Two years ago, Apple introduced a new coding language, Swift, that it hoped would appeal to a new generation of developers. At its annual developer conference today, Apple highlighted the fact that lots of young coders had taken up that challenge, some of them as young as nine years old. To help continue bringing new programmers into the fold, Apple unveiled a new app today, Swift Playgrounds, that is meant to teach kids basic coding skills in Apple's chosen language.
The Playgrounds app teaches basic programming concepts like loops and conditionals. It uses an animated character tasked with performing simple challenges in a digital maze to make learning fun. It offers suggested language for code, an autofill of sorts. The app will be free, and Apple CEO Tim Cook called it "a powerful new way for kids to learn to code," and compared writing code to basic literacy.
"I wish Swift Playgrounds was around when I was first learning to code," said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. "Swift Playgrounds is the only app of its kind that is both easy enough for students and beginners, yet powerful enough to write real code. It’s an innovative way to bring real coding concepts to life and empower the next generation with the skills they need to express their creativity."
There are lots of startups that offer this kind of learning experience. Hopscotch recently released a mobile app that uses a similar visual approach to explaining how code works, allowing users to peek under the hood once they have grasped the basics. And Sphero tries to combine basic coding lessons with its robotic units in the Lightning Lab.
The importance of Swift Playgrounds, of course, is that it teaches kids a very specific language, one that is tuned to work best with Apple's software ecosystem.