iOS Dev Weekly - Issue 514

Do you want to pair program with a copilot? 🤖
 

iOS Dev Weekly

 
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ISSUE 514  July 2nd 2021

 
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It’s always a good signal to write about something when I get several emails saying “Have you seen this?” along with a link. I’ve received more of those emails this week about GitHub Copilot than for anything else I can remember recently.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you won’t be surprised to hear that I can see both the positive and negative sides of this technology. 😱

Before I start, It’s important to note that I don’t yet have access to Copilot. I signed up, but I’m still on the waiting list. Everything I write here comes from what I see on the marketing page. That’s not ideal, but it’s what I have!

The negative side of things is the obvious place to start. AI-produced code is going to be buggy, just as human-written code is buggy. However, Copilot doesn’t have the context of what you’re trying to achieve or why you’re trying to achieve it. It also doesn’t benefit from the clarifications and adjustments you naturally make as you progress through a problem.

Then, there’s a more subtle side of things. The consequences of AI making a wrong choice in a self-driving car are immediate and drastic. 💥 The results of a mistake in a generated function are neither and will be much easier to miss.

Since I haven’t had a chance to experience the product, part of my concern comes from how GitHub is marketing it. For example, I really couldn’t disagree more with this statement:

Whether you’re working in a new language or framework, or just learning to code, GitHub Copilot can help you find your way.

Surely learning a new language or framework is the last time you should use a tool like this. I think we can all agree that it’s good to understand the code you write, and without knowledge of the language or framework, you’ll miss plenty of mistakes. If GitHub can’t be sure that the code won’t contain biased, discriminatory, abusive, or offensive outputs or someone’s personal data, will it really be well written? To get sidetracked slightly, I also saw a few people ask good questions about whether any of the training data was GPL licensed, because that will be a problem. 😬

It’s surely also a terrible way to learn to code. The code produced by Copilot comes with no information on why the AI wrote what it did. Is GitHub genuinely thinking about this as a teaching tool? 🙄

I have to stop myself here, or my negative take will take you all day to read. It’s almost too easy to find problems with this product. Yet, when I think about it, I want to support what GitHub is doing here.

If not for experiments and research like this, how would we move software development forward? I’ll be surprised if Copilot ends up being more than a curiosity in its current form, but who knows if some of the ideas and techniques that come out of this project could lead to significant advances in the field?

Ironically, I’d be more excited about this if it did a little less! 😂 If Copilot generated one line at a time rather than whole blocks of code, it’d feel like enhanced code completion rather than code generation. The slower pace would mean you’d be reviewing a line at a time rather than a whole block. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem feasible given that the result of the AI seems to be full blocks of code. It’s maybe one way to think about how AI could make our lives as developers easier in the future, though.

Now, where’s the Copilot for writing newsletters? 🤔

Dave Verwer

 
 

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macstadium.com

 
 
 

  Tools  

 

Kintsugi

Is there anyone reading who hasn't dealt with a merge conflict in an Xcode project file? Even if you work alone, you'll inevitably need to merge one as soon as you have two branches on the go. Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to worry about all but the messiest and most complex ones? Enter this tool from Ben Yohay! The goal of the project is to cope with 99.9% of conflicts automatically. I'm not sure how close they are, but it's certainly going to be better than not having the tool!

github.com

 

Apple's DocC is excellent, but unusable for open source projects

Jesse Squires with a rather pessimistic view of Apple's new DocC documentation tool. He makes some good points, and he's right that it's pretty apparent Apple created this tool for themselves first and the community second. However, instead of looking at it as something that missed the mark. I think it's better to look at it as a promising start. I hope Apple isn't finished developing this tool, and as Jesse added in an update, there are options to build better processors for DocC output. In fact, immediately before publishing this issue, I noticed Helge Heß published a set of three new packages that look interesting. 🤔

Also, as Sven said on Twitter, helping to host open-source package documentation was already on our Swift Package Index radar. CocoaDocs was a fantastic resource, and expanding into that area would fit nicely alongside what we've already built.

jessesquires.com

 
 

  Code  

 

Advanced SwiftUI Animations with TimelineView

As soon as I saw Canvas and TimelineView in SwiftUI, I knew I would be reading Javier Nigro's thoughts on them at some point! Sure enough, the first topic he has picked to write about is animations with TimelineView, and the post is just as good as you'd expect. 🚀

swiftui-lab.com

 

How Swift runs an async executable

What happens if you write a command-line Swift tool and call an async function in it? If you'd have asked me to guess, I'd say it'd quit and never complete the task. Am I right? Ole Begemann has investigated.

oleb.net

 

Mastering search in SwiftUI

If you've ever implemented search UI using UISearchController, you may not have the fondest memories of it. So when SwiftUI made significant improvements to creating searchable content this year, I was intrigued to see what they had implemented! Majid Jabrayilov has some good coverage of what's new and how to use it.

swiftwithmajid.com

 
 

  Business and Marketing  

 

The Droid (Stats) You're Looking For

Curtis Herbert posted this the day before WWDC started, and while I wanted to link to it, that's terrible timing! If you write an iOS-only app, it's so easy to dismiss the idea of creating an Android version for so many reasons. So when someone with a well-established app on iOS goes through the process and then publishes numbers about how it went, that's worth a read, so I'm glad I kept it in my queue.

curtisherbert.com

 
 

  And finally...  

 

I 😍 this attention to detail.

 
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