It was a big risk: Swift is still largely untested in real-world apps, having only been introduced in 2014.
Meanwhile, Objective-C, the language that most iPhone apps are written in, was invented in 1984, making it a very tried-and-true and familiar experience for many programmers.
But it was also a very calculated risk, explains Lyft CTO Chris Lambert. With Swift, Apple “signal led that this was the future” of iPhone app development, Lambert says, and Lyft wanted to be ready for whatever came next.
“It turned out to be a really fortuitous move,” Lambert says.
In the year since rewriting its iPhone app in Swift, Lambert says, it’s been able to add more features faster while simultaneously cutting down on the time it takes to open the app. The net result: More iPhone owners taking more Lyft rides, which is very good for business.
It’s had some other, mostly unanticipated benefits, too. In the last year, Lambert says, they have actually doubled the lines of code that powers the Lyft app, owning largely to the fact that the startup’s developers are that much more productive in the new language.
Outside of Lyft, Swift is winning praise as the easiest programming language to learn, and one that’s just fun to write code. Lambert praises Apple for its willingness to use Swift to rethink how programming languages are made.
“Every small detail of the language has been rebuilt,” Lambert says.
Swift on the job
Plus, adopting Swift in such a big way was a sign to top job candidates that they’re not just “dabbling” in the programming language, meaning that they have added 10 new Swift developers in the last year alone — no mean feat amid the ongoing Silicon Valley talent recruitment wars. Lyft is serious about Swift, and the developer community is responding.
The switch to Swift brought new energy to Lyft’s iPhone team, Lambert says. When Swift was first announced in 2014, Lambert says, Lyft’s developers started teaching themselves the new programming language on nights and weekends in preparation for the big shift.
People were so excited, they got a little ahead of themselves: it wasn’t yet time to move over from Objective-C. “We actually had to actively stop people from using Swift,” Lambert says.
Still, Lambert says that he’s glad Lyft made the move when it did: Rewriting the app “is not a trivial effort,” he says, and the sooner they did it, the less code they’d have to reinvent in Swift from scratch.
In the meanwhile, Lambert admits Lyft runs into “rough edges” with Swift here and there, but Apple is working hard with the programming language’s community to make it better for everybody.
“Apple has been very, very responsive to getting the kinks worked out,” Lambert says.
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