Programming iOS 5 by Matt Neuburg

My list of book resources has lacked a strong recommendation for iOS for some time. There are a lot of good introduction to iOS programming books available but I struggle to recommend just one as the definitive guide. Programming iOS 5, 2nd Edition by Matt Neuburg (O’ Reilly Media, March 2012) is a major update to the author’s earlier Programming iOS 4 book which may just fill the gap.

First Impressions

The first thing I have to say is that this is a massive book with the dead-tree version weighing in at 1016 pages. Luckily I read the ePub version using iBooks which I prefer for technical books. You are going to want to annotate, highlight and bookmark for future reference with this book. You can read it from cover-to-cover but it will also serve you well as a reference book when you need to review topics. Note though that if you are looking for a tutorial or cookbook style approach this is probably not the book for you. I guess Matt may have received some criticism for the iOS 4 version of the book as he makes the purpose of this edition very clear up front:

The purpose of this book is to proceed by focusing on the underlying knowledge needed for an actual understanding of iOS programming. That is precisely the opposite of a cookbook. This book has no simple recipes ready for you to drop into your own code and come up with an app. I don’t give you some fish; I teach you what a fish is and what you need to know to obtain one.

Even though it is not a cookbook all of the code examples are available on GitHub which is an approach I wish all authors would adopt. It makes it so much easier to browse code and also ensures that any minor typos get fixed quickly. Emphasis is given to features new to iOS 5 such as ARC and storyboarding which helps if you are transitioning from iOS 4 but no prior iOS knowledge is assumed.

In Depth

The book is divided into seven major sections as follows:

  • Section I. Language
  • Section II. IDE
  • Section III. Cocoa
  • Section IV. Views
  • Section V. Interface
  • Section VI. Some Frameworks
  • Section VII. Final Topics

The first five sections represent maybe two thirds of the book and step by step provide a thorough coverage of the fundamentals of iOS 5 development. A lot of iOS programming books either assume prior knowledge of C or include a quick summary in an Appendix. This books kicks off with coverage of both the C and Objective-C languages and then introduces Xcode and Nibs.

With the basics out of the way Cocoa is introduced by way of the foundation framework, categories and protocols, notifications, the delegation pattern, actions and the responder chain. It is also at this point that the detailed discussion of memory management is introduced which is a mandatory and key topic for any Cocoa book. The book is written with the assumption that you will be using ARC but also stresses that you still need to understand the Cocoa memory management model behind ARC.

The Views section provides good explanations on the view hierarchy, frames and coordinate systems, drawing, layers, animation, handling touches and gestures. The Interface section completes the fundamentals with coverage of view controllers, table views, popovers and split views and an exhaustive look at the numerous other views and controls.

The last two sections of the book tie up some loose ends with coverage of additional frameworks and topics that don’t fit elsewhere. This includes coverage of many of the more common frameworks including audio, video, music library, photo library, address book, calendar, mail, maps and sensors (e.g. location and acceleration). The final section finishes up with some quick coverage of file management, networking and threads (including both NSOperation and Grand Central Dispatch). The use of iCloud is also covered briefly in the discussion on the UIDocument model.

Likes and Dislikes

What I like about this book are the numerous hints, tips and opinions from Matt as he covers each topic. I don’t want to see a reproduction of reference material that I can just as easily get from Apple. What I want is insight into what an experienced developer thinks about the topic at hand. For example, there is a very good explanation of storyboards but what I found interesting about that section was Matt’s strong opinion on storyboards and why you might not want to use them. The explanation on popovers gets a similar treatment and in both cases I have to agree with the conclusions that Matt reaches.

There were so many new features introduced with iOS 5 that I think even somebody with iOS 4 experience will find this book useful. Changes from iOS 4 are highlighted throughout the book which should help when making the transition.

Even though this is a huge book there are still some topics that are not covered. It is easy to forget how big the iOS SDK has become so I think it is fine to skip topics like Game Kit, iAD integration, Printing, In App Purchase and the long list of other iOS Frameworks and topics. If you have a good understanding of the basics you should have no problem figuring out the less common frameworks on your own.

Personally I would have liked to see Core Data and maybe also Accessibility covered. I consider Core Data to be a fundamental Cocoa technology and as I posted recently I would like to see Accessibility get some more attention in general from developers and book authors. Section VI of the book covers a number of interesting but not vital frameworks such as accessing the music and photo libraries, the address book and calendar which I would exchange for some coverage of Core Data. That is a very minor criticism though for what is otherwise a comprehensive coverage of the iOS universe.

Final Comments

There is a lot to recommend about this book and I don’t just mean because of the size. The primary purpose of the book is to provide you with a deep understanding of the language and iOS frameworks and I think it succeeds in that task. Of course that takes some effort on the part of the reader and I can imagine that this book will not suit everybody. Clearly if you are looking for quick high level survey of iOS 5 with some sample code to get you started this is not the book for you. On the other hand if you are prepared to invest the time I would be surprised if even experienced iOS developers can read this book without learning something.