There are several factors that budding software developers should consider before choosing a career path. One of the top considerations is salary and career growth. In terms of earning potential, iOS developers rank among the top paid IT workers, with an average nationwide salary of $114,614 . In order to thrive in this industry, there are certain iOS developer skills you’ll need to master.
In terms of growth, the App Annie 2017-2022 App Economy Forecast Report tells us that the mobile device install base is predicted to grow to six billion, which represents 56 percent growth from 2017. Even more remarkably, the annual consumer spend in app stores will increase to $157 billion, representing 92 percent growth from 2017.
Figure 1: Predicted spend on Apps by 2022
Given these numbers, it is no wonder that many software developers choose iOS software development as their chosen career path. For those that choose iOS development, there are several paths that you can follow; but in this article, we’ll focus on the skills required. But first, let's answer the most fundamental question.
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What is an iOS Developer?
An iOS developer is someone with an in-depth understanding of the iOS ecosystem, including a deep understanding of how it works on different Apple devices such as the iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. In short, they must understand how to build and customize apps in the iOS ecosystem.
How to Become an iOS Developer
If you do a little bit of research, you’ll come across an iOS skills matrix, like the one shown below. This particular iOS skills matrix is a compilation of the skills one should have at different levels on the way to becoming a senior iOS developer. The matrix is precise enough to give you an idea of the iOS developer skills you need to have but, at the same time, vague enough to avoid canonizing any one area of knowledge. In other words, it is meant to be used merely as a guide to help you chart your path.
In this article, we’ll go through the foundational iOS skills that are necessary to learn if you want to become an iOS developer and get a job or build your iOS apps.
Figure 2: iOS skills developer matrix
Step 1: Learn Swift
One of the most vital skills that an iOS app developer must have is the ability to program. These iOS developer skills can vary widely depending on the skills that you already have, the skills that will be most efficient for you to learn, and even the skills that can help you pivot your software/app development skills to other ecosystems besides iOS development.
For example, you can build iOS apps using Java programming skills and also use those same java programming skills to develop for Android, Mac, Linux, and Windows. If you face time or budget constraints and you anticipate that you may sooner or later pivot from iOS development to other platforms or ecosystems, then training and preparing for a java exam is an excellent option to investigate. However, if you love software development and also have the time and budget—but still anticipate that you will want to venture into other ecosystems besides iOS—then back-end, front-end, or full-stack developer training may be a better option. You could, for example, learn to build an iOS application that runs on Angular, which is a part of the MEAN stack.
Although different programming skills that can be used for iOS development are transferable, using the programming languages that are meant for iOS and the Apple ecosystem are your best bet. If you are learning to code for the first time or want to focus on iOS and Apple development singularly, then Swift is the programming language to focus on.
The best steps to take in learning Swift and the iOS platform is to build on a solid foundation, starting with the basics of Swift and then to move on to advanced concepts and finally to the iOS platform. The thinking behind this approach is that most iOS developers often try to learn both Swift and iOS at the same time but usually end up getting confused and not understanding either.
In this light, the best-recommended path to follow is to learn the following:
- Basic concepts. Including variables, numbers, strings, constants, and operators
- Collections. Including dictionaries and arrays
- Control flow statements. Including for/while loops, if-else, and switches
- Types and interfaces. Including structures and enumerations, methods, functions, protocols, and extensions
- Object-oriented programming concepts. Including inheritance, classes, and polymorphism
Step 2: Learn the iOS Platform
After learning Swift, the next step is to study the vast iOS platform that is comprised of different design patterns, frameworks, and other technologies. Even if you decide to pursue a programming language other than Swift to develop iOS apps, you will still need to understand how things work in the iOS ecosystem.
As with anything you want to master, starting by learning the fundamentals is the best way to go. Without learning the fundamentals, you won’t be able to use the more exciting technologies like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, or even building games. More importantly, without learning the fundamentals, you won’t have the essential knowledge required to gain employment or build apps that people will want to use.
With this in mind, some of the fundamentals that you will need to learn in the iOS platform include the following:
- Understand ‘Apple Developer’ (formerly called the Apple Developer Connection or ADC) from an overview perspective. Apple Developer consists of the resources you will need to write the software for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS.
- Learn Xcode and Interface Builder in-depth. Xcode is the IDE or integrated development environment that you need to develop software for iOS and other Apple software. To run Xcode, you will need a machine running macOS. Interface Builder will allow you to create iOS interfaces using a GUI (graphical user interface).
- Auto Layout. Learning to use Auto Layout within Xcode will help you build user interfaces for devices of different sizes.
- Table views. Table views are another vital component of the user interface that will help you manage long-scrolling lists in iOS apps.
- Containers and storyboards. Containers help you create screen navigation flow in your iOS app, while storyboards allow you to design and organize navigation flows created using containers.
If all of these concepts and tools sound like a foreign language to you right now, don’t worry about it. Simply start by gaining an overview of the different tools and design models, and you will find that familiarity will become second nature.
It’s also important to mention that SwiftUI recently replaced all of the above tools contained in the UIKit, which was a framework introduced at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in 2019.
Step 3: Expand Your Knowledge With Essential iOS Developer Skills
After you understand how to code and the environment that you use to build your iOS apps, it’s now time to expand your knowledge into other areas that will give your apps a professional polish. Understanding these areas is what will give you the opportunity to grow your skill level and eventually become an expert.
There are many areas of knowledge that you can branch out into. Have a look at the iOS skills matrix above to get an idea of the things that you need to know. Also, understanding the following areas of knowledge will have a massive impact on your iOS development journey:
DatabasesiOS apps and most other modern applications rely on databases to store and retrieve data. Understanding how databases work (and the query languages that are used to manipulate data) can be invaluable skills, helping you get ahead with iOS development.
NetworkingMost modern iOS apps require data that moves back and forth across the internet. This means that an iOS developer must understand how the internet works. Luckily, iOS makes it easy by providing SDKs that offer several APIs to perform network requests. In addition to these APIs, you will also need to understand the DNS system, URLs, and other general networking concepts.