Explainer Technical

Why Swift (isn’t) being undermined of its potential

I saw a question posted to /r/Swift:

Why is Swift being undermined of its potential?

The question was lengthy, but boiled down to “Why isn’t Apple donating resources to turn Swift into a dominant language that does everything?” Well, I’ll tell you.

Apple has one purpose in the world:

  • It buys raw commodities
  • It passes them through manufacturing processes that are cost prohibitive to duplicate
  • It turns the result into a sale at many multiples the cost of the inputs

What is Swift’s potential? To help them generate billions of dollars in margins on great big industrial quantities of silica, aluminum and precious metals through value-add intellectual property. Is it meeting that potential?

Swift didn’t exist when I started making iOS apps. Today, it’s a ubiquitous, eagerly adopted component of the developer experience with a thriving ecosystem of OSS projects, community discussion, and third party documentation. It is laying the groundwork for a unified user interface API that works across all of Apple’s platforms. That’s essential, because platform differentiation requires apps. Without the coolest, most interesting, most beautiful, most socially transformational apps being built for their hardware, Apple doesn’t have a future. Without ongoing growth in hardware margins, Apple doesn’t have a future.

Apple needs to build more hardware platforms, and for those platforms to succeed in the market, they have to have good software ready to roll. Finding strategies to lower the cost of maintaining apps within their ecosystem and across device classes is crucial to the success of that project. The AppKit/UIKit schism was a historical necessity, but an entirely unsustainable long term strategy.

Swift exists to make the process of building those apps more accessible, more reliable, more intuitive, more cross-device scalable for teams of all sizes. Building an entire language, libraries and ecosystem is wildly expensive. Apple does it for strategic benefit, not as a hobby. Within those strategic goals, Swift has been successful at meeting its immediate potential, and as an early adopter of SwiftUI, I think we’ve only seen the beginning of how Swift is a foundation for their long term goals.

If you’re wondering why a strategic asset works the way it does, you just go back to the strategy of its sponsors. No, Swift’s goals and governance don’t work like Go, or like Rust. Its evolution is guided by the priorities Apple has of making magic happen on its own platforms. Anything else that happens is a lower priority, or a second order effect of Apple’s primary strategy.