What it is: Xcode is an integrated development environment (IDE) for creating OS X and iOS programs.
One of the reasons why MS-DOS and later Windows became so popular was because so many people were writing software for those operating systems. So many programmers wrote software for MS-DOS and Windows because so many people were using it, so it became a vicious cycle. The more people who used MS-DOS/Windows, the more programmers flocked to write software for those operating systems. The more programmers wrote software for MS-DOS/Windows, the more people wanted to use those operating systems.
Meanwhile, Apple’s Macintosh struggled with limited market share. When Apple switched from the 68000 processor to PowerPC processors, they made a fatal mistake. There was little software for PowerPC processors. Fortunately, a company released a compiler called CodeWarrior that made writing PowerPC programs easy. Pretty soon, more Macintosh programmers were using CodeWarrior to write PowerPC programs, and that basically saved the Macintosh PowerPC market.
When Apple switched from PowerPC processors to Intel processors, they didn’t make that same mistake. They had earlier created Xcode in 2003 and had Xcode ready to help programmers make the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors. The real importance of Xcode was making it easy for programmers to use a single tool for creating Macintosh programs.
When Apple finally allowed programmers to create iPhone apps, Xcode was ready once more. Now people could use Xcode to create Macintosh programs or iPhone apps. As the App Store exploded in popularity, apps became the hottest gold rush, which meant more people downloading, installing, and using Xcode.
Of course, Xcode served two other purposes. Besides helping programmers create iOS apps, Xcode only ran on the Macintosh, which boosted sales of the Macintosh. If you wanted to create iPhone apps, you had to buy a Macintosh to run Xcode.
Once people knew how to use Xcode, it was trivial to write programs for OS X. That made it easy for programmers to learn Xcode once and be able to write both OS X and iOS programs using the same tool and mostly the same skills. Thus Xcode helped indirectly sell more Macintosh computers by also increasing the number of OS X software on the market.
As the iPad grew in popularity, programmers started developing iPad apps. As the Apple Watch, Apple TV, and CarPlay become popular running iOS, the iOS app market continues to grow, which means more programmers will want to use Xcode to create software. That means buying more Macintosh computers just to use Xcode.
Of course, once more people start using a Macintosh, a certain percentage of them will keep using a Macintosh and switch to it entirely. The end result is a steady increase in the Macintosh’s market share as sales of Macintosh computers slowly creeps upwards.
By itself, Xcode isn’t responsible for increasing Macintosh sales, but it does play a small part. You can create iOS apps using Windows PCs, but the process is clumsier. If you want a programming tool that offers the latest programming features of OS X and iOS, your only choice is Xcode.
By making Xcode free, Apple keeps encouraging others to experiment with programming. The more people developing software for OS X and iOS, the more popular both operating systems will get. The more people start using OS X and iOS, the more lucrative the market will get for OS X and iOS programmers.
Just as with Windows, the vicious cycle keeps attracting more users to OS X and iOS while also attracting more programmers to OS X and iOS.
Without Xcode, there would be far less incentive for programmers to switch to the Macintosh. Without being free, Xcode wouldn’t attract as many people willing to try writing their own programs.
For now and in the future, Xcode will play a crucial role in providing the best programming tool for OS X and iOS. That simply translates into more Macintosh sales, more OS X and iOS software, and more users flocking to OS X and iOS. Xcode is just part of Apple’s long-term strategy to make the entire OS X/iOS ecosystem far more attractive to both users and developers alike, and that just makes OS X and iOS more of a growing and dominant standard in the desktop, mobile, and wearable computing market everyday.