By Kevin McNeish on Mon, 06/13/2016
As it turns out, Apple's "Hello, WWDC16" image for this year's developer's conference was very appropriate. Getting a program to display "Hello, world" is usually the first step for brand new developers, and Apple has taken big steps to bring new developers into the fold, and provide new opportunities for current developers.
The Swift Playgrounds App
The big surprise at today's keynote was a new app called Swift Playgrounds. This new iPad app is designed to teach programming students with no prior coding knowledge to learn Swift—Apple's newest language for building iOS, macOS (formerly known as OS X), watchOS, and tvOS apps. Apple is also touting it as a way for seasoned developers to try out new app ideas.
The app comes with a set of engaging lessons with names such as Running Maze, Drawing Sounds, Lunar Voyager, and Detective that take the student through basic programming fundamentals and then on to more difficult programming concepts. In the first lesson, there is a 3D interactive world with a character named Byte on the right side of the screen that you can explore using touch and can control by entering code on the left side of the screen. You enter the code and tap the screen to see its effect. This provides an innovative visualization of basic programming concepts that can help students get a concrete grasp of abstract programming principles.
I've been teaching Swift to new programmers since the language was first released by Apple by means of my book series, and I can vouch that getting the student to have a mental picture of how code works is critical to them learning how to code. I'm looking forward to watching my kids work with Swift Playgrounds to see if it helps accelerate the learning curve. I can guarantee that this app will make it more appealing to at least get a foot in the door with new students. It immediately makes programming seem far more accessible.
This is the big one we've all been waiting for. While other platforms digital assistants have moved forward, Siri has been stuck in the past, hidden behind Apple's walls from developers. This all changes with Apple's announcements that developers can now access Siri's capabilities from their third-party apps!
During the keynote, Tim Cook talked about Siri integration with early adopters with capabilities such as sending messages via Wii Chat, Slack, and WhatsApp, asking Siri to book a ride on Lyft, searching for Photos on Shutterfly or Pinterest, having Siri making VoIP calls on Vonage or Skype, and so on. This is a great new feature that will vastly improve the iOS platform.
Apple has some great new developer opportunities in watchOS 3. For example, users can now keep their favorite apps in the new Dock. It keeps these apps in memory, running in the background. This allows built-in and third-party apps to receive background updates to keep information fresh and be instantly launched when the user selects them. This is great news for developers who cringe when seeing their apps delay several seconds while loading up.
watchOS 3 now also allows activity sharing that allows you to share your activity metrics with friends and family. This also works with third-party apps, which provides a great opportunity for developers to enhance their fitness apps. Since apps can now run in the background, developers can create fitness apps that can access real-time heart rate and motion data through the Apple Watch gyroscope and accelerometer.
In previous versions of watchOS, Apple placed some big limitations on what developers could access from their apps. With watchOS 3, Apple provides access to SDKs and Apple Watch features that will vastly improve the abilities of third-party apps, including:
- Apple Pay
- SpriteKit and SceneKit for game technology
- Crown and Touch events
- Speaker audio
- Inlne Video
- Game Center
Apple is also updating it's tvOS platform, providing some great new opportunities for developers. ReplayKit allows you to live broadcast game play or save a video to share later. PhotoKit allows developers to access a user's iCloud photos and videos from a tvOS app. This allows you to incorporate new features in existing apps as well as create a new category of apps for Apple TV. The new HomeKit for tvOS allows you to create apps to control devices in your home.
Developers will be glad to know that with the new version of tvOS, when a user downloads their app to an iPhone, it will automatically download the tvOS version of the app to their Apple TV.
In iOS 10, Apple also opens up integration with Maps app, which will enable many new capabilities. For example, you can make a reservation using OpenTable, request a car in Uber, pay for it with Apple Pay, and see its status without ever leaving Maps.
Apple has also open the doors on iMessage and provided incredible integration for a new family of Message apps allowing third parties to create stickers, bubbles, and videos that can interact with your standard messages.
Apple has not disappointed with all of these great new features—some expected and some completely unexpected. All developer kits are available today, so I recommend getting your hands on them as soon as possible so your apps can be ready for the release of these new platforms in the fall!