Five Things You Need to Know About Objective C and The iPhone

by Scott Clark

With so many web developers looking into iPhone and iPad development, the Objective-C programming language has suddenly fallen into the spotlight. In this article we'll take a look at five things you need to know about programming Objective-C.

What Is Objective-C?

Objective-C is a "simple computer language designed to enable sophisticated object-oriented programming. Objective-C is defined as a small but powerful set of extensions to the standard ANSI C language." Created to provide the C programming language full object-oriented programming features in a simple way, Objective-C is the primary language from which iPhone and iPad applications are built.

Where Did Objective-C Come From?

Objective-C was originally created by Brad Cox and Tom Love in the early 1980s while they worked at their company called Stepstone. They had gotten familiar with Smalltalk while working at ITT Corporation’s Programming Technology Center in 1981. Cox understood that a language such as Smalltalk could be very useful when creating development environments, so he began modifying the C compiler, adding some of the features of Smalltalk. This eventually became a working implementation of an object-oriented extension to the C language. At the time it was refered to as "OOPC" for "Object-Oriented Programming in C".

The two programmers eventually created a new business called Productivity Products International (PPI) to sell the new product. At this point it combined an Objective-C compiler with class libraries. Cox published a description of Objective-C in 1986 in a book called Object-Oriented Programming, An Evolutionary Approach. Steve Jobs founded a company called NeXT, which licensed Objective-C from the StepStone company, and in 1996 Apple aquired NeXT, and used OpenStep's Objective-C in its new OS, called Max OS X. The rest is history.

What Type of IDE Do I Need To Program in Objective-C?

The two primary development tools used to program in Objective-C are Xcode and Interface Builder.

The Xcode IDE is actually made up of windows that are used to develop apps using the Xcode application itself. These windows include a project window, text editor window, Documentation window and more.

Interface Builder is a graphical editor that is used to design all the aspects of your app's graphical user interface. Any time you make changes within Interface Builder, the changes are reflected in Xcode.

Do I Have To Have a Mac to Program in Objective-C?

In order to use the iPhone Software Developer's Kit (SDK) 4, you must be using an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X Snow Leopard or later--thus far there is no Windows version of the SDK. That said, there are many tools which can be used to create iPhone and iPad apps without the use of the iPhone SDK 4 or a Mac.

Apple requires that all apps that are submitted to the App Store to have been created using Objective-C, however app tools such as Titanium and PhoneGap wrap apps that have been created using other technologies--such as JavaScript, HTML 5 and CSS3--in an Objective-C wrapper. So far, many such apps have been successfully submitted and accepted by the App Store.

Rhodes is an open source framework which enables developers to create native apps for the iPhone, as well as Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Symbian and Android. The apps that are created using Rhodes are true native apps which are able to take advantage of the iPhone's capabilities (GPS, PIM contacts, camera, etc.). One advantage of using Rhodes is that the source code can be compiled to run on all major smartphone devices.

Titanium is open source software which enables developers to use their current skill set, such as JavaScript, HTML and CSS, and turn their work into native applications that appear and work as if they were written in Objective-C. Titanium features more than 300 APIs as well as a large developer and support community. It is free to download and use, and is available for Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems.

Zimusof's DragonFireSDK allows developers to use C and C++ to develop applications using Visual Studio or Visual Studio Express. Zimusof is responsible for packaging applications and handling developer submissions to Apple's App Store on behalf of its customers. Developers submit their apps to Zimusoft after development and testing on their own Windows PCs. Pricing for DragonFireSDK is $99 and includes one iTunes App bundling, with additional bundles available for $10 each.

There is also an Objective-C compiler for .NET that is available via Google Code.

How Does Objective-C Differ from C?

Objective-C has a different approach to extending C than does C++. C++ programming supports some aspects of object-oriented programming, generic programming and metaprogramming. It also features a large standard library that includes some container classes.

While Objective-C does add object-oriented programming, dynamic typing and reflection to C, it doesn't include a standard library, although it is usually utilized with an OpenStep-like library (OPENSTEP, Cocoa, or GNUstep), and these provide the functionality that C++’s standard library provides. An Objective-C container class can hold any object type, so some of C++'s container classes are not required.

Objective-C provides runtime support reflective features to C, while C++ programming only adds a small amount of runtime support to C. Objective-C enables an object to be queried about its own properties, while C++ programming cannot do this without the use of external libraries.

Another difference is that while Objective-C and C++ both employ a mix of run-time decisions and compile-time decisions, Objective-C is more geared toward the former and C++ programming more towards the latter.

More Objective-C Resources

We've put together a list of resources for developers who are interested in working with Objective-C. While not exhaustive, these resources can help to get you started in the world of Objective-C.

  • Introduction to The Objective-C Programming Language - A detailed introduction to object-oriented programming in the context of the Objective-C programming language.
  • Objective-C Beginner's Guide - Beginner's guide to Objective-C with practical coding examples that contrast Objective-C to other OOP languages like Java and C++.
  • From C++ to Objective-C - I have tried to gather in this document a lot of C++ and Objective-C concepts, to show how to switch from one to another and understand the Objective-C paradigms.
  • Object Oriented Programming in Objective-C - These documents provide a brief introduction to Object Oriented Programming in the Objective-C language.
  • GCC, the GNU Compiler Collection - The GNU Compiler Collection includes front ends for C, C++, Objective-C, Fortran, Java, and Ada, as well as libraries for these languages.
  • W3Kit 2.2 - An object-oriented toolkit for building interactive World Wide Web applications.
  • Learn Cocoa - Featured tutorials from Cocoa Dev Central.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Sep 9th 2010
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