worth of $3.2 billion. With leaps in advancement with wearable technology, and the integration of smart technologies in cars, it wouldn’t be surprising for AR to become commonplace in our daily lives in the coming years. It might even come to be expected by users – in 2006, if someone had told Jack Dorsey that Twitter would help decide the 2016 presidential election, he’d probably have laughed – but a social media startup became so integral to the way we communicate our ideas that it did just that.

We’re right at the cusp before the AR industry begins a rapid period of growth, so now is the time to start planning just how to implement AR into your own business’ needs.