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Facebook's Parse Embraces Swift

Developers can use Swift to access Parse services, but Apple is now competing for that business.

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Just days after Apple announced a new programming language, Swift, to create OS X and iOS apps, Parse, Facebook's backend-as-a-service subsidiary, has added support for Swift.

"Here at Parse, we’re really excited about Swift, because it brings a whole host of new language features to iOS and OS X development," said Fosco Marroto, in a blog post. "Swift's type inference will save developers a ton of typing. And generics will reduce runtime errors by giving us strongly-typed collections."

Though Swift presently may not be as swift as Objective-C when it comes to code execution speed, it has generated real enthusiasm among Apple developers because it appears to be easier to work with than Objective-C and because Apple's Xcode 6 provides interactive feedback with Swift projects. Swift can help developers generate code with fewer errors and be more productive.

For Parse, adding Swift support was relatively painless because Swift is compatible with existing Objective-C libraries. Swift is simply a new way to address Apple's existing Cocoa and Cocoa Touch APIs.

And that's fortunate for Parse because Apple also introduced its own backend-as-a-service called CloudKit that makes it a competitor. Parse needs to minimize the friction for Apple developers because Apple just invited its developer community to try its own cloud-based services for their apps.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, at Facebook's F8 Developer Conference in April, said his company's goal is "to build the cross-platform platform."

[Who is ahead in the battle for the cloud? Read Gartner's Magic Quadrant 2014 For Cloud: Winners & Losers.]

Apple's goal has long been the opposite, to ensure its platform is second to none by exercising control over its platform. With its new CloudKit services, Apple is providing a subset of Parse's services, but with far more storage and bandwidth.

CloudKit offers authentication (storing private data requires an iCloud Account), private and public databases, and structured and asset storage services. And its free for up to 1 PB of asset storage, 10 TB of database storage, 5 TB/day for asset transfers, and 50 GB/day for databases. As points of comparison, Parse offers up to 20 GB of assets, 20 GB of database storage, and 2 TB/month of transfers before it starts charging. Score one for Apple.

Beyond mobile developers, CloudKit could tempt enterprise developers whose iOS apps aren't interfacing with full-blown backend content management systems.

Parse still has some advantages: Its Core service supports server-side application logic and it offers Analytics and Push services too. It also works with apps on different platforms, like Android and Windows Phone, and with different development frameworks like Unity and Xamarin. If you're developing apps for multiple platforms, Parse looks like a better option.

But for cross-platform development, there's often a good argument to building your own backend and overseeing the server or cloud hosting yourself. Why lock your apps into a third-party cloud service if you don't have to?

Could the growing movement toward open source hardware rewrite the rules for computer and networking hardware the way Linux, Apache, and Android have for software? Also in the Open Source Hardware issue of InformationWeek: Mark Hurd explains his "once-in-a-career opportunity" at Oracle.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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