The Stephen Perse Foundation has a enjoyed a long and productive partnership with Apple, and after sharing my ideas with Apple Education I was selected as a scholarship recipient to attend the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC 16), taking place this week in San Francisco. I thought that the College community might be interested to hear about some of my experiences and reflections.
Monday morning – being in a room with 5,000 hackers, high on caffeine and donuts is an experience I will never forget! It is very powerful to be in such a big crowd, and my initial skepticism soon melted into genuine excitment, as lots of cool updates were released.
The media coverage is concentrating on the expansion of Siri onto laptops and desktops running macOS (the new name for OS X in its Sierra iteration), on the machine learning and prediction within iOS Apps based on your previous beahviours, and of opening up much of the standard functionality to extensions from developers (Siri, Messages, Maps,…). This was all very exciting, but this all paled for me with some exciting beautiful amazing wonderful great super fantastic news about Swift (Apple’s own programming language) – indeed, at this point I found my inner “whoop”.
Swift has existed as part of XCode in the developer toolkit on OS X for a couple of years and has taken over from Objective C as the preferred Apple development language (most new Apps on your iPhone/iPad are written using it). Swift was made more accessible to non-expert coders with the advent of Playgrounds – an environment where the code compiles real time in the background, and you get immediate feedback on the effects of tweaking your code. Swift has been easy to read, and intuitive, but the need for a high powered Mac has limited distribution in schools. Today Apple announced a new app, Swift Playgrounds for iOS (iPads and iPhones).
New apps are released every minute, new coding apps every day, why was this announcement significant?
Well, firstly, there was the release itself: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. announced the product, placing it front and centre of the keynote speech. By tying himself so close to the project it creates a sense that this project cannot fail, and the tech giant will continue to throw money and resources to make sure it works – success here defined by becoming a popular language on which to learn to code in schools.
Secondly, as part of this release Apple have added a huge amount of supporting materials. There are templates of “Playgrounds” (partially written code) to experiment with, iBooks on both learning and teaching the language, coming in two distinct strands – a fun introduction to coding (with the hook of nice graphics and a cute character to control but where crucially the programming is already text based, using authentic Swift code) targeted at 12-16 year olds; basic app development (equally well supported) aimed at 14-18 year olds.
Finally, the iPad interface is very clever, with excellent predictive text (and a new popup “coding keyboard” which brings entering the standard symbols within a singles swipe) which will hopefully make coding on an iPad a viable option.
This week I am in discussion with the team about developing more statistics resources, exploring the question “What’s the big deal about Big Data” for our learners at the SPF and beyond.
The books are already up on the iBooks store, and the app will be available in beta over the summer before a full release later in the year. We are in a wonderfully strong position at SPF to exploit this new functionality when it becomes available in the autumn.