Apple's plan to dominate apps is wildly successful even though it still has a major flaw

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The latest version of Apple’s young programming language, Swift, will be one of the stars of the show at Apple’s World Wide Developers conference (WWDC) which begins June 13.

The programming world has never seen anything like Swift. Apple launched the new programming language a mere two years ago. And its name was a premonition — it caught on like wildfire.

As of this week, some 59% of people building iOS apps are using Swift, compared to 39% who are still building apps with the former programming language, ObjectiveC, among the 100,000 developers using the young and up-and-coming mobile database called Realm, says Realm VP Tim Anglade.

But Swift still has a major problem

Even more interesting, many of Realms users are enterprise app developers, people building custom mobile apps for a company’s customers, employees, or partners.

Apple WWDC poem about appsAppleApple wrote this poem about apps for its WWDC 2016 conference

That’s traditionally a group that’s slower to adopt new stuff. They prefer to wait until the new stuff is stable.

“Swift has crossed the chasm — if you’re not using it you’re behind,” Anglade tells us.

What’s crazy is that these folks are flocking to Swift even though it still suffers from a major flaw. It’s not stable. Every time Apple releases a new version of Swift to give developers access to the new features in iOS, Anglade says it breaks their apps.

And we’re not even talking about a new major version. The minor upgrades every few months break stuff, Anglade says.

Normally something like that would cause the developer community to throw tantrums.

But Apple open-sourced Swift, meaning Apple opened the language up so that everyone can see it and submit their own changes and updates to it if they want.

As a result, the development of Swift has been done publicly. And that means Apple has had to be upfront about Swift’s problems.

The big new release of Swift that will be previewed at WWDC next month is Swift 3.0. Developers were originally promised that with 3.0, this app-breaking problem would be solved.

But earlier this month, the guy running the Swift project for Apple, Chris Lattner, had to admit that would not be. He said the Swift team didn’t have enough time to fix it. The new plan is to fix it by version 4.0.

Some developers have criticised Apple for rushing on Swift like this and for using version numbers like 3.0, that imply Swift is in its third generation, and should be stable.

But many others are taking that news in stride. They think Swift is so much easier to use, and produces better, faster-performing apps, that they are being patient while this new language gets built.

“Swift 3.0 will be a big change, and an exciting one. It’s still a change that will break our code, but it should be the last one, and honestly, the changes really are about removing undesired features, and that’s definitely progress!” writes Fernando Rodriguez, who created a class on Swift for Udacity.

Swift is so popular, Google is flummoxed

Apps written in Swift run on Macs, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. And IBM jumped in to create a version of Swift for Linux servers. That means that programmers can use Swift to write sophisticated business software that will run in a data center, not on an Apple device.

The stampede to Swift is so overwhelming that Anglade has heard rumours that Google might try to adopt Swift, allowing it to be used to write Android apps.

The NextWeb’s Nate Swanner recently reported that Google, Facebook, and Uber held meetings to discuss the possibility.

And that would be a huge advantage for Apple. The idea for Swift was to flood the market with app developers who were experts at building apps for all of Apple’s devices.

That means that as developers thought up new apps, they would build them for Apple’s products first.

So far, the plan is succeeding beyond even Apple’s wildest dreams.

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