Looking to design your own iOS app, but not sure what programming language to learn?
You’ve started with the right question.
Before you can begin work on your app, you need to decide what language you want to code it in.
You see, not all languages are created equal, and the results you get are determined in large part by the framework you choose to use.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly what language options you have for coding iOS apps. We’ll look at the ups and downs of programming in those languages, and resources for learning them.
Finally, we’ll cover strategies you can use to skyrocket your learning speed and get your app to market in record time.
But first, we need to consider a basic question. You see, the “best” language to learn depends entirely on the goals you’ve set forth for your app.
So let’s start there: does your app even require you to learn how to code?
How to know if you need to code your app from scratch
Before you start learning a programming language, you need to understand the goals of the app you’d like to develop.
Start by looking at what you hope the app will accomplish. Are you looking to provide additional features for an existing business? Make a side income? Disrupt an industry?
These are all different types of apps, and they have massively different requirements for the time and expertise required.
Based on what you want to do, you can make a general estimate of the total number of hours it’ll take to develop the app.
You can expect a minimum of 300 hours of coding time for a simple app, with the average app taking around twice that.
(Remember this doesn’t include any time spent learning how to code or developing demos. It’s only the actual development process of the final app.)
Next, think about what your personal goals are for the app. There are no right or wrong answers, but you need to be honest with yourself.
Do you aspire to become an app developer, or is this a one-off project? Do you plan on designing a number of apps over the course of the next few years?
Knowing your goals will help you understand the time investment you can put into making the app a reality.
As you’ve seen, there’s a ton of time required to make a good app.
With that barrier in mind, I’d like to honestly put forth our product, BuildFire. It’s a simpler way to design apps quickly. Unlike coding, it uses a drag-and-drop interface that’s easy to use.
This isn’t just sales pitch, though. You don’t have to use our software to benefit from this advice.
Here’s the problem I see all the time. Someone has a brilliant idea for an app, and they want to get started immediately by coding it themselves.
After about a week, he or she is overwhelmed with the technology. Many give up, but those who push through spend months rewriting code they hacked out before learning it properly.
Usually, these people either give up entirely or end up outsourcing the project for thousands of dollars.
With BuildFire, you can add dozens of different types of functionalities to your app without worrying about bugs in your code or a new software update making everything obsolete.
Imagine you wanted to make a nice pasta for dinner, but instead of buying spaghetti you buy flour, eggs, and a pasta maker. Instead of a jar of sauce, you buy tomatoes and basil.
It’ll be a frustrating process to make all your ingredients from scratch. Worse, the final meal won’t be very good. You need practice and experience to make something that tastes good.
Coding an app is no different. I’ve seen too many people’s dreams die because they insist on doing everything themselves.
If you’d rather do it on your own, though, you need to understand the requirements for starting an iOS app development project.
Prerequisites to coding your first app
Before you get started with a language for coding, you’ll need to set up the right tools.
Apple has its own software for building iOS apps called Xcode. It serves as an editor for your code, as well as a debugging tool and way to preview your apps before you launch them.
Xcode is free to download, but it only runs on Mac computers. One of the most powerful features of Xcode is the ability to preview your apps through the system.
Currently, there are over a dozen iOS devices available, and each one takes up less than 20% of the overall market.
This makes app development challenging because different devices have different screen sizes, resolutions and capabilities.
An app that requires a retina screen resolution, camera, or phone capabilities won’t work with every device.
Compounding the problem is the complexity of operating system usage. The most recent data from Apple suggests that about one in nine users is using outdated iOS software.
With all this confusion, Xcode makes the process of app testing easier. You can simulate a variety of devices and operating systems to adjust your development accordingly.
If you’re going to be producing apps for the app store through Xcode, you’ll need to subscribe to submit apps. It will cost $99 to get started before you can sell to the app store.
You’ll also need to go through the approval process by Apple before the app becomes available to download or purchase.
This is important when you’re just starting because you’ll need to have an in-depth understanding of Apple’s complex guidelines on font usage, spacing, and other details.
As you design, ensure you use best practices and build an app that works well across different devices.
Finally, you’ll need to make sure you use Apple’s native controls to make your apps look their best.
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These things may sound trivial, but each element plays a role in whether or not your app is approved by Apple.
You must have a good understanding of Apple’s approval guidelines to ensure your hard work gets rejected from the app store at the last minute.
Now that you know what’s required to learn and set up before starting development, let’s dive deep into the languages used to code iPhone apps.
The best languages for coding iOS apps
When it comes down to it, there are really just two languages used for iOS development. The primary languages that dominate are Objective-C and Swift.
Of course, you can use all kinds of different languages to code iOS apps, just like you can use a butter knife instead of a screwdriver to handle household repairs.
But by and large, they require significant workarounds that aren’t worth the effort. Let’s start with the language Apple has supported from the beginning.
When first developing iOS apps, Apple chose the Objective-C language.
It was licensed by Apple cofounder Steve Jobs when he founded NeXT computers in the 1980s, and he carried the language over to Apple.
Like many other programming languages like C++ and C#, Objective-C is based on the language C.
This means the basic structure and syntax is similar to C, and many of the features will be familiar to programmers who already know C.
Objective-C gives you a lot of insight into the way the technical side of programming works, and can also form a sort of bridge should you ever venture into other branches of C.
However, if you’re going to be designing an iOS app, I honestly can’t recommend starting with Objective-C.
The reason is that in 2014, Apple launched their own programming language known as Swift.
They’ve called it “Objective-C without the C,” and by all appearances prefer programmers use Swift. It’s becoming more widespread, and is the default programming language for iOS apps.
Objective-C isn’t going to disappear,bBut learning Objective-C is like learning how to build carriages at the turn of the century, when you could become an automobile mechanic instead.
Here’s the basics of Swift.
Swift is one of the most recent additions in a long line of programming languages designed to be better than the previous languages they intend on disrupting.
Swift is easier to use than Objective-C, and it’s clearly the future of iOS app development. It’s the starting place of anyone developing apps for the iPhone or iPad.
Swift boasts some large names using its code, including the Firefox and WordPress iOS apps. As the years progress, large companies will continue to transition to the new language.
It’s a good idea to stay ahead of the curve and get familiar with Swift.
One of the nicest features of Swift it its ease of use. It cleans up a lot of the technical phrasing and complicated syntax that make Objective-C intimidating for beginners.
Since Swift was designed to be easy to use, it’s been received pretty well in the development community for those very features.
All the combined has made it one of the fastest growing languages in history.
If you’re going to design an app on your own, you should learn Swift as your programming language. It has the most future, the best prospects, and the full support of Apple.
But before we talk about how you can learn Swift, I’d like to mention something we’ve developed that you might find helpful.
BuildFire Software Development Kit (SDK)
If you’re looking to save massive amounts of time but still want to scratch the programming itch, the BuildFire SDK might be the ticket for you.
While BuildFire comes with plenty of functionality built in, there is an infinite amount of expandability you can create for apps built with the platform.
If you want to create something truly unique and groundbreaking, look no further than the BuildFire SDK. It’s a way to add new plugins and features to your app.
This is a great way to get started form the ground up with a proven system, but enjoy a little bit of programming fun when adding more complex features to your app.
The BuildFire SDK is a “best of both worlds” option that will save you tons of time in the long-term.
Now that you know which language to learn, how should you get started?
The best resources for learning iOS app development
If you’re just starting out with app development, I don’t recommend learning from scratch. You’ll end up with a piecemeal learning system that lacks basic components.
It’d be like learning architecture just by looking at buildings.
You might be able to create something that looks beautiful, but without understanding the underlying principles, your creations will be worthless or even dangerous.
The same applies to coding. You need to understand how to develop apps the correct way, without leaving your code full of gaping holes and bugs a malicious user can exploit.
Here are three great resources for learning how to code iOS apps.
Codecademy allows you to test out your learning as you go. This is a great way to experiment and get immediate feedback about how well you’re doing.
You can type your code into the browser and Codecademy will let you know if it’s right.
Another advantage of Codecademy is that it’s free. You can get started without paying a dime.
Treehouse functions by giving you access to thousands of videos taught by experts in each topic.
You’ll practice your knowledge in quizzes and reviews after the videos. Unlike Codecademy, it isn’t quite as immediate and direct, though you’ll still learn in an organized and systematic way.
It’s a great way to get started with what there is to learn about iOS app development in a friendly environment.
Treehouse is free for a week, then $25/month after that.
Code School works in a similar way to Treehouse, with the addition of fun challenges and gamification.
You can earn points and badges and win coding challenges. You’ll be able to interact with other users, which is another features not all coding sites have.
Code School costs $29/month, or $19/month when paid annually.
The program you decide to choose is up to you. I recommend trying out the different platforms and deciding which one fits your style best.
Speeding up the learning process
Let’s wrap things up with some principles you can use to skyrocket your learning and accomplish more in less time.
The simple fact is that if you’re going to make serious progress on your goals, you need to start learning how to program at lightning speed.
App development takes time, and you’ll need to budget in plenty of time to cover for moments when you fall behind.
In addition, remember that it’ll take up to a few weeks to just get your app approved in the Apple store, so keep that in mind when you’re looking for ways to save time.
That said, the faster you can learn how to get things done, the better.
This may sound difficult, but as long as you use to the right kinds of principles for learning faster, you can get a lot done.
First, understand that you’ll constantly be tempted to follow a series of unrelated tasks down to reach your ultimate destination, also known as yak shaving.
You by adding share buttons on your app, which requires the Facebook API, which requires rudimentary knowledge of the Facebook Opengraph, which requires metadata knowledge.
Avoid this rabbit trail of leads, and focus only on the fastest way to the functionality you need immediately.
Second, use the Pareto Principle to keep yourself focused on the most important critical tasks for your learning process.
Understand what the most important features of your app are, and focus on those. Don’t worry about exporting data to CSV if there’s no way to add data to the app yet.
Third, understand the fundamentals behind app development.
Every type of app requires a few of the basics. Learn how to set up the general framework needed for nearly every type of app, then build on that with specific knowledge.
Understanding the broad scope of app development will help you much more than learning miscellaneous pieces about different functions you may or may not ever use again.
With that in mind, you can set about learning as much as possible as quickly as possible, and get your app designed and to market with minimal hassle.
The final word on coding languages for iOS apps
In this article, you’ve learned the basics for getting started with your iOS app.
You’ve learned that coding your own app isn’t the easiest, fastest, or cheapest way to get your app to market.
Coding an iOS app yourself, especially if you’re new to development, is tedious and time-consuming.
It can be fun if you’re casually looking to pick up an interesting hobby on the side, and it’s vital if you want a career in the world of app development.
But if you’re looking at coding as a means to an end (like bringing an app idea to life), you’ll find the process of learning to code frustrating, and you’ll almost certainly fall behind schedule.
You’ll also need to learn the background behind development. You’ll need to learn how to code, use new software, and get set up with Apple’s strict app development guidelines.
If you’re looking to bring an app idea to life quickly, I recommend looking for a simpler framework to start with.
But for those positive coding is the right option, we’ve covered the two most common languages used in coding apps: Objective-C and Swift.
Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but since Swift is the preferred language of Apple and is quickly gaining popularity, it’s the natural starting point.
To speed up the coding process, I recommend you go with an interactive training program like Codecademy, Treehouse, and Code School.
Those sites will give you the skills you need, while providing direct and immediate feedback that will make your coding skills stand out more quickly.
Finally, you should look to focus on the aspects of coding most relevant to your app development.
Don’t waste time on the few aspects that aren’t really that important. To get your app to market fast, focus on the biggest features that will help create an app your users will love.
Now, get out there and design the app of your dreams!