Swift development sees fast uptake since being open sourced

Toward the end of last year, Newmarket, Ontario-based PerfectlySoft was waiting to see if an important bet would pay off: Would Apple open source its Swift development language?

That paid off, which has led to serious interest in the company’s Perfect Framework aimed allowing enterprises to benefit from Swift and using the same development language on both the front end and back end.

Six months later, Apple has updated Swift, announcing a developer preview of version 3.0 of the programming language, with general availability expected in late 2016. While the buzz from the developer community is that it’s an incremental release, there is a long list of features in the update, spanning API guidelines for the standard library to integration of testing into the Swift Package Manager. It also features better translation of Objective-C APIs into Swift.

Since announcing its Perfect Framework, PerfectlySoft has received a lot of validation from the developer world, said CEO Sean Stephens, and has started to build out a team around the offering, having raised $1.5 million funding here in Canada, including York Region Angel Investors. He said angel investors normally don’t put money in that quickly, and it’s usually small amounts.

Stephens said the company has some partnerships in the hopper with some major cloud companies that can’t be disclosed as yet. Cloud providers are showing a lot of interest, now that IBM has put its hat in the ring, he said, and having a big player such as IBM step into the competitive landscape has actually be a good thing because the question was whether the enterprise was really going to adopt Swift. “We haven’t heard that since IBM stepped in. That really helped us.”

Right now, the initial uses for the Perfect framework are bridging mobile applications with the enterprise side, said Stephens. Mobile has become the anchor for many cloud applications, and will eventually drive web and other technologies. “Any enterprise building mobile applications that are not considering a full-stack Switft solution are not looking hard enough and putting themselves at a disadvantage.”

Glenn Longacre, CEO of Cato Solutions Inc., said the company found itself needing the Perfect framework for its Smirkee app, which eight months came out of a previous motion recognition software that had only existed on the desktop, not mobile. The company started with iOS and had hoped Apple would open access up to Facetime, but when that didn’t happen, it was apparent it needed help.

Longacre said it was a lot easier working on the front end and back end using the same platform; it also reduced costs. Smirkee is a complex app that analyzes facial expressions and layers its capabilities over the video chat. “We’re referencing an API constantly.” Using the same platform also addresses latency, he said, a key challenge for the app.

The Smirkee app is going to become even more complex as it goes into deeper emotions than the basic seven it recognizes right now so it can be used in medical applications, said Longacre, which will make it more complex, and he sees Swift and the Perfect framework keeping development as streamlined as possible as it moves beyond iOS and into the fragmented Android OS.

Forrester principal analyst Michael Facemire said the interest in Swift in indicative of the pendulum gravitating toward having a single language up the entire software stack. “If you look back through the last 25 years we vacillate between a single language up and down the stack and multiple languages.”

JavaScript has become default for developing on the front-end, he said, but it’s really different from how the back-end developers build stuff. “There’s a lot of challenges.” There was a great deal buzz when Apple first announced Swift two years ago, but Facemire said it’s important to remember the baseline for developing in iOS was pretty low. “Objective-C was so terrible.”

And as much as open sourcing Swift has widened access to more developers and more use cases, he doesn’t see full stack Swift replacing full stack JavaScript, but Swift is a great opportunity for those who want to change styles. And even, using Swift on the front end and the back end are two different ways of thinking. He said even if both have the same language, the number of developers who are good at both front end development, which address user experience and layout, and the backend, which encompasses performance, API and data granularity are few and far between. “The concept of full stack developer is a tough sell.”

However, there will definitely be increased efficiency if the front and backend developers are working in the same language.

“In software development there are rarely panaceas,” he said. “There’s never going to be one language to rule them all.” The good thing is that it’s not just as relatively small player such as PerfectlySoft pushing Swift – big players including IBM and Apple have a stake, so Swift is not going away.

“It’s a good time to be experimenting.”

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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