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App Development
9 minutes read

Swift Vs Objective-C: What’s the Difference?

by Mario Tatis
App Development
9 minutes read

If you’re developing a mobile app for Apple’s operating systems, you are likely weighing the pros and cons of Swift vs Objective-C. Luckily, this debate has already been solved in favor of Swift. 

Objective-C has been used by Apple since the ‘90s for development, and Swift is a programming language created by Apple in 2014 specifically designed to develop software on Apple’s operating systems. Although novelty is not everything there is when it comes to programming languages, for the case of Swift it does make a difference.

If this is so, you are probably wondering why there is a dilemma in the first place. There are many reasons why non-technical product owners are unable to know which one is best. Objective-C and Swift are both supported by Apple. Both object-oriented programming languages create native iOS apps. Lastly and most importantly, they both create amazing digital products. 

Let’s take a closer look at Swift and Objective-C. We’ll see how they compare and where they differ. The bottom line is that if you want to make a native iOS app, Swift will be your best choice. 

Swift Vs Objective-C: Why Choose Swift or Migrate to It If You Haven’t

The programming language you choose for your next app development project should meet your needs as comprehensively as possible. Swift is surely better suited than Objective-C to meet your needs, but to truly take advantage of it you need to have a clear idea of what you want, how you want it to perform, how much you want to spend on development, and how fast you need the project to be completed. 

Below you will find a breakdown of the key features that make Swift a superior choice for building apps for Apple devices. I believe this is the best way to fully portray the power of Swift and why it is better suited for your app development project. That way you will be able to leave aside the Swift vs Objective-C debate easily.

Development Environment 

The development environment for your web or mobile app is one of the most crucial aspects of your entire project. This is where all of your work is done. A shoddy development environment can slow down a project and make the overall work of the project suffer. 

If you’re using Objective-C, the best choice for development is Xcode. You could potentially choose to use another development environment such as AppCode, but this environment will most likely still need Xcode to function properly. 

Xcode has a wealth of software development kits that provide you with everything that you will need to build an iOS app. This development environment also comes loaded with a library of pre-built app elements that you can use and fully customize to meet your needs. Xcode is also integrated with Cocoa and Cocoa Touch which are essential for iOS app development

Swift will also use Xcode for app development in the same way that Objective-C does, but if you’re using Swift, Cocoa Touch will allow you to also develop apps for the Apple TV and Apple Watch. You will not be able to use Cocoa Touch to develop Apple TV or Apple Watch apps using Objective-C. This is an important limitation depending on your strategy.

Besides Xcode, there is another development environment called Swift Playgrounds. Swift Playgrounds offers developers a chance to learn Swift and play with the code. Plus, it also offers app developers an environment to test small pieces of code without having to create an entire app just to see how one small piece of code will work. This capability can help save app developers a lot of time in the development process. 

Development Speed

The speed of app development is generally an important aspect of the project. If you can make an app in less time, it will ultimately cost you less money to make. Additionally, speed-to-market could be a large concern in more competitive fields. Development speed can often be boiled down to how fast code can be written. 

Objective-C and Swift are both native languages for Apple development, but these two languages are very different when it comes to development speed. Swift was designed to be simple, easy-to-learn, and above all, fast to code. This programming language resembles C languages, but it also cuts down on the amount of code needed to accomplish the same functions. Apps created using Swift will have roughly 30% of the code that the same apps would have using Objective-C.

When the car-hailing app Lyft rewrote its base code in Swift back in 2016, it cut down the amount of Objective-C code it had previously by 60%. Fewer lines of code speeds up the development process, leads to fewer errors, and at the end of the day saves money. 

Stability 

Objective-C has been around for over 30 years. Swift has been around for just over 6 years. Despite its age, Objective-C is still used every day to create apps for iOS. In the 30-year lifespan of Objective-C, it is on version 2.0. Comparatively, Swift, which is much younger, is already on version 5.2.4. 

It is rare to find developers who think that Objective-C is the more stable language. Swift receives constant updates and development and was in part built to improve app stability. Looking forward to the future, Swift will only continue to improve. Additionally, with all of the development attention that Swift gets, it is natural to assume that this language will only continue to get more capable as time passes. 

User Experience

Regardless of whether you use Objective-C or Swift for building your app, you surely want to build a great iOS User Experience for your users. Native Apple apps look better and run faster than hybrid apps. Since both Objective-C and Swift are native languages, either one of these languages is capable of making a high-quality app for iOS. 

However, there is a difference between these languages when it comes to compatibility. Objective-C will work with any version of iOS, but Swift requires iOS 7 or newer to work. We are currently on iOS 14.4, so keep in mind that there are basically no users still running an iOS older than version 7. In other words, although there is a limitation for Swift in terms of the devices that support it, in practice, this is not much of a deal.

Recently, Apple released SwiftUI for iOS 13 and later. This UI design tool, which is built into Xcode 11, allows developers to build native apps for all Apple platforms using Swift. You can tinker with your UI by writing code or by adjusting the visual preview. 

While both Objective-C and Swift offer advantages for User Experience, Swift will surely outpace Objective-C. 

Code Performance

Performance is crucial when it comes to User Experience, but maintenance and refactoring are important as well. Swift was created by Apple to be fast. The company claims that Swift is nearly three times faster than Objective-C. This isn’t hard to believe considering that Swift requires only 30% of the code that Objective-C does to accomplish the same tasks. 

Fewer lines of code are not the only things that make Swift faster than Objective-C. Apple has outfitted Swift with Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) to optimize memory management. Swift supports Dynamic Libraries, which help boost the performance of an app. 

As time continues to pass, it seems like Swift will only continue to get faster than Objective-C thanks to its enhanced performance. 

Resources and Community

Objective-C has a lot of information and resources available for developers. It also has a large community of Objective-C developers. Nonetheless, Swift can easily compete with it in terms of documentation and communities.

Despite the age difference between Objective-C and Swift, they are actually pretty comparable when it comes to support and resources. This is because Swift is an open-source language. Objective-C is supported by Apple, but it is not an open-source language. As it often happens, open-source technologies flourish when they offer something that no one else does, and Swift is no exception to this phenomena

Open-source languages like Swift allow developers to see exactly how the language works and even make improvements to the language itself. Open-source languages tend to have more developers engaged with projects and there tend to be a lot more online resources available. Even though Swift is a lot newer than Objective-C, its openness means that there are also a wealth of resources available to aid developers in their projects. 

Swift Vs Objective-C: Final Thoughts

Apple tends to push its latest products and innovations the hardest. While Objective-C is still supported by Apple, the company promotes and encourages Swift’s use. While there are still a few advantages of using Objective-C for your app development, these advantages will continue to dwindle over time as Swift becomes the more dominant and popular language for Apple apps. 

If you’re concerned that Swift is just too new, you can rest easy knowing that Swift was developed by Apple with 30 years of Objective-C experience. While Swift makes many improvements to Objective-C, this is not a continuation of the former programming language. In fact, you can choose to use Swift and Objective-C in the same app if you want. Many companies, including tech giants Uber, use both Objective-C and Swift in their iOS apps. 

However, when it comes to choosing one of the two, experienced app developers choose Swift. So, if your app depends exclusively on Objective-C, it might be worth considering migrating completely to Swift.

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