Apple's new programming tool opens door to more Hong Kong developers

Tech giant's new programming language to open doors for HK developers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 3:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 9:31pm

Hong Kong mobile application companies predict more local developers will join the ranks of those creating apps for Apple devices, following the technology giant's surprise release of a new programming language earlier this month.

The "Swift" programming language is expected to be a boon to developers building apps for users in Hong Kong - where the iPhone, iPad and MacBook are the top-selling products in their categories - and on the mainland, which is Apple's second-largest market after the United States.

It was designed to help developers write safer and more reliable code by eliminating entire categories of common programming errors when building apps for Apple's iOS mobile operating system and OS X desktop platform, according to Apple. Developers for Apple devices currently use Objective-C, a programming language that first appeared in 1983.

"Swift will have a big impact because it will make it easier for more developers to join the iOS ecosystem," said Keith Rumjahn, chief executive at mobile sports app developer Coachbase. "For us, we're looking to build amazing apps that are feature-rich and awards-worthy. That means we need to follow Apple's lead with Swift."

Hong Wai-lun, chief executive of start-up Snaptee, said "the iOS developer community will be able to create more high-quality apps".

Both established app developers and start-ups compete in the fast-growing global market for mobile apps. Technology research firm IDC has forecast annual mobile app downloads on smartphones, media tablets and other mobile computing devices worldwide to reach 187 billion by 2017 and generate revenue of US$25.2 billion, up from 87.8 billion downloads and sales of US$10.3 billion last year.

"As far as users are concerned, they won't notice any difference. But for developers, apps written in Swift will be quicker to debug and run faster," said Nick Murray, co-founder and chief technology officer at mobile wallet apps developer PassKit. "It also provides a level playing field because everyone is starting from ground zero."

But Yat Siu, chief executive at Outblaze and app developer Animoca, sees some issues. "We have developed proprietary cross-platform tools and use various middleware, which makes a wholesale switch to Swift much less straightforward than we'd like," he said, citing a problem faced by most companies that develop apps for both iOS and Google's Android operating systems.

"We do plan to release some games developed in Swift," said Siu. He added that Swift has "injected modernity" to iOS app development, bringing programming to "a more accessible level".