We didn’t get many of those dream features, but we did get something of a surprise: Apple announced Swift Playgrounds 4, the newest version of its Swift Playgrounds sandbox, a program Apple SVP Craig Federighi claimed will bring “a whole new dimension of productivity to iPad.” It was a quick announcement that was easy to miss in the flurry of new tools that crossed the stage. But developers say it will drastically lower the barrier to entry for new iOS developers — and may gesture at more exciting iPad features to come.
Apple’s new iPad Pro is the company’s most powerful tablet to date. And, as WWDC 2021 approached, many viewers (myself included) had long wishlists of features we hoped to see — multiuser support, a more advanced Files app, native support for Final Cut and Photoshop, and improved compatibility with external displays.
Swift Playgrounds isn’t a new app. It’s been available on the iPad for years, and it recently came to macOS as well. In the past, though, it’s largely been an educational program targeted at children. It introduces new coders to Swift through a friendly and colorful series of puzzles. It hasn’t, in the past, been seen as a tool to develop real apps.
But Swift Playgrounds 4 is the first iteration of Swift Playgrounds that could function as a standalone developer tool. There are some new features that will make the process of building apps easier. Notably, you can view a live preview of the app you’re building on the side of your screen as you’re working on it, which changes when you change your code. You can run the app full-screen to test it as well. But the biggest news is: not only can you create apps in Swift Playgrounds 4, but when the update is available later this year, you’ll be able to submit them to the App Store directly from within Swift Playgrounds.