Do you have an idea for an app for the iPhone or iPad, but don’t know where to start? No problem! Getting started with iOS programming is fairly straightforward. There are only a few things you need to develop iOS apps.
Let’s take a look into the toolbox of an iOS app developer to see what’s required at a minimum:
1. A Mac
You need a Mac to run Xcode, the development environment used to write iOS apps. The good news is that Xcode can run on older Mac and MacBook hardware, as long as the operating system is macOS 10.12 Sierra or later.
If you don’t have a Mac yet and don’t want to spend a lot of money, look around for a used Mac or MacBook. Alternatively, you can get started relatively inexpensive with a Mac Mini (starting at $499), which is an affordable system that is well suited for iOS development. Naturally, the more money you’ll be able to spend on your hardware, the more processing power and storage you will get.
2. An Apple ID
You will need an Apple ID to download Xcode. There is a good chance you already have an Apple ID, but if not, getting one is fast and straightforward. Simply head over to Apple sign up for an Apple ID.
Once you have registered with Apple, visit the App Store from your Mac and download Xcode.
Xcode is the development environment you use to create iOS apps. It is extremely powerful and includes everything you need to code, test, and debug applications for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch. The included Interface Builder is a powerful visual design tool to create apps that look great on a wide range of display sizes.
Got Xcode installed? Now you’re really getting started with iOS Programming. As a next step, head over to my Tour of Xcode to become familiar with this powerful tool.
4. Apple Developer Program Membership (optional)
You don’t really need to join the Apple Developer Program, especially if you are just starting out. Xcode includes everything to develop an application from start to finish. It even includes iOS Simulators so you can test and debug your code. You can now even run your app on real devices, something that required a paid membership before.
While you can get started with iOS Programming for free, once you’re ready to build more advanced capabilities and distribute your apps on the App Store, it’s time to enroll in the Apple Developer Program. The cost is 99 USD per membership year.
So when should you join the program? I recommend to wait until you really need it to either publish your app on the App Store or if you need to work with advanced features like CloudKit or in-app purchases.
5. Willingness to Learn
Technology changes quickly and development practices evolve continuously. Being a programmer therefore is a perpetual quest for knowledge and refined skill. Luckily, the internet is a great place to help with this quest. There are many sites with information and tutorials for beginners as well as seasoned programmers.
So what is required to getting started with iOS programming quickly and become savvy at it in relatively short time?
A solid knowledge of the programming language Swift
Although Swift is a relatively new programing language, it has quickly replaced Objective-C in popularity amongst iOS developers. For good reason: Swift is easy to learn, offers all the functionality you’d expect from a modern programming language, and has many checks in place to help you write solid and safe code.
Familiarity with the Xcode IDE
When you develop iOS applications, you’ll spend a lot of time in Xcode. When you’re getting started with iOS programming, it really pays to know Xcode well as this will help you to save time and avoid frustration later on. If you are new to Xcode, have a look at my Tour of Xcode to learn how to use it efficiently.
An understanding of Apple’s APIs
API stands for Application Programming Interface. As the name suggests, it is an interface that lets programmers interact with the operating system. Knowing the available functions of the platform will save you time by not reinventing the wheel over and over again.
For example, to display an alert to the user you could write many lines of code to draw and populate a new controller and then display it to the user…or you could simply use Apple’s UIAlertController to accomplish the same with just two lines of code.
Apple’s APIs are massive but extremely well documented. I consider spending time with Apple’s developer documentation time well spent in becoming a savvy iOS app developer.
An appreciation of Apple’s User Interface Guidelines
Do you remember the first time you used an iPhone or iPad? Did you have to consult a manual to figure out how it works? Of course not. The way the system is designed lets you jump right in.
To ensure application developers write applications with a familiar look and feel, Apple has published the iOS Human Interface Guidelines. Following these guidelines ensures that users of your application will feel right at home without first having to read some form of user manual.
Getting Started with iOS Programming is Easy
So there you have it. Armed with a Mac and Xcode, bundled with a strong desire to learn, you already have what it takes. I recommend getting familiar with Xcode with my quick tour before writing your very first iOS app.
I wish you a fun-filled and rewarding journey as you become an accomplished iOS application developer.