7 Best iOS App Programming Language You Have to Know

In 2021, over 4.32 billion unique mobile devices accessed the internet, making up more than 90% of that year’s internet traffic. The mobile industry has been expanding steadily since its inception, with no signs of stopping. Apple, which launched its first iPhone in 2007, now boasts over a billion iOS devices in use worldwide. In the U.S., iPhones make up 48.7% of the smartphone market, and the Apple App Store generates over $640 billion in global billings and sales.

Developing an iOS app no longer strictly requires native code. Several iOS app programming languages have been developed over the years, offering diverse options for iOS application development. If you’re thinking about targeting the iOS market with your next app, it’s smart to evaluate these options to choose the best language for your project.

This guide will review the top programming languages for iOS app development in 2024. We will look at their performance, strengths and weaknesses, community support, and learning curves to help you and your team make the best choice.

I. What is iOS App Development?

Apple iOS operates on most of Apple’s mobile devices. Initially, it was used for both iPhones and iPads; however, in 2019, Apple launched iPadOS. While both operating systems share a similar foundation, iPadOS has features tailored to the tablet’s specific functions. iPhones continue to use the standard iOS.

best ios app programming

iOS app development

For iOS app development, Apple suggests using Xcode, its integrated development environment (IDE), which supports multiple ios programming languages. This environment supports all stages of app development:

  • Coding
  • Building the app structure
  • Designing the user interface
  • Testing and debugging
  • Enhancing app performance
  • Choosing a business model

In Xcode, the primary ios app languages for development are Swift and Objective-C, considered some of the best languages for iOS development. However, developers can also use JavaScript with React Native, Dart with Flutter, and C# with MAUI to create iOS apps.

It’s important to note that Xcode is only available on Mac computers. Users of other operating systems can use virtualization software to run Xcode, or they can access it through a cloud service like MacStadium.

Developing an iOS app outside of Xcode is possible but notably more challenging. Using Xcode is highly recommended.

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II. Top Programming Languages for iOS App Development

1. Swift

Leading iOS app development language Swift is a programming language developed by Apple, designed for creating applications across all Apple platforms, including iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS. Primarily, it is used for building native iOS apps.

Apple designed Swift to simplify and accelerate app development within its ecosystem. It integrates with various frameworks such as Cocoa Touch, CloudKit, AVFoundation, and more.

coding languages for ios apps

Swift

As of January 2023, Swift ranks 11th in the Tiobe index, which shows the popularity of this programming languages. 

When to use Swift:

Swift is ideal for developing iOS apps that require quick delivery and the potential for future expansion. It ensures optimal performance by eliminating the need for intermediaries that other languages use to translate code for iOS platforms.

Notable companies like Airbnb, LinkedIn, and Lyft use Swift for their iOS applications.

Pros:

  • Native language for iOS apps
  • Easy to learn for beginners
  • Stable and reliable
  • Regularly updated
  • Scalable
  • Supports rapid app development
  • Automatic memory management

Cons:

  • Fewer Swift developers available
  • Less community support compared to languages like Python, Java, and C++

2. Objective-C

Objective-C, developed by Apple, is the original programming language used to create MacOS and iOS. It is an object-oriented language and a superset of C, enhancing C with additional features.

Swift has become increasingly popular as the main language for iOS developers, with nearly 5% of developers using it in 2022, compared to about 2% for Objective-C. However, learning Objective-C might still be beneficial due to the significant amount of existing Apple legacy code written in it, which will require time to convert.

best language for ios apps

Objective-C

When to Use Objective-C:

  • Develop new iOS apps, especially for earlier iOS versions.
  • Update and maintain older iOS applications.
  • Many of Apple’s built-in apps and iOS itself are built using Objective-C.

Pros:

  • Compatible with C and C++.
  • Extensive documentation is available.
  • Strong support from a large developer community.
  • Wide selection of third-party frameworks and libraries.
  • Works with older versions of Apple’s operating systems.

Cons:

  • Decreasing in popularity.
  • Complex syntax that can be difficult to master.
  • Necessitates maintaining separate header and implementation files.
  • Inherits security risks from C.

3. Dart

Dart is a type-safe programming language developed by Google, primarily for building mobile and web applications. It supports fast, flexible development across multiple platforms.

Using Dart with the Flutter framework enables developers to create apps for various platforms using one single codebase. To develop and release an iOS application using Flutter, developers need Xcode and a Mac.

best language for ios development

Dart

When to Consider Dart:

As a coding language for iOS apps, Dart might not be the first choice for building iOS applications from scratch unless you are already proficient in Dart and Flutter. Utilizing familiar tools and knowledge can help save time and reduce costs.

Google Pay and Abbey Road Studios Topline are examples of apps built with Dart and Flutter for iOS and Android platforms.

Pros:

  • Easy to learn, especially for those familiar with JavaScript
  • Faster performance compared to JavaScript
  • Enables development for iOS and Android from one codebase
  • Compatible with various devices and screen sizes

Cons:

  • Dart is a relatively new language
  • Fewer support resources available
  • Only about 7% of developers use Dart

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4. C#

Microsoft developed C# as an alternative to the Java language. It is a high-level, general-purpose, object-oriented programming language. It is highly regarded in the field of Microsoft app development, similar to the role Objective-C plays for Apple.

A StackOverflow survey highlights C# as one of the most versatile coding languages globally. It also ranks 5th in the Tiobe index for August 2021.

ios app programming language

C#

When to use C#:

C#, a programming language to develop iOS apps, helps save time and costs when targeting multiple platforms. The Olo app illustrates this approach well. It combines a C# core with specific platform code to improve user experience.

Pros:

  • Strong community support, being a popular and mature language
  • Open-source
  • High performance
  • Extensive library
  • Supports cross-platform development
  • User-friendly
  • Many C# developers available
  • Scalable and can be updated

Cons:

  • Challenging for beginners due to a steep learning curve
  • Limited flexibility as it depends on the Microsoft.NET framework

5. JavaScript

Web technologies, specifically HTML 5, CSS, and JavaScript, are foundational for creating web apps. Each technology has a distinct role:

  • HTML structures the app’s interface elements.
  • CSS styles these elements visually.
  • JavaScript brings interactivity and animation to these elements and handles the app’s logic.

Encapsulating the code in a container is necessary for iOS app development using these web technologies. This container allows the app to be published and run on iOS platforms. Apache’s Cordova project is a commonly used solution for this.

ios programming language

JavaScript

When to Use JavaScript:

JavaScript iOS app development language is used by developers who want to develop iOS and Android apps with a single codebase. You also don’t need to learn the official iOS languages.

Pros:

  • Large talent pool
  • Supports multiple platforms
  • Open-source
  • Easy to learn, particularly for beginners
  • Enables the creation of offline apps

Cons:

  • Limited functionality compared to native apps
  • Issues with responsive design

6. HTML5

HTML5 stands for HyperText Markup Language 5, the latest standard for HTML, the code that structures and presents content on the web. Developers often pair it with CSS and JavaScript, making up the core technologies for building web frontends.

HTML5 can be utilized to develop iOS applications using tools like Apache Cordova. As of 2022, HTML and CSS are the second most popular technologies.

ios application development language

HTML5

When to Choose HTML5:

Opt for HTML5 if you aim to develop a straightforward iOS app swiftly, especially one also available offline. If your team includes specialists in HTML5, it’s a practical choice for such app development.

Pros:

  • Cost-effective
  • Enables offline app access
  • Works on multiple platforms
  • Ensures consistent experience across browsers
  • Supports good page ranking
  • Access to a broad range of developers

Cons:

  • Cannot build native apps
  • Limited functionality compared to native
  • Requires modern browsers
  • Media licensing can be complicated
  • May encounter responsive design challenges

7. Java

Many consider Java the best language for iOS app development due to its versatility. It operates by allowing code to run on any platform without recompilation.

Globally, over 9 million developers use Java, ranking it the 6th most utilized language.

While Java is a top choice for Android app development, it also supports building cross-platform.

ios app language

Java

When to Use Java:

Java is not typically chosen for iOS app development. However, if you’re expanding an Android app originally written in Java, it could also be efficient to use Java for the iOS version.

applications.

Pros:

  • Flexibility
  • Fits native and cross-platform development
  • Offers a range of functionalities
  • Scalable and can be updated easily
  • Benefits from a large community
  • Prioritizes security
  • Provides automatic garbage collection
  • Open-source

Cons:

  • Tends to be verbose
  • May result in slower performance
  • Can lead to complex code structures
  • Often requires significant memory

5 Key Steps to Consider Before Developing Your iOS App

Step 1: Know Your Target Market

Before you start developing your iOS app, it is essential to understand the demographics and behavior of your target audience clearly. Knowing how they use their devices and what features they value most will guide the design and functionality of your app. Additionally, understanding your audience simplifies running targeted ad campaigns since you know exactly whom you are addressing. Begin with comprehensive market research to identify your potential users based on gender, age, location, and other relevant criteria.

Step 2: Know The Problem You Are Solving

As you plan to develop your iOS application, it is crucial to understand the problem your app aims to solve clearly. This should be the initial step because users are unlikely to adopt an app that does not address a specific need or problem. Understanding the problem also helps identify whether there are existing competitors in the market.

Step 3: The Scope Of Your Application

Once you have defined the primary purpose of your app, the next step is to outline its capabilities. For example, if you are developing a fitness app, you should initially decide which exercises and functionalities to include. While the scope of your app can expand in the future, it is advisable to set a solid foundation regarding the app’s capabilities initially.

Step 4: What Devices To Support

Apple has been manufacturing iPhones since 2007, and choosing which models to support with your app is important. Your app’s features and performance will determine which iOS devices and operating system versions are suitable. This decision will also guide which programming languages you can use to develop the app, ensuring compatibility and optimal performance.

Step 5: Evaluate Your Capacity To Build The App

Developing an iOS app requires diverse skills and a team of specialists. Before beginning the development process, assess whether you have the necessary talent and resources to create your envisioned app. Your team may need to include frontend and backend developers, UX and UI designers, a graphic designer, QA testers, and a project manager. For startups, it’s common for one developer to fulfill multiple roles initially. As your project grows, consider hiring remote developers to expand your development capabilities and scale your application.

Conclusion

As the use of iOS devices continues to rise, the potential for iOS apps grows. Owning a large part of the smartphone market and substantial revenue from the Apple App Store, developing an iOS app can be a strategic move. Choosing the right iOS app programming language, such as Swift or Objective-C, and understanding the technical requirements, including which iOS versions to support, are crucial steps in this process.

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