Xcode on iPad


Swift Playgrounds was a big step for Apple and the iPad. It let them use their new programing language Swift to help future developers learn to code for its platforms. They championed hour of code setting up classes in Apple stores to teach kids how they can code. But as Paul Miller’s recent article points out there is a gap between learning and doing.

Xcode is what macOS and iOS developers use to write and develop software for Apple’s Platforms. While Swift Playgrounds is great for people who are learning Swift and programing fundamentals they will ultimately need to jump to the Mac and work with Xcode. This happened to myself, learning on my iPad with Swift Playgrounds only to abandon it for my Mac and more complicated iOS books to learn how to build an app from scratch.

I think this divide might be addressed soon by Apple based on some stories that have been published. When Swift Playgrounds came out I think many including myself thought that Xcode on iPad was inevitable. But we still haven’t seen it materialize yet, currently we have two different frameworks app developers use on Apples platforms. We have AppKit for macOS development and UIKit for iOS development. Xcode on iOS would need to address these two frameworks unless a new one is developed.

In December of last year Mark Gurman  broke a news story about an internal Apple project named “Marzipan”. Numerous reactions have been published since, but in Apple’s developer community its read as a potential universal framework for macOS and iOS. More recently Gurman published another story on how the Mac will begin to ditch intel in favor of custom ARM processors.

With these stories and WWDC around the corner in June I’ve been thinking about Xcode and the iPad again. If this year we see project Marzipan debut as a new framework for developers I think we might finally see Xcode on the iPad. If the Mac adopts these custom ARM chips as Gurman says then Apple has to have macOS run on it. Apple would have to adapt their apps including Xcode to run on these new chipsets. Personally I think Apple has already tested this in their labs and we will finally get to see it sooner rather than later.

If these things come to pass it makes sense why Xcode hasn’t been on iOS yet. It’s simpler to wait for marzipan to ship and get Xcode running on ARM perfectly before its released to developers publicly. If the future of computing is the iPad and iOS like Apple says it is they need to address current app development.  Having to develop iOS apps with the Mac must be a limitation of iOS that goes away. I think in the near future we are heading to you will be able to make an iOS app with the Mac and with iOS.

Once you have a universal framework and Macs that run on ARM just as iOS devices do then you start to get into new possibilities. Right now we have two main Apple OS’s with macOS and iOS. But these can all be the steps toward a unified operating system that runs on different form factors.   This is the theme of this weeks Connected podcast episode, where Myke, Frederico, and Stephen ponder what the Gurman article means.

It’s an insightful conversation and got me thinking of Xcode because it’s the missing puzzle on iOS. The iOS App Store wouldn’t be where it is today with ought Xcode on the Mac having iOS development being possible. Xcode on iOS running Swift and using Marzipan in parallel with the Mac seems like a reality we might be coming to soon. I think it will happen in the next two years, but as this WWDC is approaching I really hope we finally see Xcode on iPad this year.

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