IBM and Apple move swiftly to leverage Swift

Apple SwiftOnce upon a time, back in June of 2014, Apple released Swift. IBM and Apple announced their joint agreement around mobility one month later in July. And then life seemed to return to normal. While Apple developers and some IBM developers (those working on the 100 MobileFirst apps that IBM committed to delivering on iOS) understood just how useful Swift was, its impact was tempered because it was a client-side iOS-only language.

And then, everything changed. In December 2015, Swift was open-sourced by Apple. At the same time, Swift on Linux was also released after significant efforts during 2015 by Apple and IBM to craft server-side capabilities into Swift.

Apple’s motive in creating Swift was quite simple: fix the clunky native development language (Objective C) for Apple mobile devices. Brian Croll (Apple's VP of Marketing) in an apparent moment of honesty, called using C or C++ “just a bummer.” The design goal of Swift is to make it easy to develop native applications while also ensuring that the growing array of device capabilities can also be leveraged.

Swift is also a modern language which performs as well as C++, is far faster than a scripting language, and includes new features like type inferencing, closures, and generics. IBM is also adding capabilities in order to bring Swift to the cloud. These include a new web framework to build Rest-based APIs on the server, adding Swift support for OpenWhisk in order to effectively build event-driven applications, and leveraging Swift’s native package manager.

IBM’s support for Swift makes perfect sense. While IBM was a huge supporter of Java back in the day, Java is now 20 years old and was not built to effectively deal with mobility, security, or the cloud. Although Javascript was the #1 language as of the beginning of 2015, this is likely to change when Swift for Android becomes available. If Swift 3 can address the portability issues that helped drive JavaScript and the web platform to prominence, then it seems pretty clear that Swift will become the leading programming language.

It is interesting to speculate on Apple’s decision to open-source Swift. Clearly Apple and IBM see the mass adoption of Swift as a way to better mainstream their mobility initiatives. Although Apple is the preferred device within the enterprise, Android devices are the overwhelming market leader in terms of share. Once we begin to see Android-based Swift apps come to market, repurposing these applications to Apple devices will be easy.

While this will cut both ways, Apple clearly expects that this gives them a competitive advantage and a way to significantly improve their market share. Since Swift will level the application playing field, success in the market becomes a function of whose mobile device offer then most compelling features. This will clearly mean advantage Apple.

IBM’s partnership with Apple is the first of many. Therefore, IBM sees a win in the short term because of their close association with Swift and Apple. As Swift on Android plays out, IBM’s head start in Swift will serve them well regardless of how the Android/iOS device competition unfolds. IBM has always been about support for heterogeneous IT environments and as Swift use becomes pervasive, IBM will be well positioned to showcase their deep support and integration with Swift. This could then mean advantage IBM.

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