Learning Objective C

Update: This blog is now at www.gerardcondon.com and this post has been moved to here.

Here is a list of the resources I used when learning Objective C.

  • Apple Documentation. This is really good, especially the Javadoc like pages for the UI classes. There are load of documents here. Ones that I missed first time around are the “Your First/Second/Third iOS App” guides. I’ll have to catch up on those. (One tip which I completely missed out on for ages. For these webpages, on the right hand side of the second toolbar, is a button which gets the whole doc as a PDF. It’s worth building up a library of these.) The two main documents that I used were
    • The Human Interface Guide. This is a really excellent document for describing how to design an iOS app. It’s not code based but instead operates at a higher level explaining the UI principles and how the UI elements should be used.
    • Objective C Programming Language. I think this document is essential for learning Obejctive C. It details the extensions Objective C makes to the base C language and is really thorough.
  • Stack Overflow. This site is an absolute godsend. How did we ever live without it? The documents above are fine as an introduction to Objective C and app development. However when you start to create an app and run into practical issues, this site is fantastic. There has been no coding question that I have had that they haven’t been able to answer and the coding samples provided are normally top notch. I can’t recommend this site enough.
  • Google & Blogs. In general searching for Objective C questions on google brings up a list of blogs which detail people’s practical implementations of various issues. These are useful to read as they normally contain any design decisions and reasons why alternatives were rejected.

The main class of resources that I haven’t decided to use in learning Objective C have been books. There seem to be some good ones out there but I don’t think there’s much there that I haven’t been able to find on the web. Blogs and Stack Overflow have killed programming language books for me.

The other thing is that I think books about specific programming languages are the ones at risk of going out of date. My data structures and pattern books from college are still useful but any Java books from then have become outdated. The core object-oriented parts are still valid but you can say goodbye to vectors, Swing etc. I’ll have to keep an eye out for good Objective C pattern books.

To give a specific example, the ARC memory management recently introduced to Objective C has rendered the sample code in a lot of books obsolete. Not just obsolete but incorrect actually as the old code won’t compile with ARC enabled. On the web this can be updated, but the books are stuck with the older, invalid code. Maybe with ebooks becoming more popular there will be scope for having books that update their sample code automatically. Until then we have to wait for revised editions, if indeed they are released at all.

I just found this document (via @steipete) which is a guide from C++ to Objective C. This looks to be really good.

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Beginning with Xcode

Update: This blog is now at www.gerardcondon.com and this post has been moved to here.

The main application for developing apps is Xcode. I’m not sure if there are any alternatives but at the moment I don’t think I really need any. Xcode is free, installs from the app store. What more do I need?

Ok, so first I installed Xcode. Or rather I installed an installer for Xcode. Seems a bit odd. I’m not sure how that will work with updates from the Mac Store. At first glance it looked the same as most other editors. Text area for writing code, tree navigator for files etc. My initial impressions are that it should be straightforward to learn to use.

Onto learning how to create apps. My first stop was the tutorials on Ray Wenderlich’s site http://www.raywenderlich.com/tutorials. They’re really comprehensive and I really recommend them. I began with the iOS Apprentice free tutorial which teaches you how to create a game called Bullseye. From that I think I gained enough knowledge to find my way around Xcode. From here, time for the next step i.e. learning Objective C.

Choosing a language

Update: This blog is now at www.gerardcondon.com and this post has been moved to here.

My initial thought was that I would obviously use Objective C to program the app. However a work colleague suggested that I look at Appcelerator as he had used it to create his app. (The app is for Irish Leaving Certificate students. It allows them to download past exam papers to their iPhone or iPad. If you’re a 5th or 6th year student check it out at http://www.jamessugrue.ie/app.)

The technology basically allows you to use Javascript to create your application. This presumably will hide the lower level implementation details and allow you to create apps faster. Also the apps should be portable across mobile OSes so this would allow for Android ports.

I don’t think that this is the right approach for me though. I don’t know Javascript or much HTML5 so either way I’d have to learn a new language. My thinking is that Apple use Objective C and intend for it to be the official way to write apps. This means that there will be loads of help out there for writing in Objective C, e.g. Apple articles, books, Stack Overflow questions etc. One of my concerns is that when you start hitting road bumps in Appcelerator, I not sure there will be the same level of support available.

Another problem with these type of frameworks is that if Apple add new features, then you have to wait for your framework provider to update their product, to support the new features. In this case I think you’re better off using the standard language and APIs for the platform rather than a third party solution. Also the iPhone libraries seem fairly similar to the Mac libraries, so in future it should be straightforward enough to learn Mac programming after gaining an iOS foundation.

Given my C/C++ experience I think I will pick up Objective C quicker. I have no intention to support Android at this time so the cross platform support is not of any use to me. I’d also assume that, as most apps are developed in Objective C, that this will be more in demand by employers in future. So, Objective C it is then. How hard can it be…

Initial Post

Update: This blog is now at www.gerardcondon.com and this post has been moved to here.

Here’s my initial blog post. I’m creating this blog as I’ve decided to create iOS apps in my spare time. Up to now I’ve been working as a programmer for eight years in Java, C++ and C. I’ve never written an Objective C application before nor programmed on the Mac. Also I’ve never blogged before so this is a totally new experience for me.

Given the time of year, there is a lot of advice regarding New Year Resolutions and how to stick with them. One of the ideas is that by telling your resolution to other people, this acts as positive reinforcement to actually carry it out. My version of that is this blog. I am making a commitment to create and publish an app to the app store. After that, we’ll see.

I want to use this blog to document my journey to learn not only the technical aspects e.g. learning Objective C and Xcode, but also the other non software activities that come with creating and publishing software. This will no doubt change with time as (hopefully) I start to release apps but will do for a starting point.