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Trix may be for kids, but Swift Playgrounds should be for everyone

I have a confession. When my kids were really little, I used to eat their Gerber vanilla custard pudding when no one was looking. When they were somewhat older, we went to Pixar movies. At at a certain point, I sort of made them go with me. I didn't want to be the creepy adult male in a Pixar flick. By now, you should be picking up a trend. Yep, sometimes I like the things that perhaps were not targeted to my demographic.

That brings me to the news of Apple's new iPad app, Swift Playgrounds. It's designed to teach kids to code. Kids need to learn to code "like a fish needs a bicycle," to steal a metaphor. Kids who want to learn to code should, but that's not the point I'm making. Swift Playgrounds might be targeted to "kids" but I think that's a mistake. Swift Playgrounds should really be called programming or coding for the "rest of us." In fact, what Swift Playgrounds really is the the true descendent of HyperCard.

Like many, I mourned the passing of HyperCard.

HyperCard was the brainchild of Bill Atkinson who created MacPaint. Word is, Bill offered it to Apple on only one condition: It had to be free for all Apple users. Free as in beer. Legend has when John Scully, then CEO of Apple, said on first sight, "Now I can program". HyperCard was built on a metaphor of "cards". Each card was the size of then Macintosh screen. "Programming" was done by using "objects" with natural language. Cards, objects could be linked at a time when the idea of a "hyperlink" was a vague concept that few understood. Virtually anyone could create a "stack" of cards, linked together with ease. It was a simple or sophisticated as your imagination.

I once created both an educational program to teach Talmud as well as a mission critical application for the CEO of a Fortune five company. My programming skills are limited to what I learned getting a minor in Computer Science. Like many, I mourned the passing of HyperCard.

Swift Playgrounds is awesome. I reject the idea that coding needs to be a part of the core curriculum of any school. That said, any tool that unlocks the power of the most powerful devices ever created is amazing. It's a tool beyond amazing.

Sorry, Tim. I know that Swift Playgrounds isn't meant for me. It's meant for students. After all, coding for kids is the new mantra. Nope, unlike Trix, Swift Playgrounds isn't just for kids. It's the Gerber Vanilla Custard Pudding of the 21st Century. I don't even need to have a kid around to use it.

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I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.

13 Comments
  • Actually, the Swift Playgrounds app is very much a tool for everyone -- from beginners to expert programmers. You can transfer code back and forth between the Playgrounds app and Xcode. I suspect that IBM had a lot of influence in the development of the Playgrounds app, so that their developers could use it in the field. Here's an overview of the app that I posted to another forum: The Playgrounds app starts the user with an analogy that a program can be a s simple as planting rows of seeds in a garden Then creates a canvas which includes:
    • An animated character
    • A small 3D world - a grid divided into squares
    • A jewel in one of the squares
    • Two commands *
    moveForward()
    collectGem() * It is noteworthy that they are called commands -- because you are telling the animated character what to do ... Calling by its real name func, at this stage would be confusing ... But why do they call it a function??? What does a function mean, anyway??? Also they point out that the "words in commands are mashed together (that's just the way they are) and that commands are always followed by parenthesis -- You'll see why later!" The solution to the first problem is:
    moveForward()
    moveForward()
    collectGem() And when the student enters (taps) the right sequence of commands, the Animated character bounces around and the student is given a message reinforcing his effort. For the next problem the user is given a new command turnLeft() and a harder grid. Later problems require the student figure out a way to command the character to turn to the right and turn around -- with only those 3 commands ... Then, the need to repeat commands (collect more gems) teaches the student how to write loops. Before long the problem becomes more complex and the need arises to combine several commands together -- and the app helps the student write a func and shows him why it is necessary. No explanation of why the parenthesis, yet -- but that comes when the student needs to pass parameters to his func. The student has a set of tools that he can drag into his program: loops, structures, func, if, switch, logic, etc. ... This is a shortcut to quickly get the needed constructs into his code without a lot of typing and typos. But, surprisingly soon, the student is just typing code -- writing funcs that invoke other funcs he has written, debugging, exploring better ways to do things, refactoring his code -- receiving reinforcement when he gets it right .. You'll be amazed how well it teaches problem analysis, prototyping and, yes, coding -- not bad for a beta version and only the first lesson.
  • Totally agree. I'm 55 and plan to download this when it's available.
  • Good for you man! I'm 41 and plan to download it as well.. I kind of feel like I'm illiterate and it's the 1890's... Not everyone knew how to read and write but dammit I am going to learn because it's important.
  • I'm 47 and I plan on downloading it too. I have a little background in programming (years ago) with both Cobol and Visual Basic. I can't wait to see if I remember anything or if anything even still applies today...lol. Whether I remember anything or not this apps looks like fun and I can't wait to play with it.
  • Same here man and I'm 40! 20 something years ago I wrote some code for DOS based stuff and this just looks fun! I have been wanting to get back into it forever and this could be the way!
  • I'm loving it. I've been steadily working through the exercises. I haven't programmed since Basic in 1975, so it's been fun to challenge my brain again and learn some basic Swift. I'll keep going and am looking forward to the advanced course(coming soon). Sent from the iMore App
  • One note: anyone can create the playground courses for iPad. They are authored on a Mac. The WWDC video session for playgrounds shows how they are created: https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/408/ . In the comment chain here, **** Applebaum notes that IBM Professional Services may have influenced the development of playgrounds. Whether or not they were part of creating Swift iPad Playgrounds, professional organizations like IBM could definitely use them to demo capabilities in the field -- even doing modifications of their playground code in the field on the fly. Organizations like IBM would have the ability to have a vast number of playground demonstrations available for sales/prototyping. Win-win.
  • Mmm .... HyperSwift!
  • Man this is like be back in Computer Tech school lol.
  • I havent tried it yet but I might give it a bash this evening, beats being bored in the hotel!
  • Right there with you Michael. I was one of these HyperCard/HyperTalk fanatics for whom that was the closest thing to programming I would ever experience. I still remember the Douglas Adams piece about HyperCard in MacUser magazine in 1988. Extremely excited about Swift Playgrounds and what it may represent. Hopefully Apple will provide follow-up tools to ease us into that environment and enable us to create custom apps like in those HyperCard days.
  • It's already in place and available for devs who download the Mac and iOS environments. Watch WWDC presentation 408: https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/408/ . This does not have the smoothness and simplicity of HyperCard, but it is tremendously capable.
  • I LOVED hypercard as a kid. I made choose your own adventure / kings quest like games on it with leveling and and everything. What a great idea!