The iPad: Does It Need Programming Apps?

Many things have been said about the iPad as a content creation tool, rather than a device to consume media like music, movies and photos. In spite of the plethora of apps released in 2010 that proved you can actually do stuff on an iPad, at the iPad 2 event last week Steve Jobs himself wanted to remember the audience how the tablet is “no toy”, also thanks to the upcoming iMovie and GarageBand apps. But no matter how many apps allow you to produce and create original content using only your fingers and the virtual keyboard, there’s still a niche market Apple hasn’t addressed yet: coding apps.

As outlined by our good friend Brian X. Chen at Wired, the lack of programming apps for the iPad has created a situation where developers would really love to use their iPads as a new content creation device, but they can’t because of the lack of software and restrictions imposed by Apple in the iOS environment. This is undoubtedly true for “the art of programming”,  which hasn’t seen the rise of dedicated tablet software. And with the release of Xcode in the Mac App Store at $4.99 for everyone, the question whether or not Apple will ever consider making the iPad a tool for programmers has become stronger.

Programming is one of the most creative things you can do with a computer, and the iPad could potentially be a powerful tool to introduce this form of creativity to many people, particularly children.

Currently there is no way for people to use the iPad to make programs. Furthermore, the touchscreen interface already doesn’t seem ideal for traditional coding, and there’s no easy way to look under the hood of an iPad to understand how to create software.

Without a proficient programming environment readily accessible on the iPad, Apple’s tablet paints a bleak portrait for the future of programming.

The point is an interesting one: iOS doesn’t let you look “under the hood”, and there are no full-featured apps for programmers. The problem has two faces: Apple has specific rules for iOS, but clearly third-party developers haven’t believed in the iPad enough as a platform for programmers. Sure, there are some text editors with CSS and HTML support built specifically for the iPad, but that’s not enough. On the other hand, though, it is possible that developers haven’t invested in the creation of programming suites for the iPad because of the very nature of the device, and the OS it runs on. To look at the system files on iOS and tweak them, you need to jailbreak. Apple is against jailbreak, so for now there’s no way to have access to the iOS filesystem. End of the story.

Still, jailbreak aside, developers willing to take their skills to the next step using the iPad as a programming tool may ask: “Is it ever going to happen?”. And most of all: “Why doesn’t Apple believe in the iPad as platform for coding? Why do we still need a Mac?”.

I think it’s just a matter of time. Yes, the iPad lacks programming apps. Yes, Apple doesn’t want you to tweak the system. But what about 5 years from now, don’t you believe the whole picture will be different? As the iPad reaches more segments other than casual users, geeks and bloggers, does’t the possibility of more professional or semi-professional apps sound obvious? I think so. Hell, who knows what kind of Mac we’ll have 5 years from now. Maybe a MacBook Air will become the new iPad Pro.

Look at the iPad now: it was released in April 2010, and one year later we’ve got apps to make music and edit movies. Apple needed time to build those apps, and in the meantime they waited for the device to reach a bigger audience. As iOS expands and the iPad grows, gets more powerful hardware and gains features, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Xcode for iOS in 2013.

The thing that bothers me most about the iPad is this: if I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I’d never be a programmer today,” Payne said in a blog post last year when the original iPad debuted. “I’d never have had the ability to run whatever stupid, potentially harmful, hugely educational programs I could download or write. I wouldn’t have been able to fire up ResEdit and edit out the Mac startup sound so I could tinker on the computer at all hours without waking my parents.”

And then there’s software programmer Mark Pilgrim, who reminisced about the days when personal computers were truly “personal,” meaning a user could do anything he wanted with his device without feeling like a rebellious rule breaker.

I whole-heartedly agree. Kids need to be able to program these days, and they need to have the right tools to do so. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and shipping an incomplete set of programming tools just to address an early need for a device that’s not even 1 year old looks silly to me. I repeat: it would be great for programmers to do their coding on an iOS device. But considering how Apple slowly iterates and how programming probably is, to the company’s eyes, a niche, it doesn’t come as a surprise that in 11 months we haven’t seen coding apps yet.

With time, things will change. Read the full article here.