What hardware does one need for iOS development? This question is especially important if you, like me, don’t owe a Mac, or yours is old. Does one need a Mac? If you are willing to go non-native, you can use PhoneGap Build, which is web based and bakes your app from HTML/CSS/JS. But in that case you still need access to a Mac at some point to configure your certificate. Also, PhoneGap limits you, and PhoneGap Build does so even more. Others may succeed installing OS X on their normal PC, but that is a forest of tutorials and trial-and-errors that I explored long enough to know I don’t want to waste any more of my time on it.
Xcode 3 or 4
For classical Xcode development, you will need a Mac. What kind? Summing up a lot of threads all over the internet, a 2Gb / ~2+ Ghz / Snow Leopard setup used to be enough. But is that still the case? Because that applies to Xcode 3. To target iOS 5 (more about that below), one needs Xcode 4.2 or higher, to target iOS 5.1, Xcode 4.3 or higher is required. The first is available for OSX Snow Leopard. The latter however requires at least Lion and even testing on an iPhone with iOS 5.1 requires either Xcode 4.3 or a workaround (link). The general consensus is for Lion + Xcode 4, a minimum of 4Gb RAM is reasonable.
iOS 4 / 5 / 5.1
Since Xcode 3 doesn’t support iOS 5, and Xcode 4 and especially 4.3 require a better Mac, the iOS 4 vs 5 debate is important. In contrast to Android, iOS has a much faster acceptance rate. Looking at data from various websites, the market penetration of iOS 5 is already 80 to 92 percent, with iOS 5.1 in the lead. So from that point of view, targeting iOS 5 makes sense. Even though iOS 4 apps will generally run on iOS 5, you’d be missing out on various new features. This gap will grow even bigger over time.
So. Mac. It. Is.
So, every single path leads towards buying a Mac. One could get away with buying a second hand machine, but if you do so being a company, you’ll need to buy such an old Mac to overcome the VAT difference (plus the risk of second hand buying) that there is a big chance that the specs will be or very soon become outdated.
So my current position on this matter is to buy a new Mac. This boils down to buying (at least) either a MacBook Pro 13″ / 4Gb / 2.4Ghz i5 / Lion for € 965 (excl VAT) or a Mac Mini 4 Gb / 2.3 Ghz i5 / Lion for € 590. Add € 50 for a KVM switch and a Mac-VGA cable for the latter and you’re in business, albeit not mobile.