Objective-C in 2020 is still kicking in small communities as Swift gains popularity
While there aren’t any major shifts in programming language popularity this month, the TIOBE Index for February 2020 addresses the decline of Objective-C. For many, this language is long dead and spoken with the same nostalgia as dinosaurs such as COBOL and Fortran. But, is it truly the end? Even as Swift continues to grow in usage, small communities for Objective-C still exist.
Is Objective-C worth learning (or using) in 2020 or can we finally shelf it next to COBOL?
The programming language is 36 years old and showing its age. Although some legacy code still depends on it and there are more than a few active open source projects, it’s safe to say that it is running on borrowed time. Without Objective-C, we wouldn’t have Swift, and thus it deserves a proper send-off if it truly is on its death bed.
Back in 2011 and 2012, the TIOBE Index gilded Objective-C as the Language of the Year. Now, nearly ten years later let’s see how its ranking is doing in February 2020. The latest update to the TIOBE Index marks a steady decline in Objective-C’s rankings.
Why did Objective-C decline?
The fall of Objective-C and the rise of Swift are dependent upon each other.
According to the update for February 2020:
Objective-C lost this month another 7 positions in the TIOBE index, thus being on the brink of slipping out of the top 20. Actually this drop took much longer than expected. In 2014 Apple announced the new programming language Swift to be the successor of Objective-C. At that moment Objective-C was at position #3 in the TIOBE index and development of mobile apps for iPhones and iPads was booming. After the announcement Objective-C dropped from 12% market share in 2014 to 1% market share in 2016. Suprisingly Swift grew from 1% to only 2% at that same time. The other 10% was consumed by other programming languages that appeared to be compilable for multiple mobile platforms. One might conclude that Apple made a mistake to insult iOS programmers by bluntly replacing Objective-C by Swift, but actually they hadn’t got a choice. Objective-C was outdated as a programming language and definitely needed a redesign. In my view it would have been better to extend Objective-C with modern features step by step. Just like languages such as Java, C++ and C# survived by making small changes every new release. Now Apple lost 10% of its programming language market share by making this move. Having said this, Swift is now at position #10 of the TIOBE index.
Despite its falling popularity, yes, there are still people learning the language in 2020. A look on the Objective-C subreddit reveals a small gathering of programmers sharing advice and tutorials. However, it’s a fairly small community (6.3k members and currently, I am one of four visitors) with infrequent updates.
Swiftly climbing up
As mentioned above, Swift jumped into the top 10 programming languages at number 9, moving up from the number 20 spot where it sat comfortably last year. It saw a rate of change of +0.54%.
In comparison to Objective-C, Swift is adding new tools and updating the language. For instance, on February 3, 2020 Swift introduced a new open source library suitable for Linux platforms, Swift Crypto.
Meanwhile, it is moving towards Swift 6, and working on various milestones that will improve the direction of the language, allow for faster builds, more open source libraries, and cross-platform support.