Over the last two years, Apple has quietly but steadily made big progress with Swift, its super-popular programming language for iPhone apps, lauded as both faster and more elegant than anything else out there.
It’s definitely Apple’s most visible play around appealing to developers. But it’s certainly not its first:
Since 1987, wholly-owned Apple subsidiary FileMaker has been selling database software to help make it easy for small businesses to make their own apps for computers, the web, and more recently, smartphones.
And while it lacks the new shine of Swift, FileMaker has quietly built a solid, millions-strong customer base for itself over the decades, with Apple pushing FileMaker to local businesses from its retail stores.
But here’s the thing: Despite the fact that Swift and FileMaker both carry the Apple pedigree, there was no way to use the two together — effectively barring Apple’s FileMaker customers from moving towards Swift as they continued to build out their smartphone apps.
This is where a startup called PerfectlySoft comes in. Today, PerfectlySoft announces that their flagship product Perfect, which allows Swift to run on servers as well as it does on the iPhone, gets a free FileMaker integration.
“It could really pull FileMaker into the iOS world,” says PerfectlySoft CEO Sean Stephens. “Now, you can use Apple’s entire ecosystem.”
It’s a small move that could have a big impact on Apple’s plan to make Swift “the major language for the next 20 years of programming in our industry,” as Apple VP Craig Federighi put it in 2015.
The importance of Swift everywhere
Here’s how building a Swift app works, out of the box.
First, you write your app. Then, if you want to have your app synchronise data with a server somewhere on the internet — and name a modern app that doesn’t — you need to put Swift away, and pull out a language like Python or PHP to write the so-called “server-side” portion of your app.
That means that if you want to use Swift, you need two kinds of experts on your team: One, to write the app, and a second to handle the server stuff. That’s fine if you’re, say, Lyft, which can employ a dozen or so programmers on each side even as it moves to embrace Swift.
But it’s less great if you’re FileMaker’s ideal audience of small businesses. Which is why integrating the two is so important, Stephens says.
“FileMaker developers would be foolish to learn PHP, but genius to learn Swift,” Stephens says.
Which is to say, by using the Perfect integration, a developer can take their databases from FileMaker, use Swift to build an application around it, and then keep using Swift to build the server stuff, too. You only have to be an expert in the one thing.
And as FileMaker developers increasingly take their existing web apps and bring them to the iPhone, in line with modern trends, it gives them the option to use Swift, which is definitely looking like the wave of the future in programming of all kinds.
That’s a big opportunity for PerfectlySoft in particular, given that Apple hasn’t really shown many signs of wanting to bring FileMaker and its millions of customers closer to the cutting edge of technology.
“They haven’t really made it an obvious part of their strategy,” Stephens says.
Ultimately, Stephens sees this move as just another way that Swift is going to get everywhere and be everywhere, on all devices. Apple is expected to officially launch the third version of Swift very soon, which will open the doors to letting developers write apps on Windows, PCs, and Android phones, as well as Macs and iPhones.
From there, Swift is poised to take over the world. And by making it more accessible to everyone, PerfectlySoft sees it as paving the way for Apple’s success.
“It really is a huge opportunity for Apple,” Stephens says. “I think we provide a big part of that opportunity.”
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