Apple brings native app development to the iPad, but it’s not quite Xcode

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Apple iPads can do many of the tasks that traditional PCs can do, such as browsing the web, editing documents, messaging, and conferencing. Apple even brought some of its pro-level software to the iPad, including GarageBand and Keynote, but some apps remain Mac-exclusive. Some were hoping Apple would bring Xcode (the IDE for making 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 build full iOS apps to submit 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. “The code is immediately reflected in the live preview when building apps,” Apple said, “and users can run their apps in full screen to test them out. A new package-based open project format Swift can be opened and edited in Swift Playgrounds for iPad as well as Xcode on Mac, giving users even more versatility for developing apps on iPad and Mac.

The updated Swift Playgrounds app doesn’t quite compare to the full XCode experience, but it does allow projects to be submitted to the App Store for the first time. The ability to move projects to XCode later is certainly useful – if the app you’re building gets too complicated, you can upgrade the IDE later without losing work.

Apple didn’t mention in its announcement whether 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 new iPad’s M1 chip is expected to be used for more than what iPadOS is capable of, so we hope this is only the start of Apple allowing plus powerful programming and productivity experiences on the iPad.


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