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Stop the funeral! Objective-C is alive and kicking

Paul Krill | Aug. 12, 2015
Objective-C may no longer be the stylish language choice for Apple iOS and Mac OS development -- that mantle is being assumed by Swift, introduced in mid-2014. But proponents of Objective-C don't expect it to go away quietly anytime soon.

Stop the funeral! Objective-C is alive and kicking
Credit: Brian Robert Marshall

Objective-C may no longer be the stylish language choice for Apple iOS and Mac OS development -- that mantle is being assumed by Swift, introduced in mid-2014. But proponents of Objective-C don't expect it to go away quietly anytime soon.

In fact, they believe it will be around for many years due to its familiarity and stability. "Apple is going to be supporting Objective-C for another decade," says Aaron Hillegass, CEO and founder of Big Nerd Ranch, which provides mobile app development and training, including in Apple-based technologies such as iOS. "I think you'll be able to write new iOS and Mac apps using Objective-C for at least a decade."

Naysayers have not been optimistic about Objective-C. An InfoWorld article in May, in fact, cited 10 reasons for moving to Objective-C, including that it's easier to read and maintain, as well as safer, faster, and requiring less coding. Swift is positioned by Apple as offering concise yet expressive syntax as well as being interactive and enabling development of fast apps. Other Apple documentation, however, still cites Objective-C as "the primary language" for writing iOS and Mac OS software.

Plenty of investments in Objective-C

Apple app builders still stand in Objective-C's corner. "There is too large of an investment by Apple in existing Objective-C code for there to be any cutoff of Objective-C support anytime in the medium term -- four to seven years -- and quite possibly for the long term -- 10-plus years," consultant Christopher Allen says. "However, you may see at some point in the future APIs will be available as Swift-only APIs, but even this is not likely for years. If that happens, it will be the real harbinger that the end of Objective-C is on its way. Otherwise, a eulogy is premature."

Even Hillegass's recent presentation, entitled "A Eulogy for Objective-C," turns out to have a twist, proclaiming, "Objective-C is not really dead." Hillegass says during his speech, given in June in San Francisco: "I have to admit that I really love Objective-C. Everyone's been talking about what a wonderful language Swift is and it's a nice little incremental improvement Objective-C. But it's not really a radical departure." Objective-C, he says, has allowed him to build class structures and do low-level programming without having to work too hard. Hillegass says he is a 20-year Objective-C veteran.

An Objective-C developer who wrote an essay, "Why Objective-C is Doomed," last year, calling Swift transitional and not complementary, also sees life left for the language. "The question I think everyone really wants to know is how long will Apple support Objective-C," author Sam Ritchie now says. "This will be measured in years."

 

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