[Swift File Icon] by Apple Inc.

Swift filetype icon. (Image via TUAW)
Swift filetype icon. Click to enlarge.
(Image via TUAW)

On 2 June, at the annual Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced Swift, a new programming language created for the development of Apple software. The new language brought with it a new filetype—the .swift file—which itself came with a new icon. As with all things Apple, the Swift icon was quickly dissected, and it was discovered that the icon for Swift files contained a variant of the text of Apple’s famous Think Different ads, which first aired in 1997. The “Think Different” speech has appeared peppered throughout Apple’s software: as Yoni Heisler notes in his article for The Unofficial Apple Weblog, the text of the speech has appeared in icons for Apple’s TextEdit application and “All My Files” Finder icons.

The snippet of code in the Swift icon is an example of code poetry—poetry written in code itself, and to be read as code rather than as the output of code. While not the most common form of e-poetry, code poetry has received some popular attention in recent years, appearing in the 20th anniversary issue of Wired, a Code Poetry Slam at Stanford, and an anthology, entitled code {poems} (an excerpt of which appears in the Wired article). Code poetry counters the notion that while the output of code may be creative and poetic, the code itself is rigidly banal and functional. To those unfamiliar with code, it seems imposing, impenetrable, inscrutable, and impossibly unpoetic, with no possibility of play. But the same can be said about any language we might encounter poetry in—only once we get a sense for a language do we begin to see the poetic gaps between words and phrases. Indeed, the significance of the Swift icon depends on this.

While it would be easy to brush the Swift icon off as a simple Easter Egg, one in a series, it is worth considering its rhetorical effect. Swift is a revolutionary new language for Apple, who has traditionally forced developers to use Objective-C when building apps for the company’s devices. Objective-C is a notoriously difficult language, and Swift provides a clear, easy-to-use alternative. The Swift icon, with its immediately recognisable reference to the Think Different ad, underscores the language’s readability: even a reader with only a moderate understanding of programming can immediately recognise the use of classes, variables, functions, and other aspects of the language.

Ultimately, the Swift icon heralds a new age in the development of apps. Whereas before developers were forced to think in the often-alien language of Objective-C, Swift and its icon invite developers to think different.