Apple's Swift Programming Language Promoted by Topcoder Crowdsourcing Platform

Cloud services provider Appirio is employing its topcoder crowdsourcing platform to speed up the development of applications built for iPhones, iPads, and Macs using Apple's new Swift programming language, the company announced this week. The GetSwifter Challenge Series aims to get its 660,000-member topcoder community involved in helping to build mobile and enterprise Web applications and designs "from the Internet of Things to physical building security to event applications."

Appirio is partnering with BMC Software, Booz Allen Hamilton, Brivo Labs, Harmon and NTT Innovation Institute on this contest. Developers will be competing for $500,000 in prizes, and the sponsoring companies will have access to the resulting next-gen apps.

Introduced to the public in June, Swift is the successor to Apple's Objective-C. The new programming language sheds the "baggage of Objective-C" to provide "an innovative new way of coding for Cocoa and Cocoa Touch," Apple has said. Where Objective-C relied on defined pointers, the Swift compiler infers the variable type. But it also keeps such features as well defined namespaces, generics, and operator overloading. Apple says the new language will be able to co-exist alongside existing Objective-C files in the same project. When OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 are released later this year, developers will be able to submit Swift-based applications to the App Store.

Appirio acquired the topcoder community and crowdsourcing platform in September 2013. Gartner defines "crowdsourcing" as "the processes of sourcing a task or challenge to a broad, distributed set of contributors using the Web and social collaboration techniques." Think Netflix Prize or XPrize, or on smaller-scope piecework, Amazon or Mechanical Turk. As Gartner analyst Eric Knipp has put it, crowdsourcing is a call for a custom application solution from an external developer community, the members of which expect to earn financial or reputational awards.

Topcoder was cited in Knipp's recent white paper, "Use Crowdsourcing as a Force Multiplier in Application Development" as one of the few soup-to-nuts crowdsourcing platforms available. (See also ADTmag's "Crowdsourcing Application Development").

"We think this is a good way to ramp up a community on new technology," said David Messinger, Appirio's Chief Community Officer, "and also to give our clients access to people who have become familiar with Swift technology, and to do it in a fun and collaborative way."

Apple charges an annual fee of $99 to join the iOS Developer Program, but Appirio is offsetting that fee for the first 1,000 developers who sign up for the first challenge in GetSwifter program -- "Learn Swift" -- by giving them $100 each. The program also includes four "fun challenges," Messinger said, and a series of challenges to produce real-world solutions for Appirio's clients.

"This is a good way for us to grow the topcoder community and to build a set of developers who know Swift and can implement things quickly for our clients," Messinger said. "We're investing in people who will be able to fill our clients' needs."

Brivo Labs, an Internet of Things company involved in the emerging "social access management" market, has worked with the topcoder community before. "We see developing iOS and OS X enterprise-focused applications on Swift as another way for us to expand our business," said Lee Odess, the company's general manager, in a statement. "From past experience, we already know the crowdsourcing model using the topcoder community has proven to be the fastest and most cost-effective way to create and launch applications on this new platform."

"As Apple increases its role in the enterprise IT space, tapping into Appirio's collaborative community will further enable us to understand how this platform can best be used as well as how coding languages, such as Swift, will allow us to build upon iOS 8 moving forward," said Ashley Skyrme, vice president at Booz Allen.

The GetSwifter competition ends in the second week of November.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].