Unexpected and exciting news for developers has emerged from the 2014 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where the keynote revealed an Xcode update, new tools for iCloud, updated APIs and app extensions — and most notably, a new programming language for iOS and OS X app development.
The biggest surprise at WWDC 14 was the announcement of Swift, a brand new and completely re-architected programming language for applications using the Apple operating systems. Swift allows developers to continue writing Objective-C code alongside it, but the new language produces much faster code compared to both Objective-C and Python.
Optimized into native code, Swift’s features are thoroughly modern — fast iteration, generics, and functional programming patterns make the language easy to work with, and Apple is providing a free iBook with all the details of using Swift. Developers who build applications in Swift will be able to ship to iTunes and Mac App Stores once iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite come out of beta later this year.
Playgrounds and sidebars: Xcode 6
Another previously unannounced bit of news came in the form of a fresh update to Apple’s Integrated Development Environment (IDE), Xcode. One of the most exciting features of Xcode 6 is Playgrounds, a feature that lets developers try out a bit of code without creating an entire project. An interactive sidebar displays the output of the code typed into Playground, and the sidebar can also show SpriteKit or SceneKit animations, graph variables, or drawing steps.
Also new to this version of Xcode are live debugging codes, including a built-in UI inspector that’s similar to Reveal and Spark Inspector.
Increased functionality with app extensions
Previously, applications on the iTunes and Mac app stores couldn’t talk to each other, but at WWDC 14 Apple unveiled app extensions that will now allow them to do just that. These extensions allow Apple-based apps to provide an extension as a service, which lets other apps tap into them.
The example used in the keynote was a Pinterest app that pins items to an associated account. The app uses a Pinterest pin button that can appear in share sheets, allowing the other apps to call on it to provide a user interface for the extension task of pinning the item.
CloudKit saves developers time and money
Creating applications that rely on custom-built web services is a time-consuming and expensive process for developers. With the introduction of CloudKit, Apple is expanding the functionality of iCloud and allowing developers to skip the provisioning and hosting for their cloud services.
CloudKit brings developer tools to iCloud that include user authentication, private and public database utilization, and alternate asset storage solutions. These tools offer very high storage limits, they’re free to implement, and they arrive provisioned to accommodate all of the app’s users.
A great year for Apple developers
In addition to the major developments, WWDC 14 announced a slew of new features and tools — from PhotoKit for camera and photo services apps, to HealthKit and HomeKit for health and fitness apps, to new features for SpriteKit and SceneKit, and more. Altogether, the new functionalities help developers create improved and more seamless experiences for Apple-based app users.
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