Will Swift Playgrounds See Love at WWDC23?
Swift Playgrounds is an excellent entry point into the world of iOS app development, with a simplistic approach to teaching core programming concepts that makes it an invaluable tool for educators teaching the subject. But where is it heading?
The Current State Of Swift Playgrounds
First, don't get scared away if you're not a Swift / iOS developer. I do believe that even though the lessons are written in Swift and SwiftUI, you can apply the concepts it teaches to many other languages.
In 2021, Apple made Swift Playgrounds even more exciting when they turned it into a mini-IDE. This update allowed users to write fully functional apps and publish them directly to the App Store within Swift Playgrounds, giving us a glimpse of what iPad programming could look like.
However, since then, not much has changed. Last year, many of us (including myself) were hopeful that Apple would announce significant updates to Swift Playgrounds during their Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Or maybe even give us the fully featured iPad version of Xcode we're all asking for.
Even with the hopefulness that I had, I'm not surprised that those expectations didn't materialize. So here we are still wondering what's next for Swift Playgrounds?
So What's Next for Swift Playgrounds?
There's no denying that Swift Playgrounds is an excellent tool for learning programming concepts. It's even possible to brute force your way to a fully functional production app (albiet a small and limited one) with just an iPad and Swift Playgrounds. However, if iPad app development is something Apple wants to experiment with further then we need a more powerful tool.
Apple needs to be careful though because if they just start adding more features into Swift Playgrounds it risks losing the DNA that sets it apart from other apps – simplicity.
Without simplicity, Swift Playgrounds would no longer be the accessable tool for teaching programming that it is today. It would no longer be a lightweight, fast app with a streamlined pathway from idea to production.
Can Swift Playgrounds Become the iPad IDE We Dream Of?
It's natural to wonder whether Swift Playgrounds could become something more than just a tool for hobbyists and educators. What if it could become the future of app development on the iPad? The iPad is a powerful device (arguablely limited by the lack of professional software tools like Xcode).
So yes – it's easy to dream of a world where you can develop professional-grade apps on the iPad, but reality is never as easy as our dreams make it out to be.
As I mentioned early - the biggest challenge is that Swift Playgrounds was not designed to be a full-featured development environment. It was designed to be a tool for teaching programming concepts. It was targeted to young programmers as a way to build familiarity with Apple's tools.
So if Swift Playgrounds is to become a full featured IDE then Apple will need to balance the desire to add new features and capabilities with the need to keep the tool simple and easy to use.
Or... and I think this is the better solution. Use the lessons they've learned through Swift Playgrounds to develop a built for iPad version of Xcode. Something that does away with a lot of the bloat that the Mac version lives with to make it fast, but give us the capabilities and features that are lacking in Swift Playgrounds.
Is that really too much to ask?
Bonus Question: Swift Playgrounds and Mixed Reality?
With the rumors of Apple's imminent lauch of a mixed reality headset I have wondered what that might mean for Swift Playgrounds. Could we see mixed reality tools get folded into Swift Playgrounds too? What about Swift Playgrounds in VR?!
Okay – maybe I've gone off the deep end here – but it's fun to ask these "blue sky" / "what if" questions. Right?