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Why does the iPhone use Objective-C?

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Are you familiar with Objective-C? Here are the cliffnotes:


  • Object-Oriented
  • Lightweight feature set (unlike C++)
  • Lightweight during runtime (no interpreter or VM)

An example of Objective-C:

@interface classname : superclassname
    // instance variables
+ classMethod1;
+ (return_type)classMethod2;
+ (return_type)classMethod3:(param1_type)param1_varName;
- (return_type)instanceMethod1:(param1_type)param1_varName (param2_type)param2_varName;
- (return_type)instanceMethod2WithParameter:(param1_type)param1_varName andOtherParameter:(param2_type)param2_varName;

First some history, NeXT and how they changed everything.

Back in the 90's, Apple merged with a company called NeXT. NeXT was one of the first companies to first come out with these sleek, elegant personal computers.

Their main goal was to get provide workstations intended for higher education and business markets.

They introduced their first computer in 1988, and their second smaller unit, called the NeXTstation in 1990.

Despite relatively low sales they managed to tremendously affect the industry as a whole due to their innovative operating system, Nextstep, and their use of object oriented programming.

Apple and NeXT merge.

In 1996, Apple announced an intention to acquire NeXT in an effort to spruce up their dying and old operating system, Mac OS.

Apple reportadly paid $429 million dollars in cash for this to happen.

Turns out it was a good move as the following years Apple would start releasing a lot of new software including Mac OSX Server 1.0 and the consumer brand Mac OSX 10.0.

OK enough backstory, why are they using it?

When Apple decided to spruce up their operating system they decided to use Nextstep as their foundation and since that OS was made with Objective-C, it was a good fit to continue with what was already there.

The OpenStep developers toolkitm which was on the Nextstep OS. was renamed to what you are now familiar with: Cocoa.

NeXT had originally licensed Objective-C from StepStone through the late 1980s, then eventually bought all of the rights to the language, technology and trademarks.

Apple merged with NeXT in the '90s and Mac OS X was made from NeXT's operating system, NeXTSTEP. Objective-C was the official language of NeXTSTEP's application frameworks, which became Mac OS X's Cocoa

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Thanks for reading! :)

3 Comments On This Entry

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21 April 2011 - 07:37 PM
Pretty interesting! I'd always wondered about Objective-C. Thanks for posting this.


22 April 2011 - 08:58 AM
Agreed, I think it would be cool if we could have more posts like this on DIC. Always good learning something.
Though, I'm more interested in Blackberry app development; they seem like the underdogs when it comes to applications for their devices.


07 May 2011 - 08:57 PM
I found this to be quite informative.

It was interesting to see why the company did this. I do not like the Obj-C choice, but hey, that's cool.
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About Me

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Bienvenidos! I'm a USA ex-pat living in Bolivia for the past 10 years. Web development is my forte with a heavy lean for usability and optimization. I'm fluent in both English and Spanish. I guest write for the popular Python website Python Central. Visit my website.