Apple’s Swift Playgrounds is a coding class disguised as a video game

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Along with the release of iOS 10 this fall, Apple will release a video game filled with weird aliens, blocky worlds, collectible gems, and clever logic puzzles. Only it’s not just a video game – it’s a series of coding lessons and challenges designed to teach kids the basics of computer science, all based on Apple’s new programming language, Swift. .

The app is called Swift Playgrounds and you can try it out right now if you install the iOS 10 beta on an iPad. What you’ll find is a surprisingly deep and surprisingly fun set of lessons that make it easy to learn coding basics. “What we set out to do is create something really inspiring for the next generation of students to get them excited about coding,” said Cheryl Thomas, vice president of operations at Apple software engineering.

Apple

Only the first coding course is currently available, but Apple has more of it than you might think. The course is a series of 12 lessons that begins by explaining what a command is and continues through topics such as algorithms, loops, and parameters. There’s probably a good six hours of content for an adult ignorant of coding (like me), and probably a lot more for the game’s target audience.

I spent about an hour playing the first lessons this week and had a great time with them. For an adult (even someone unfamiliar with programming) the lessons were easy enough to walk through, but there was enough basic logical challenge to make them entertaining. The weird animated Cyclops you control, which might be the strangest thing Apple has created in years, also improves the experience.

I loved Zoombinis when i was a kid i dreamed of having an introductory gaming coding program which i saw in a video game magazine but couldn’t run because my home pc was missing of a few megabytes of RAM (that was in the 90s), so it’s easy for me to imagine some kids having fun with Swift Playgrounds. The app seems to strike the right balance between education and fun. I’m not sure exactly how far these lessons can take you to become a programmer, but Apple pointed out to me that everything you learn is real Swift code.

A second course, on Creating Photo Filters, is planned for the launch of iOS 10. Apple intends to continue releasing new courses over time, as well as one-off and open-ended challenges, which may appear in the application. more often. So far, everything is available for free download. (Be aware that the current beta has its share of bugs.)

Quick playgrounds

Apple

There’s also a lot more depth hidden inside the play areas that kids can find after lessons are over. As Apple describes, Playgrounds is pretty much a wide open sandbox for coding on iOS. “The possibilities of Playgrounds are enormous,” said Wiley Hodges, director of product marketing at Apple. “You have access to almost all of the SDK and iOS code.” This includes everything from an iPad’s accelerometer to Metal, iOS’s graphics API.

You’re not quite able to develop an app inside Playgrounds, but Thomas says it’s entirely possible for an experienced developer to go in and “do something quick and easy, or not so quick and easy, that he would try on Xcode. ” The point is, ambitious learners could go pretty far in Playgrounds, even if Apple won’t hold their hand the entire way.

“The lessons are designed to teach the basics, but the platform is open to almost anything you’d like to do,” says Tim Triemstra, who manages developer tools marketing at Apple.

Apple expects computer science and programming teachers to expand on what Playgrounds already has to offer. They will be able to create their own lessons and challenges, and send them to students using the app’s sharing feature. Anything students create in the app can also be shared with others. Apple also intends to eventually create classroom tools that will allow teachers to interact with students throughout class.

While there are some obvious educational benefits here, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still some significant limitations for aspiring iOS programmers. For one thing, an iPad costs around $ 400 (a little more or a little less, depending on the model), which means these lessons are far from available for free. Students will likely need some outside education before making a career in coding. And Apple is putting in place other financial hurdles beyond that, like charging a fee for the ability to publish on the App Store.

That’s not to say that Apple should be entirely responsible for coding education, just to anticipate Silicon Valley’s occasional illusions of grandeur about apps solving major global problems. Swift Playgrounds doesn’t try to be a complete solution, however – it tries to be, well, a playground, a way for students to start playing with Swift. And so far it seems to be a success.


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