RubyMotion is a toolchain that lets you develop iOS using Ruby. I’m a big fan of Ruby and have been using it on and off since 2001. It’s been a huge timesaver in many cases allowing me to quickly script solutions. When I heard it was coming to iOS I had to check it out.

The toolchain and the way you use the various components matches the rails development process. Open your favorite text editor and a terminal, and you’re ready to go. For example to create a new project.

motion create project

Interfacing with the toolchain is all rake driven. Edit your files, type rake device, and your app is compiled and launches in the iOS Simulator. It’s a very nice and familiar development process.

One of the big benefits with using Ruby is concise code. Compared to Objective-C, you’ll end up with a lot less code for an app. For example with Ruby, you could put your entire app in a single .rb file. With Objective-C you have the .h and .m files for every class, and you spend quite a bit of time switching between them all.

Ruby helps ease the app development process, but most of the learning and skill with iOS development is understanding the various iOS frameworks. This doesn’t go away with RubyMotion. You still have to take the time to learn these. Part of learning is reviewing the code samples that Apple provides, and they’re all in Objective-C. Knowing the native language of a platform is always the best thing, and if someone wanted to get started with iOS development, I’d recommend learning Objective-C.

RubyMotion costs $200, and this might be a barrier for it taking off. The Ruby community is used to things being open source and free. It’d be nice if they took the approach Apple does with Xcode. With a free Apple Developer account, you can create apps, but your limited to running them in the simulator. Once you pay the $99 for to be a part of the developer program, you can put apps on devices and the App Store. RubyMotion could do the same, free for apps running on the simulator, and purchase to put apps in the App Store.

The creator of it is former Apple employee, Laurent Sansonetti, who also led the development of the MacRuby project, which tries to achieve the same goal by allowing devs to create OS X apps with Ruby. Apple supported the MacRuby project heavily in the past, but it seems to have slowed with the rise of iOS. I have to think that Sansonetti proposed Ruby on iOS while he was at Apple, but it didn’t get support internally. Apple doesn’t like platforms being built on top of it’s own platforms because they loose control and if the apps created using the platform don’t match the user experience Apple wants, they can’t do anything about it (remember flash).

I’m skeptical that it’ll take off, but am definitely rooting for it.