As a company, Apple has a well-earned reputation for CIA-caliber secrecy. New products are developed under tight security, employees always refuse to comment on new projects and good luck trying to get a quote out of an executive if you’re a member of the press.
With that in mind, the company’s latest move is a bit of a shocker: the debut of an official blog devoted to Swift, meant to provide “a behind-the-scenes look into the design of the Swift language by the engineers who created it.” The postings will also provide news and tips for developers working with the language.
Apple unveiled Swift during the first day of this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. The platform is meant to eclipse Objective-C, which developers in Apple’s ecosystem have used for many years to program apps for Mac and iOS devices.
Swift will display outputs in real time, giving developers instant feedback—a potentially welcome change from those programming languages that require the compiling of huge swaths of code in order to view results. Real-time outputs spare developers from having to pick through code line-by-line to figure out what might have gone wrong with their work.
Apple’s first substantive blog entry focuses on compatibility, and how Swift-built apps will supposedly work not only with the upcoming iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, but also the current iOS 7 and OS Mavericks: “This is possible because Xcode embeds a small Swift runtime library within your app’s bundle. Because the library is embedded, your app uses a consistent version of Swift that runs on past, present, and future OS releases.”
The entry also deals with binary compatibility and frameworks, as well as source compatibility: “We have big plans for the Swift language, including improvements to syntax, and powerful new features. And as Swift evolves, we will provide tools in Xcode to help you migrate your source code forward.” (Those who want to start working with Swift can also download Apple’s 500-page book on the programming language, available via iTunes.)
Given the size of Apple’s ecosystem, it’s natural to assume that Swift will become a major programming language. It could take some time, however, for the language to become ubiquitous. For instance, new programming-language ranking from analyst firm RedMonk (based on public data from GitHub and Stack Overflow) placed Swift in the 68th slot. “Depending on your perspective, this is either low for a language this significant or impressive for a language that is a few weeks old,” read RedMonk’s blog posting on the matter. “Either way, it seems clear that—whatever its technical issues and limitations—Swift is a language that is going to be a lot more popular, and very soon.”
In the meantime, Apple remains reliably close-lipped about this whole iWatch thing.
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