Objective-C and Cocoa are a nice environment to work in. The nicety of Cocoa comes from the fact that it is an object runtime system rather than a bunch of objects compiled into a running program. A Nib file (or xib file as they are called now) is nothing else than a saved snapshot of instantiated and configured GUI objects. So loading a nib is like loading a Smalltalk image: living objects are woken up and continue running at just the place they were when they were saved.
So Objective-C and Cocoa are very similar to a Smalltalk system. But still lightyears away from the real thing. Apple is doing their best to make it better and better and make it feel like a live object system. The just-released Xcode 4 IDE is a big step forward into this direction. (Side note: The eclipse community is also constantly moving into the object system direction by building something very similar to a Smalltalk image).
The next logical step after the achievements with using LLVM as an intermediate layer below Objective-C would be to get rid of the C heritage of Objective-C. Not only is the fact that you have to put Objective-C expressions into square brackets annoying, but also the fact that you need to convert from base types and structs into Objective-C objects and back a lot more often than a programmer would like.
Rumors of Apple working on a new fully dynamic programming language that runs on top of LLVM and reuses the Cocoa object model aren’t really new, but I think they make sense. And having used both Objective-C and Smalltalk, I sometimes think that Objective-C is quite good, if only their creators had gone one or two steps further and made it not only a poor man’s Smalltalk, but rather a real alternative to it. But back in the 90ies when CPU cycles were expensive, NeXT probably had not many alternatives to preprocess down to C and compile classic C code. Today, the C fundament is the weakest spot of the language, not only in my opinion.
So I hope there’s some truth behind the speculations about a new language. Apple has owned a Smalltalk implementation in the past (it’s now open-sourced and called Squeak), so the new language is probably not going to be Smalltalk, but I am sure it will be very much like it (because Cocoa and Objective-C are very similar to Smalltalk and have proven to be powerful): dynamically typed, a live object system (maybe even image based) and with a pure and easy syntax. Swimming on Apple’s wave of success, this could get very popular, and it will surely feel a lot like Smalltalk.
With LLVM and far over a decade of experience with NeXT Step, Cocoa and Xcode, Apple has all that’s needed to build a great programming language, IDE and object runtime system that’s far superior to what most people out there are using today.