Last December, about the same time when Apple was busy announcing that its Swift programming language was going open-source at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), representatives from Google, Facebook, and Uber were having a secret meeting somewhere in London about Swift's future, TNW reports, citing an inside source.
The source said that the three companies talked about ways to use this new programming language, now that it was out in the open under an open license and away's from Apple's closed environment.
While Facebook and Uber were more interested in how Swift could be used on servers (yes, Swift can run server-side), Google was exploring the idea of replacing Oracle's Java as the language behind its Android mobile operating system.
Ever since Oracle sued Google in 2012, the lawsuit has been a thorn in Google's mobile business. Things took a turn for the worse in recent years, and especially lately after Oracle requested damages of $9.3 billion (€8.3 billion) for Google's use of Java's proprietary APIs, which Big Red says aren't covered by the GPL license, under which Java is offered.
The whole dispute has started to wear on Google, who's fearing that courts that once ruled in its favor a few years back, and have switched opinions towards Oracle side, may not be convinced by its arguments anymore.
Trying to avoid a situation where Oracle gets a cut of its hard work, recently, Google has started moving some of Android's inner parts from Oracle's Java APIs to their open-source counterparts from OpenJDK. This change is set to happen with Android N, the current Android version under development, expected to be released this year.
The secret London meeting was a way for the three companies to learn from each other's expertise and decide if Swift is worth the effort.
On the other hand, Swift has been lauded for its simplistic syntax, one of the reasons that a week after its release it become the most fork'ed and star'ed programming language on GitHub.
Facebook's efforts are also doubled by IBM, who's been working on improving Swift's server integration. Compared to Swift on Android devices, Facebook and Uber's dream of having Swift run server-side and then rewriting client-side apps looks more doable.
On the other hand, Google would need to rewrite Android's entire codebase, and then find a way to make newer apps run on older Android versions via some kind of Swift runtime. The workload is monumental, but nothing that Google engineers can't handle.
Ever since the Oracle lawsuit started, these kind of "Google is moving away from Java to [insert_name] language" have come up a few more times. Other languages to which Google was rumored to move were Kotlin, a language derived from Java, and Google's own Dart language.
While porting Android to Kotlin would take less time and create less backward dependency headaches, TNW claims that Google sources said Kotlin is just a little bit too slow when compiling, something at which both Dart and Swift excel.
All of this should be taken with a grain of salt, since probably that secret London meeting was only mundane brainstorming between company reps and not the place where Android's fate was decided, since that decision must be made at the highest levels of Google's leadership.
Our opinion is that Google would still hang on to Java as long as it can, and avoid turning the Android ecosystem upside down with a Swift-based release.