Programming Language

Which Programming Language Is Right For Your iOS App?

Choosing a programming language for your upcoming iOS project may be an easy or difficult decision. If your team already has a tried and true workflow using one or more programming languages, then it’s a no-brainer. For example, your team develops exclusively for Apple devices and uses Swift and Objective-C on an ongoing basis. And since they’re so experienced in these languages and deeply embedded in Apple’s ecosystem, they may have little need to explore alternatives.

But what if your team wishes to target multiple platforms or develop mobile games? Well, it’s possible to do this using Swift or Objective-C, but it’s not an ideal solution. You’ll need to use cross-compilers and translation tools to target non-Apple platforms. Furthermore, there are few game development engines and tools that support both these languages.

So if you want to forge ahead with iOS app development without these limitations, you do have plenty of good options available. A quick look at the TIOBE Index reveals a plethora of languages that are way more popular than either Swift or Objective-C. And while you should never judge a programming language by its popularity, it’s still important to ascertain how well it’s adopted and supported by the industry. Below, we reveal the languages that you should consider and their use case.

1. Swift

The development of the Swift programming language is a collaboration between Apple and various open-source contributors. It’s a powerful multi-paradigm language that’s block-structured, functional, declarative, and object-oriented. Introduced in 2014 as an alternative to Objective-C, Swift has gradually surpassed its predecessor in popularity. And unlike Objective-C, the primary focus of Swift is on safety and a dot-notation style using namespaces, bringing it closer to other object-oriented languages such as C# and Java.

While Swift massively improves on Objective-C while retaining its core concepts, it’s not without its shortcomings. As stated earlier, it’s an excellent language for iOS app development. But game developers will feel limited with the frameworks and tools available for Swift. Apple’s SpriteKit may be handy but not on par with tools available for other languages.

2. C#

Introduced by Microsoft in 2000, C# was designed by Anders Hejlsberg, the original author of Turbo Pascal and chief architect of Delphi. C# shares many similarities with those two languages and also closely resembles Java. To run, it requires Microsoft’s .NET that consists of a rather elaborate series of frameworks, runtimes, and SDKs. For newer developers, the .NET ecosystem is undoubtedly complex, with a steep learning curve. Furthermore, C# programmers must learn to tame the .NET garbage collector (GC) for optimal results.

Over the past decade, C# has become the darling of indie and mobile game developers. Several excellent cross-platform game engines and frameworks, such as Unity, Godot, MonoGame, OpenTK, Stride, and Wave Engine support C#. Another good framework for cross-platform development is Xamarin, which offers near-native performance even when targeting iOS.

3. Java

Java is one of the most mature and battle-tested object-oriented languages out there. Designed by Jamie Gosling and introduced in 1995, Java has become a stalwart for enterprise developers worldwide. It’s also widely used by Android developers, even though Google is moving ahead with its successor — Kotlin. And as of September 2021, the language comes third in the TIOBE Index rankings, which is a testament to its popularity.

Moreover, Java is renowned for its verbosity, which may dissuade developers accustomed to more streamlined languages. But that doesn’t stop it from being a good option for Android-first developers that also wish to target iOS. It’s a more convoluted process since Apple doesn’t allow for dynamic code generation, which Java outputs via its just-in-time (JIT) compiler. Thus, developers will require several tools, such as a Mac build system, Xcode, OpenJDK, Zero interpreter, libffi, and libfreetype, to support iOS devices.

4. C++

First appearing in 1985, C++ quickly became adopted by programmers requiring a powerful language for creating resource-intensive applications. It was created by Bjarne Stroustrup, primarily as an expansion to the C programming language with the addition of classes. And similarly to Java and Swift, C++ is multi-paradigm and object-oriented, meant for several use cases.

But where it truly shines is in its performance, which is second to none given the language’s close-to-the-metal approach. Unlike other languages that require an interpreter or virtual machine (VM), C++ interacts directly with the hardware, giving it a tremendous speed advantage. While it’s not necessary or advisable to develop an ordinary iOS app using C++, it’s ideal for developing games. It’s possible to create impressive 3D mobile games and virtual reality (VR) experiences with Unreal Engine, which utilizes a C++ scripting component.

5. JavaScript

If there’s one language that’s impacted web development, then it’s none other than JavaScript. Introduced in 1995 and created by Brendan Eich, JavaScript is an event-driven, high-level, and multi-paradigm language. Furthermore, it’s part of the C-family of programming languages and uses a curly-bracket syntax. Many browsers come equipped with a JavaScript engine, allowing code to run on a user’s PC or smartphone.

Initially, JavaScript served as a client-side and website programming language but eventually became adopted as a server-side language after the introduction of Node.js. And with the advent of frameworks such as Apache Cordova, NativeScript, and React Native, JavaScript programmers can target mobile devices too. So, if your team has a web development background, nothing is holding them back from developing an iOS app. But you’ll unlikely achieve equivalent results to a natively developed app from a performance and UX design perspective.

6. Python

Designed as a beginner-friendly language and released in 1991, Python was the brainchild of Guido van Rossum. And while it enjoyed minimal fanfare upon release, it currently ranks second place in the TIOBE Index. The language utilizes an interpreter and relies on indentation for easier readability. Thus, it’s a good option for Rapid Application Development (RAD) and smaller projects. And in recent years, data analysts and scientists have adopted Python for its excellent machine learning (ML) capabilities.

But the question you should be asking is — is Python a good choice for iOS app development? Well, that largely depends on the type of app you want to make. If you set out to create a minimum viable product (MVP), you’ll benefit from the quick turnaround that Python facilitates. And cross-platform frameworks such as BeeWare and Kivy make such an outcome possible. Also, Python is an excellent choice if you plan on implementing machine learning in your upcoming app.

However, it may not be the right choice for creating a complex app or an intense 3D mobile game. While Python has many positives, it’s not as performant and robust as Swift, Java, and C#. And many frameworks and tools for the language come from the open-source community. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but it’s more reassuring to receive support for your development tools from a reliable and registered company.

Always Choose The Programming Language That Best Fits Your Needs

No programming language is a silver bullet. Your team may have a favorite language, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for every type of application. That’s why it’s crucial to have exposure to a wide range of programming languages and tools. And then, choose those that best fit the criteria for your upcoming project.

Apple’s development tools are great and should be your first port of call when targeting iOS. But never ignore the many excellent programming languages, tools, and frameworks available elsewhere. Contact us today to learn how NS804 can help you create phenomenal iOS apps with the most up-to-date technologies.

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