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Using Swift Engineering For A Better Mobile UX

Discover why Swift is the future of app development on Apple iOS devices – and how SwiftUI integrates UX design and engineering.

Swift programming has rapidly risen to become an essential engineering skill for iOS app developers. In this article we’ll give a high-level overview of why Swift is changing the game when it comes to creating a great user experience (UX) on Apple devices – and provide an example of how it accelerated and enhanced a real-world project.

What is Swift?

Swift is a programming language for developing iOS applications to run on iPhone and iPad. Swift apps can also run on other Apple devices, such as Apple TV and Apple Watch – as well as Mac, Linux and Windows computers. (However, Swift is not intended for web-based applications or for Android apps.)

Launched by Apple in 2014, Swift was promoted as a better alternative to the Objective-C language then used for iOS development. Today, Swift is seen by Apple and many developers as the clear successor to Objective-C – although many long-established apps still use the older language.

The name “Swift” was well chosen – as the new language was designed to be swifter than alternatives in a number of key ways.

Quicker to develop safe and stable apps

According to Apple, Swift combines the performance and efficiency of compiled languages with the simplicity and interactivity of popular scripting languages.

Swift was created to be a clean and clear language, with a simple programming syntax and grammar similar to natural English – making Swift code easier to learn, read and write than Objective-C. The Swift syntax encourages developers to write clean and consistent code, and includes safeguards to avoid errors. Being a very concise language, fewer lines of code are needed for each task than in the older language. 

Stability is improved and simplified by built-in features such as Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) for managing app memory usage. Swift is also designed to be more future-proof, extendable and easier to scale – while being interoperable with Objective-C and other languages means it can be used in existing apps.

, All these aspects help accelerate the development of iOS apps with Swift. For example, ride-hailing service Lyft completely re-wrote its iOS app in Swift. The Swift app delivered the same functionality using less than one-third the amount of code. While the previous customer onboarding process had taken several engineers over a month to build, the Swift version took one engineer less than a week.

Faster high-performance code

Improving app speed and performance is also central to Swift. Swift apps run up to 2.6x faster than Objective-C and 8.4x faster than Python, according to Apple.

Swift’s LLVM compiler technology produces optimised machine code that drives the fastest performance from modern devices.

As well as using concise and efficient code, Swift app footprints and load times are further reduced by the use of dynamic libraries. This means that reusable code frameworks and libraries do not have to be compiled inside the app – but instead can be loaded from iOS only when needed.

Speedy on the uptake with developers

All these advantages have accelerated Swift’s popularity with developers. Apple made Swift an open source language in 2015, encouraging a fast-growing community to embrace it.

In 2021, Swift was ranked 8th among the programming languages most loved by developers. In terms of overall usage, it is 20th among the most popular programming languages – while the formerly dominant Objective C is now ranked 25th.

Apple now includes Swift as the default language in its XCode integrated developer environment (IDE) – and encourages the use of Swift as an ideal first language to learn for new developers. 

Creating a great UX with SwiftUI

Swift’s capabilities to produce an outstanding UX were accelerated by the introduction of SwiftUI in 2019.

SwiftUI is a framework of graphic elements, controls and layouts for Swift apps that can be used to quickly design and code an iOS user interface. It is intended to replace the previously used UIKit and AppKit – offering improved performance and ease of use.

In a similar way to design tools like Figma and Sketch, SwiftUI allows designers to create user interfaces which are then easier for engineers to turn into working code. However, SwiftUI takes this a step further – as it is based on Swift, the underlying code is immediately ready to be used in an iOS app. This means that the conventional problems of the design-to-engineering handoff are virtually eliminated with SwiftUI.

Rather than designing a UI by a drag-and-drop process, SwiftUI uses a “declarative” UI model – where elements are placed and controlled with simple and intuitive English-like commands. Even advanced aspects such as animation can be described in a single line of code. This means designers or engineers can easily create a sophisticated and responsive UI – using composable components called views.

This transformative approach bridges the traditional “language barrier” between designers and engineers – and enables outstanding user experiences to be designed and built much faster

Swift in action – outstanding UX for a luxury brand app

Recently, Swift proved its power in an app development project for a luxury travel brand. Secret Escapes negotiates exclusive rates for its members on hand-picked hotels and holidays. Customers sign up to receive personalised email newsletters with the latest travel deals selected for them. Members can then click through to the Secret Escapes website or app to access curated hotels and holidays.

Even though its email newsletter generated high click-through rates, the business was subsequently experiencing poor customer conversion rates on mobile channels. With 72.9% of all e-commerce shopping now being done via mobile devices (source: Statista, 2021), improving the mobile app’s performance and user experience had become a priority issue for the business.

Secret Escapes engaged London-based digital product consultancy Elsewhen to build a new iOS app, ensuring a luxury brand experience and overcoming their customer conversion challenges – without requiring changes to their existing core systems. They asked the consultancy team to bring the mobile user experience up to a best-in-class standard – delivering the “wow factor” that customers expect.

The consultancy was tasked to transform the mobile touchpoint into a powerful customer conversion engine. They began by carrying out a UX and UI audit, to understand how Secret Escapes app users behave, and where they drop off the buying journey.

Enabling transformation of UX and app performance

They found a variety of issues in the legacy app to overcome, including problems with search, filtering and favouriting functionality. The visual execution of the Secret Escapes brand also needed strengthening within the app to reflect its luxury travel image.

While the legacy app had been a basic wrapper for the mobile website, the team concluded that the new version should be a fully native app to deliver the best mobile user experience. At the same time, they knew this would have to interact seamlessly with legacy technology architecture.

As the majority of luxury travel customers use Apple devices, the team prioritised the creation of a new iOS native app that would deliver a cutting-edge user experience. 

They chose to develop in Swift, due to a combination of accelerated timelines and the need to ensure outstanding user experience. Using Swift engineering, they leveraged native capabilities to create a best-in-class UX, making it easy for customers to-explore and buy from a wide choice of travel offers.

Delivering an outstanding UX and great business results

Swift’s accelerated development speed was combined with an Agile development process to ensure the new app could launch in time for the vital Christmas and New Year season. 

The new app has delivered major improvements for Secret Escapes across a range of metrics. Click-throughs from listings pages to purchasing were increased by 24.4%, while successfully completed purchases increased by 210%. The average lifetime value (LTV) of customers increased by 25-35% when using the new app.

While the legacy mobile app had been rated only 1 star on the Apple App Store, the new Swift-built app has achieved a user approval rating of 4.8 out of 5 (as of January 2022). 

The new app is now helping Secret Escapes scale its offering internationally for future growth – thanks in large part to the power and speed of Swift engineering to deliver a great UX.

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