Update: Apple released Swift as fully open source software on December 3rd, 2015. Amazing.
Last year, An Hour of Code took the country by storm producing over 1.8 billion lines of code from almost 38 million participants. The campaign video begins with the famous quote by the late Steve Jobs, “Everbody in this country should learn how to program a computer… because it teaches you how to think.” He understood that with the power of technology, one could literally control billions of dollars of infrastructure and change the world.
Since it’s founding Apple, Inc. has long been fierce proponents of tech and education stating that a dedication to learning has always been part of their DNA. Not long ago, Steve Jobs offered to give OSX to the one laptop per child project, but was turned down because the founders were determined to keep the platform completely open and not locked to a vendor. (Sadly, the project floundered, and in a last ditch effort, offered Windows XP as an install option.) The OLPC project is gone and widely considered a failure. While it was great to see technology in the hands of underprivileged children in the third world, it really needed the best tech that the world had to offer. Not, as it was perceived by many, an inferior, toy product.
Last week Apple held their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) with the tag line “Write the Code. Change the World.” This seems like it could be a slogan straight from the Hour of Code site. They announced, among many other initiatives, Swift, a new, high performance, interactive programming language. It is the real deal. This language is purported to have been development from four years by more more language experts than I can list.
Despite being an industrial strength, full featured language, Swift is fun and interactive to use. The syntax is built for minimal typing and Xcode has a feature called Playgrounds that let you readily visualize what your code is doing. You can create interactive textbook-like documentation that lets you experiment with code right inline. This seems ideal for education. Yet, in just the same way OLPC rejected OSX, I worry that Swift will miss out on wide scale adoption in education. Chris Lattner let us know that Apple has not yet taken a position on whether Swift will be available on non-Mac platforms. It seems like they could strike a balance where the libraries (UIKit, Foundation, etc) were not exposed but the language itself was. Tomorrow night I will be speaking at the Orange County iOS meetup about news from WWDC and iOS8. I hope to share my thoughts on this subject and also brainstorm with educators on how we might convince Apple that opening up Swift would a big win for everyone.
Once again, Apple has the opportunity to write another verse that changes the world. I can’t help but wonder, what their verse will be? :)