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Swift vs. Objective-C: An iOS Developer's Perspective

Swift vs. Objective-C: An iOS Developer's Perspective

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To develop a native app for an Apple device like the iPad, MacOS, and iPhone, we have two options: we can either use the old Objective-C language or the newer Swift language.

In this post, we'll learn about Swift vs Objective C, including their pros and cons. We'll also compare the two and crown a winner.

Objective-C

Objective-C was developed by Brad Cox and Tom Love in the 1980s. It was released to the market in 1988. This language was created by adding the features of Smalltalk to C. Now, C is a functional programming language, and Smalltalk is an object-oriented programming language. So, the object-oriented syntax comes from Smalltalk, and the other syntax comes from C.

Objective-C is also considered a super set of C because it has all of C's features. Because of this, we can easily use a C or C++ code in Objective-C.

Since it has object-oriented features, Objective-C became an instant hit. It was quickly acquired by NeXT Computer, which was led by Steve Job. Since his return to Apple in 1997, Objective-C became the standard to develop Apple apps.

Objective-C was the only language to create Apple apps until 2014, which is when Swift was released. It's not a modern language, and the syntax was quite complicated, which is why Swift has become popular for creating Apple apps.

Swift

Swift development started at Apple in 2010, and it was released to the public in 2014. It has a very modern syntax that's quite comparable to Python.

Because of its ease of use compared with Objective-C, it was quickly adopted by developers. Swift is currently the 13th most popular language.

Apple also wants the development of apps to be done in Swift, considering it the next-generation language for app development.

Comparing Swift vs Objective-C

Let's take a look at how Objective-C and Swift are alike and different.

Documentation

Objective-C has been used since day one to develop Apple apps. It was also used before that in NeXT computers. So, this means we can get answers to our queries easily on Stack overflow and Google.

Objective-C was released more than 30 years ago. It's a stable language with very few changes made over time. This make it perfect, as developers don't need to learn new features every year.

Swift is a modern language released by Apple Inc. in 2014. It's a relatively new language, so there is less documentation in comparison to Objective-C. Also, we cannot get all queries answered through Stack overflow and Google.

Winner: Objective-C

swift pull quote

Speed

Swift is considered to be 2.5 times faster than Objective-C in developing apps. This is because we have to write less code in Swift for doing the same thing in Objective-C. Both of these languages can be used to create Apple apps, but it's been said that Swift requires 60% less code in comparison with Objective-C.

Swift automatically tracks the advanced feature of memory usage. This makes it one of the fastest language for app development. With Swift, there's also no garbage collection like Java, which adds to Swift's speed.

Winner: Swift

Syntax

Objective-C is very difficult to learn, as it has some of the old C syntax. Consider the code below for writing a simple string variable, called NSString, in Objective-C. For modern programmers who works on languages like Python or JavaScript, this is a very complex syntax.

NSString *message = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"That's a %@ %@ from %d!", name, email, year];

New programmers are not willing to work on Objective-C for this reason.

Swift's syntax is inspired by Python, which is considered the easiest language to learn. So, Swift syntax is also easy for developers to pick up.

Now, below is the code to write string in Swift. Compare it with the code to write string in Objective-C above. We can see the easier syntax here in comparison with Objective-C.

var strA = "Hello, World!"

Though features are optional, we can catch bugs before compiling, resulting in fewer bugs than the same code written in Objective-C.

Also, Apple is moving toward Swift and encourages developers to create apps using Swift.

Winner: Swift

swift vs objective c pull quote

Compatibility

Objective-C is also a super set of C with object-oriented features. So, a code written in C will run perfectly well in Objective-C. This also means that a C developer can easily make a transition to Objective-C.

As Swift is no longer based on C, it's not possible to use C or C++ code in it directly.

Winner: Objective-C

Stability

Objective-C is a very stable language. However, since Swift was released in 2014, a lot of upgrades were made to it. This led to developers learning new features every time a new version was released, but it has now stabilized with current versions.

Being a new language, Swift is updated each year. This means developers have to learn the new features every year.

Winner: Objective-C

Advanced Features

Swift has advanced memory allocation that's automatic. This makes it faster than other app development languages out there like React Native, Flutter, Kotlin, and Java.

Swift doesn't have garbage collection like Java, which is one of the pain points of Java and makes it slow. This feature helps prevent Swift-created apps from becoming too slow. The language also contains all advanced features like type safe, which makes it less prone to bugs.

Winner: Swift

Future

Swift is not created as an updated version of Objective-C. By this, we mean it's not a successor of Objective-C. Instead, it's a completely new language that was created from the ground up. So, you don't need to know Objective-C before starting with Swift. Apple started its development in 2010 and released it to the public in 2014.

Apple is moving toward Swift as a platform for app developers, so new features are added in every version to make it easier for developers.

Winner: Swift

Swift vs. Objective-C

Objective-C has been around since the 1980s, but that marks one of its drawbacks. Its syntax is quite old and difficult for modern-day developers who are used to easier syntax found in Python and JavaScript.

Apple is promoting Swift more to create its apps. It adds new enhanced features to it and maintains it regularly, which makes Swift the de-facto language for app development in the Apple ecosystem.

For these reasons, Swift is the clear winner.

swift pull quote

Testing

It's very important to test our mobile apps before deploying them to production. Apps created using either Swift or Objective-C can be tested with the built-in framework XCTest.

Mobile apps also require rigorous integration testing and manual testing. First, they should undergo a writing unit test, then a writing integration test and, finally, a manual test, which requires a lot of effort. All of these can be avoided, however, if we use Waldo's no-code testing platform.

With Waldo, we conduct user interactions like clicking on images or buttons. These are common features in any mobile app. So, go ahead and create a free Waldo account here to test its features.

Conclusion

In this post, we've learned about Swift vs Objective-C. We compared and contrasted the two languages and determined that Swift is the clear winner for native app development. It also has Apple's full support.

Finally, we learned that unit testing is possible in both languages using the same XCTest framework, but we also can test the code with the no-coding platform Waldo.

This post was written by Nabendu Biswas. Nabendu has been working in the software industry for the past 15 years, starting as a C++ developer, then moving on to databases. For the past six years he’s been working as a web-developer working in the JavaScript ecosystem, and developing web-apps in ReactJS, NodeJS, GraphQL. He loves to blog about what he learns and what he’s up to.

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