Programming language popularity: Apple's Objective-C tumbles down the rankings

Six years after Apple introduced Swift as a replacement for Objective-C, the legacy language takes a big hit.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Developers started turning away from Objective-C years ago, thanks to the Swift language, Apple's replacement for Objective-C. But now that shift is finally being reflected in the Tiobe programming language popularity index. 

Tiobe uses queries on several search engines to come up with its ratings, which place Java, C, and Python in the top three programming languages. 

The rankings roughly line up with other popularity indexes, such as PYPL, which is based on the volume of Google searches for language tutorials. PYPL's top three is Python, Java and JavaScript. GitHub's ranking of open-source projects on the site is led by JavaScript, Python and Java. Meanwhile, IEEE Spectrum's top three is Python, Java, and C.  

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But Tiobe's rankings of Swift and Objective-C in recent years have perplexed developers, who've noticed that even last year Objective-C was rising on the Tiobe Index while Swift was falling. 

However, in Tiobe's February 2020 ranking, Objective-C finally looks to be tanking on the index, reflecting the reality that developers have either switched to Swift or to some other cross-platform mobile development framework like Xamarin. 

Objective-C dropped seven spots over the past month and 10 spots since Tiobe's February 2019 ranking, effectively switching places with Swift, which was ranked 20th a year ago but is now in 10th spot. 

Tiobe today offered an explanation for what happened to the rankings of the two languages since Apple introduced Swift in 2014. 

Tiobe argues that while Objective-C did decline rapidly in its index between 2014 and 2016, Swift's relatively slow rise was due to developers turning to cross-platform frameworks. However, it also notes Objective-C's fall to 20th took "much longer than expected".

SEE: Programming languages: Go and Python are what developers most want to learn

"In 2014 Apple announced the new programming language Swift to be the successor of Objective-C. At that moment Objective-C was at position #3 in the Tiobe index, and development of mobile apps for iPhones and iPads was booming," the company explains

"After the announcement Objective-C dropped from 12% market share in 2014 to 1% market share in 2016. Surprisingly, Swift grew from 1% to only 2% at that same time. The other 10% was consumed by other programming languages that appeared to be compilable for multiple mobile platforms."


Objective-C has dropped seven spots over the past month and 10 spots since Tiobe's February 2019 ranking.

Image: Tiobe

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