July 3, 2013

Getting Started with iOS and Mac Development

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 5

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By Dave Mark

Hate your job? Dream of a better future doing something a bit more fun? Have an idea for an app that just can’t miss?

Well, I can’t promise you that building an app will make you any money, but I am fairly certain of these two things: Successfully building an iOS or Mac app will be an immensely satisfying experience; and anyone with enough desire and dedication can get there. Interested in learning how you can get started with iOS and Mac development? This article won’t teach you how to develop applications, but it will teach you how to get started down that road.

Finding the Best Approach

Before we talk about the process of app development, let’s explore some other ways to bring your app ideas to life. For example, will a web site do the trick? Everyone with a computer and a smart phone has access to the web and you can do incredible things with technologies such as HTML5, JavaScript, PHP, Perl, and Ruby on Rails.

An upside to implementing your application as a web site is that it will be available on all computers, tablets, and smart phones. The down side is that the experience for your users will not feel “native.”

When I use an iOS application, I expect it to behave a certain way. I expect a look-and-feel that is different than that of a web site. Though a web site can do an excellent job in mimicking the look-and-feel of an app, at the end of the day it is fairly easy to tell you are in a browser. In addition, an application running inside a browser does not have direct access to the huge number of interface goodies that comprise the Mac OS X or iOS Software Development Kit (more on this in a bit). Suffice it to say, a web app will never have the power and subtlety of a native Mac or iOS app.

If your goal is to build a solution that will run on your Mac, as opposed to on your iOS device, another option to consider is a macro or script using tools like Automator and AppleScript. AppleScript is a simple programming language that speaks the language of your Mac. For example, here’s a script that tells the Finder to close all its windows:

tell application “Finder” to close every window

No one will ever confuse an AppleScript with a full-fledged application, but if you’ve got the right problem to solve, AppleScript might be just the ticket. Automator is an application that gives you a drag and drop interface to create a workflow that works with applications installed on your computer. AppleScript and Automator play very nicely together. If this sounds like it might be of help, check out this web site to learn more.

If neither of these two approaches is quite what you are looking for, consider creating your own custom application (for your desktop) or app (for your iPod touch, iPad, or iPhone). If this is the path you choose, you’ll want to hire a developer or become one yourself. Though the process of becoming a developer might seem daunting, people do it every single day. You are never too old or too young to learn. There are many stories of kids and senior citizens who take on programming for the very first time and create a successful product. If you do decide to go down this path, take it one step at a time, don’t rush yourself. You can do this!

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