HE LOOKS LIKE a Minion, one of those yellow, cycloptic creatures from Despicable Me, except he’s brown and pear-shaped. And he wears what appears to be a fanny pack.
So, really, he looks more like a middle-aged, middle American Minion who spends too much time in the sun. And right now, he’s on my iPad, ambling across an airborne tropical island in search of spinning, sparkling, levitating red rhinestones. His name is Byte, and I have to say: he’s a rather endearing little cartoon. Plus, I can control him with software code.
With one-line commands or nested functions or while loops or conditional code or logical operators, I can make him to walk, leap, turn around, flip a switch, and all sorts of other stuff. And if none of that means anything to you, well, you’re in luck. Byte is here to teach you.
This is the new Swift Playgrounds app, the next step on Apple’s path towards a new breed of computer programming. If you’re not a coder, that may seem a tad esoteric. But you’re the app’s target audience, along with everyone else. With Playgrounds, Apple pretty much wants to turn us all into coders. And considering the code-centric way the world is moving, that’s not such a bad idea.
Two years ago, Apple unveiled a programming language called Swift. Like various otherlanguages created over the last several years, Swift aimed to simplify and streamline the art of coding without sacrificing the speed and power needed to build apps and online services in the modern world. Part of this push was a tool called Playgrounds, which until now only ran on laptops and desktops. It gave Apple coders a new way of looking at code. As they wrote their code on one half of the screen, they could watch it execute on the other.
That’s not exactly a new thing. Other tools operate in similar ways, including IPython (aka Jupyter) and Mathematica. But this is Apple, the company that makes the iPhone and the iPad. It has a certain out-sized influence over the rest of the computing world. According to some estimates, Swift is already one of the world’s most popular languages—mainly because it’s a way of building stuff for the wildly popular iPhone and iPad. Now, with the new Playgrounds iPad app, Apple is hoping to push the language into the hands of everyone, including your kids.
“Swift is not just a thing that pro developers can use,” says Wiley Hodges, an Apple product marketing manager that helps oversee Swift and Playgrounds. “It could be someone’s first programming language.”