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Trying! Swift Community in 2024

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Introduction

Hey there! I'm Viacheslav Vorona, an iOS engineer. This year, my colleagues and I had an opportunity to visit try! Swift Tokyo, an event that got me thinking about some tendencies within the Swift community. Some of them are fairly new, while others have been around for a while but have recently evolved. Today, I would like to share my observations with you.

The elephant in the room...

Let's get it out of the way: the much anticipated Apple Vision Pro was released roughly 2 months before try! Swift, so it only makes sense that the conference room was full of Apple fans excited about it.
People who haven't tried the gear out yet, were looking for any opportunity to put it on their heads for a couple of minutes, pinching the air with their fingers.

All seats in the room were occupied during the talk about the implementation of a visionOS app by Satoshi Hattori. The application itself was as simple as it could get: just a circular timer floating in the virtual space in front of the user, but once Hattori-san actually connected the headset and started to show the results of his work in real time, the audience went wild.

I could also mention that spatial computing enthusiasts organized their own small, unofficial meeting on the second day of the conference. Unlike some other devices from Apple, the Vision Pro is forming its own quite noticeable sub-community within the Swift community. All the geeks who grew up watching futuristic virtual devices in movies are now feeling like they are getting closer to their cyberpunk dreams. It's exciting—or scary, depending on your perspective. The choice is yours.

Oh, and of course, we can't move to the next topic without an honorable mention of the "Swift Punk" performance at the conference opening, which was also inspired by Vision Pro.

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$10000+ worth of swag scenic props

New Swift frontiers

This trend is not quite new, but recently it is getting some exciting development in multiple directions at once. I am talking about the Swift community striving to escape its Apple devices homeland and expand beyond.

Some things like server-side Swift have been around for a while, for example, Vapor was out since 2016 and even though it wasn't widely adopted, it keeps running. Tim Condon from the Vapor Core Team did a great presentation on large codebase migration at try! Swift. The topic was largely inspired by the migration Vapor is undergoing at the moment to fully support Swift Concurrency by version 5.0. According to Tim, that version is likely to be released in summer 2024, so if you are interested in trying out server-side Swift, that might be a great time to start.

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Tim Condon, the man behind Vapor. Nice shirt, by the way.

To accompany your Swift-written API, you might also try to implement a webpage using that same Swift language. Conveniently, that was the topic of the talk done by Paul Hudson. His lecture on leveraging Swift result builders for HTML generation was clear and exciting, just as one would expect from such an experienced educator as Paul. The climax of his speech was the announcement of Ignite, a new site builder by Paul using the exact same principle he was talking about in his speech.

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Paul Hudson, the man behind... a lot of things. Including Ignite from now on.

Another memorable presentation that falls into this category was done by Saleem Abdulrasool, a big cross-platform Swift enthusiast, who was talking about differences and similarities between Windows and macOS and the challenges Swift developers would face should they try to make a Windows application.

Last, but not least, there was a curious presentation by Yuta Saito, who was talking about tactics to reduce Swift binaries. This topic might seem unrelated to the trend I'm talking about here, but that changed when Saito-san showed the audience a simple Swift app deployed to Playdate, a tiny handheld console. Truly impressive.

It is pleasing to see that Swift is not only gaining new capabilities on Apple platforms but also relentlessly exploring new frontiers.

Friend Computer

Lastly, I would like to talk about AIs, LLMs, and so on, a topic that was all over the place during the last couple of years and keeps emerging every time a new "more-powerful-than-everything-else" model is released. In a digital gold rush, software companies nowadays are trying to apply AI processing to anything possible. Of course, the Swift community could not stay unaffected by it, and at try! Swift, this phenomenon was reflected in multiple different ways.

One of the first presentations at the conference, done by Xingyu Wang, an engineer from Duolingo, was dedicated to the Roleplay feature introduced by her company in collaboration with OpenAI. She discussed the utilization of an AI-powered backend, optimization challenges such as AI-generated responses taking significantly longer times, and the techniques and tricks Xingyu's team applied to mitigate them. Overall, the presentation was optimistic, painting a bright image of the endless opportunities provided by AI.

On the other side of the spectrum, there was a talk by Emad Ghorbaninia titled "What Can We Do Without AI in the Future?" which caught my attention before the conference. I was quite curious about what it would entail. The talk turned out to be a thoughtful reflection on the challenges we, as developers and humans, are about to face with the further development of AI. To put it simply, Emad's general thought is that we should focus on the most human aspects of our creative process to not lose the race against the incoming generation of silicon-brained developers. Hard to disagree.

Conclusion

Reflecting on the diverse discussions at try! Swift Tokyo, it's fascinating to see how the Swift community continuously evolves and adapts to new technological landscapes. From embracing groundbreaking hardware like the Apple Vision Pro to exploring new realms with server-side Swift and AI integrations, these developments highlight a community in flux, responsive to the broader tech environment. This curiosity and willingness to innovate ensure that Swift is not just a language confined to iOS development but a broader toolset that pushes the boundaries of what's possible in software. As we look forward, the dynamic interplay between technology and developer creativity within the Swift community promises to bring even more exciting advancements. It's a thrilling time to be part of this vibrant ecosystem.

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