Apple had a language problem, which it solved in 2014 with Swift. It is now Google's turn to be in a situation not unlike Apple's, before the introduction of Swift: Google has a language problem.
The problem is Java, which is used to develop apps on Android, and internally at Google to create many of their own apps. The issue with Java is that it is controlled by Oracle, a company Google is fighting in court, and as a 20-year language that evolves very slowly, it is now just plain obsolete. To solve this problem, Google needs a new language, and I see 3 possible contenders, Kotlin, Swift, and Scala:
|Benefits compared to Java||High||High||Very high|
|Difficulty to target Android||Low||Hard||Medium|
|Difficulty to target iOS||Hard||Low||Medium|
|Difficulty to target the Web||Medium||High||Low|
Other alternatives exist, but seem less realistic, at least in the short term:
- A new Google language - Apple created its own language: Swift. So, couldn't Google come up with their own language as well? This would be a major undertaking. It isn't something outside of Google's league, but if such a large project was underway and getting even remotely close to something they could release, Google being a fairly open company, we would by now have heard about it.
- An existing Google language - That would be: Go or Dart:
- Go is designed for system programming, not application programming. It doesn't compete with languages like Kotlin, Swift, or Scala, because it wasn't designed to.
- Swift has a lot going for it, but a large amount of work would be needed to make it a viable first-class programming language for Android (think: IDE, APIs, interop with existing code). And maybe even more importantly, how wise would it be for Google to bet on a language designed and controlled by one its competitors?
- Scala is the best technical solution, both for the capabilities of the language itself, its IDE support (JetBrains' own IntelliJ, Eclipse, and through ENSIME in Emacs, Vim, and Atom), a rich library ecosystem, its ability to target the web through the production-ready Scala.js, and a project underway to create a LLVM backend, which would enable it to target iOS. But the complexity of the language, both real and perceived, is a big hurdle to overcome.
- Kotlin can be seen as a lesser-Scala: from a technical perspective, it might not be as strong as Scala, but it is strong-enough, and it is less controversial than Scala, and thus easier to sell to Java developers.