From automation to regex to mastering the Terminal, something I’m extremely passionate about here at AppleToolBox is programming. Programming gives you a deeper understanding of how your computer works, enables you to automate your work with useful tools, and of course, it’s a skill that you can turn into a career. That’s why I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to cover how to learn Swift.
Swift is Apple’s programming language. All of Apple’s devices use it to run apps. That means if you want to build apps for iOS, you should probably learn Swift first.
This post will cover what Swift is, why knowing it is valuable, how to learn Swift on Mac and iPad, and some alternatives to Swift if you don’t feel it’s the right language for you.
Let’s get into it!
What is Swift?
As mentioned, Swift is Apple’s programming language. It was developed and released by Apple as a native language to build apps for Apple devices.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to use Swift to develop apps for Apple devices. You can use other languages like React Native and Python. Swift, however, is more advantageous for Apple apps.
Namely, it was built for them. It’ll offer a higher level of control, better integration, Apple-specific features, and more.
On the other hand, Swift can be limiting, as it is only used for Apple devices. You won’t be able to build apps for any other purpose, which can make it a bit of a one-trick pony. For that reason, I recommend learning Swift to those who are either new to programming (it’s easy to learn) or who are sure that they want to focus on the Apple ecosystem.
If you aren’t sure you want to learn Swift, then skip to the end of this article and check out some of the alternative languages I cover. These can be used to develop for Apple devices but will be a bit more multipurpose and broadly useful.
How difficult is it to learn Swift?
While I am not fluent in Swift, my short experience with it is that it is a relatively easy language to learn. I’d say it’s about on par with Python, a programming language that was designed to be simple and intuitive.
Part of what makes Swift so easy to learn is all of the available resources for learning it. Apple has even built apps for learning Swift into its devices, so anyone with an Apple device can start learning it right away.
On the other hand, those new to programming should be prepared for a challenge. As a concept, code can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around at first. I remember it seeming very vague and abstract in the beginning. Kind of like learning your ABCs, it’s hard to understand how these letters form sentences that you can read and write. Once you “get it”, though, you get it from then on.
My advice to those new to programming is to stick with it. It will click, you just have to give it time. And if you’ve tried before without getting it to click, Swift can be a great starting point.
Why knowing how to learn Swift is important
Before getting into how to learn Swift, let’s cover why knowing Swift is valuable to you. After all, there’s no point in investing months of your time into learning Swift if you aren’t going to get anything out of it.
Here are some practical reasons to start learning Swift today.
Build apps on macOS and iPadOS
One of the key reasons to know how to learn Swift is that you can build apps with it on macOS and iPadOS. Using built-in, free tools from Apple (like Xcode), you can start developing apps for free using the devices you already own.
Not only can you develop apps on these devices, but Swift, these free tools, and your devices were all made for each other. Swift is an Apple ecosystem way to code, which can make it a powerful and simple starting point.
And that doesn’t even mention that since you can code on your iPad and Mac, you can bring your code with you however you want.
Swift development is in demand
The second reason to know how to learn Swift is that Swift development is in high demand. It’s used to build apps for the Apple ecosystem, which is one of the strongest and most popular ecosystems available. It’s kind of like a social media influencer getting their start on TikTok – go where the market is.
You can find thousands of jobs for Swift developers on sites like Indeed, many of which are remote. That’s thousands of opportunities for work that you can find right from your home desk.
Create apps for every Apple device
The last reason to learn Swift is perhaps the most convincing. It’s the reason that Swift was developed in the first place.
By learning how to write Swift, you’ll be learning how to develop apps for every Apple device. That includes iPhone, iPad, and Mac, as well as Apple Watch and Apple TV.
If you’re interested in learning Swift, then it’s probably because you already own some of these devices. So you’ll be learning how to build apps for the devices you already use, which can make writing Swift more empowering and exciting. This isn’t back-end practice for a product you’ll never use. You can build apps and see them on your TV, smartphone, or computer, and use them every day.
Apps written in Swift can be easily configured to various Apple devices. So writing an app for one device means you’ve really written it for several devices.
3 ways how to learn Swift on Mac
Alright, now that you have an idea of what Swift is and why you might want to learn it, we’re going to cover how to learn Swift on Mac. While there is some overlap between learning Swift on Mac and iPad (many of these methods can be used on either device), I’m focusing on resources that are optimized for each platform.
As one of the most popular coding resources on the internet, the odds are good that you’ve come across Codecademy before. And for good reason! Codecademy is a great starting point for learning a variety of languages, including how to learn Swift.
Codecademy works by taking you through various exercises that cover the basics of Swift. You’ll learn the syntax, how variables and functions work, various classes, and other fundamental concepts.
That said, Codecademy is only a starting point. Many people get to the end of a Codecademy course feeling like they still don’t know how to even run code from the programming language they’ve just learned. You can think of it as learning how to read and write a real language. It’s handy, but to write a poem, you’re going to need more experience.
For that reason, experienced programmers generally recommend using Codecademy as a beginner-friendly tool. Once you’ve learned the basics, start playing with Swift on your Mac and trying to create tools that you can use in your everyday life.
The next path towards how to learn Swift is Coursera. Coursera is a site that, unlike Codecademy, covers a broad variety of educational topics. Computer science and programming are just one of the many educational paths that Coursera has to offer.
Still, Coursera can be another great beginner’s resource for learning Swift. It’s a more comprehensive course, covering the absolute basics of Swift up to learning how to sell an app on the App Store. It’s that comprehensive.
While I haven’t taken this Coursera course myself, it has very favorable reviews from those who have taken it. And it claims to get you career-ready by the end of it, which is a pretty robust statement. You can think of this as less of a resource for studying Swift and more like a certificate program that will give you the tools to make Swift a part of your skillset.
From what I can tell, the Swift course is free to enroll. That means you can go through all of the lessons for free. However, you’ll probably need to pay a fee to get a certificate for your progress. This is pretty standard practice on Coursera. It’s up to you to decide if the certificate will be helpful in looking for a job. If you’re just learning, though, you can probably skip the certificate.
Udemy is so similar to Coursera that it would feel a bit dishonest to pitch it as a completely different option. So I won’t do that. Udemy looks a bit pricier than Coursera, but otherwise, they seem about the same.
You’ll find a handful of Swift courses to choose from, each with reviews and a syllabus to give you an idea of what you’ll learn and how useful the course is.
My advice would be to go through both Udemy and Coursera and find the Swift course that seems right for you. And if you start a course that you end up not liking on either platform, quit ASAP, get a refund, and try a course on the other platform to see if you like it more.
Both are going to be more advanced than Codecademy, but you’ll likely pay for that climb in depth.
3 ways how to learn Swift on iPad
Now that we’ve covered how to learn Swift on a Mac, it’s time to move onto the iPad.
Learning to program on an iPad might seem counterintuitive, as nearly all development takes place on a desktop computer. There are apps, resources, and capabilities that a desktop has that an iPad simply doesn’t.
Still, there are a few reasons why an iPad is a solid place to learn to develop:
- It’s affordable. You can grab a powerful iPad for just $300 brand new. And you can grab an even better iPad for just a few hundred more. Compared to the cost of a new desktop computer (excluding Chromebooks, which are not useful for development), the iPad is incredibly accessible. Especially when compared to a Mac, which you would otherwise need to learn Swift.
- It’s getting more powerful. Every year, Apple expands what the iPad is capable of. It’s clear that the company is trying to make the iPad a true alternative to a traditional computer, and recently, it’s been getting there. You can now perform basic programming and development on an iPad, all the way up to publishing an app on the App Store. It’s not quite as robust as a desktop yet, but in a few years, it probably will be.
- It’s a great tool for education. Lastly, the iPad is a great educational tool. You can’t bring your desktop with you on the go, but you can bring your iPad. You can toss it in your bag and have it with you anywhere. Include a Bluetooth keyboard and apps for learning Swift, and you probably won’t notice much of a difference when it comes to studying code. It’s not necessarily the right tool for writing Swift, but for learning Swift, it’s a great and affordable option.
Alright, with the reasons behind learning Swift on an iPad justified, let’s cover the app for Swift on iPad: Swift Playgrounds.
For those that don’t know, Swift Playgrounds was developed by Apple. It was created to be a tool to make learning Swift easy and fun. It’s so simple that a young student can pick it up. And for older learners like myself, it’s great at taking a vague and complicated subject like OOP and gamifying it in a simple way.
Swift Playgrounds is also comprehensive. You can more or less learn everything there is to know about Swift from this app. It’s completely free, so all of this educational content comes without a price tag.
The one thing I’ll say is that I felt like I outgrew Swift Playgrounds pretty quickly when I used it. It helped me grasp the fundamental concepts, but when it came time to move beyond that, the pace didn’t keep up with my learning speed. Once I understood the basics I was ready to sink my teeth in deeper, and Swift Playgrounds takes its time getting there.
For that reason, I generally recommend this app as a starting point for how to learn Swift. It’s great for young kids who want to practice development and learn more about computers. For adults, it’s helpful too, but maybe a bit too hand-holding to make it your sole source of practice.
As mentioned, Swift Playgrounds can be a bit “kiddy” at times, even though I think anyone can learn from it. For that reason, you may find yourself wanting an app that allows you to sink your teeth in a little bit deeper. That’s where Learn SwiftUI comes in.
Learn SwiftUI is an alternative to Swift Playgrounds. It features paid courses (the first is free) that you can take to improve your understanding of Swift. Each course focuses on a different concept within the Swift programming language:
- Text View
- Image View
- View Stacks
- Handling User Input
- List View
- Navigation View
The developers are also working to add courses on alerts, transforming views, animations, and navigation.
Although these courses are paid, they dive a bit deeper and also move a bit faster than Swift Playgrounds. This makes it a solid alternative method for how to learn Swift.
The last way you can begin your journey of how to learn Swift is through freeCodeCamp. If you’ve done any sort of programming before, then you’ve probably heard of this site before.
freeCodeCamp (FCC) is a donation-based service, similar to Khan Academy, for learning programming. They have more than 8,000 tutorials for you to go through, which happens to include a ton of Swift lessons. They cover everything there is to know, from the fundamentals to building iOS apps.
Like all of the suggestions in this list, FCC isn’t your one-stop solution for learning Swift. But it can be a great filler for when there’s a specific something you want to learn. And they have certifications that you can earn which might help in landing a job in the future.
Alternatively, find a teacher
As we close out this guide on how to learn Swift, I wanted to throw you a few curveballs. After all, when we’re learning something new, we might not necessarily know the best way to learn it.
That’s where a teacher can be a huge help. A teacher doesn’t have to be someone in a classroom (though that’s great if you can find that). You can find mentors online and in person all around you, so long as you know where to look. Join coding clubs, go to conventions, and message people on programming forums like Reddit and Github for support.
Speaking of, these sites can be a great place to learn more about Swift. You can join communities like the r/learnprogramming subreddit. These communities are welcoming, open to questions, and will help you feel less alone during your educational journey. And while that may not seem like a big deal, truly, it’s half the battle of learning anything – finding your community.
Alternatives to Swift
Another curveball I’m going to throw you is to consider alternatives to Swift. Maybe you’re only looking into how to learn Swift because you saw the Swift Playgrounds app or someone suggested it to you, but you’re now realizing that it’s not the right programming language for you. That’s ok! There are tons of languages to choose from, and honestly, Swift is a pretty limited one.
So here are three other languages that are similar to Swift but have broader applications.
When you’re new to programming, Python is “the” language to learn. It was designed to help people learn to program, so it’s very easy to pick up compared to other languages.
Despite its single-minded conception, Python has grown to be one of the most powerful and widely used programming languages out there. I would venture to call it the most popular programming language, almost to the point of being universal among programmers. Like HTML, everyone knows a bit of Python.
Because of its popularity, it’s easy to find resources online and in-person for learning Python. Just keep an open mind and give it a go! And since it’s designed for learning, your knowledge from Python will likely translate to learning other languages more easily – including Swift.
A truer alternative to Swift is Objective C. That’s because Objective C is the veritable predecessor to Swift. Objective C was developed in the 1980s and adopted as the primary language of tech company NeXT. Infamously, NeXT was founded by Steve Jobs after he was let go from Apple, and later, the company merged with Apple amidst Jobs’s triumphant return to Apple.
In the process, Objective C became the default language for writing apps for macOS (then OS X) and eventually iOS. It wasn’t until 2014 when Apple launched Swift, the new default language for programming on Apple devices.
Objective C can still be used to develop apps for Apple devices and other platforms (if you know what you’re doing). I wouldn’t necessarily recommend learning Objective C instead of Swift. Rather, it’s a great accompaniment to get some extra features and also to see the history of programming with your own eyes.
Lastly, there’s React Native. React Native is a unique programming language in that it allows you to write your app once and then deploy it on two different platforms in two different languages.
Specifically, React Native was created to allow programmers to develop for iOS and Android at the same time. You write your app once in React Native, and then you can compile it for either platform.
This makes it a solid Swift alternative for those who want to make apps for mobile devices and not necessarily Apple devices exclusively. It’s another popular programming language, so finding resources online isn’t a problem!
How to learn Swift: Start your journey today
And that’s it! That’s everything you need to know about how to learn Swift. By using these resources on your iPad or Mac, you can pick up this programming language in no time and start developing apps for the devices you use every day. And if you’ve realized that Swift isn’t for you, I hope one of the suggested alternatives is more your style.
For more insights, news, and guides on all things Apple, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.
See you next time!
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