Apple brings native app development to iPad, but it’s not quite Xcode
Apple’s iPads can do many of the same tasks traditional PCs can do, like web browsing, editing documents, messaging, and teleconferencing. Apple has even brought some of its professional-level software to the iPad, including GarageBand and Keynote, but some applications remain Mac-exclusive. Some hoped that Apple would bring Xcode (the IDE for creating Mac/iOS/Watch/TV apps) to the iPad, but Apple has something different in mind.
Apple first released Swift Playgrounds in 2016 as an educational tool and simple development environment for the Swift programming language. It couldn’t be used to create complete iOS applications for submitting to the App Store, but Swift Playgrounds was a great starting point for learning modern software development.
Swift Playgrounds 4 was announced today at Apple’s WWDC event, with the new ability to submit projects to the App Store as iPhone and iPad apps. “Code is immediately reflected in the live preview while building apps,” Apple said, “and users can run their apps full screen to test them out. A new open project format based on Swift packages can open and be edited in Swift Playgrounds for iPad as well as within Xcode on Mac, offering users even more versatility to develop apps across iPad and Mac.”
The updated Swift Playgrounds app isn’t quite comparable to the full XCode experience, but it does provide a way to submit projects to the App Store for the first time. The ability to move projects to XCode later is definitely helpful — if the app you’re making is becoming too complicated, you can upgrade the IDE later without losing any work.
Apple didn’t mention in its announcement if Swift Playgrounds 4 will require iPadOS 15, but the app update won’t be ready until “later in the year.” The Mac version will be updated in early 2022. This announcement is a good reminder that the M1 chip in the new iPad should be used for more than what iPadOS is capable of, so we’re hoping this is only the start of Apple enabling more powerful productivity and programming experiences on the iPad.