Developers say that Apple's new tools for releasing apps more quickly are a step 'in an exciting direction'

  • Apple launched XCode Cloud and updates for Swift Plagrounds at the first day of WWDC.
  • Developers had both compliments and questions, calling the updates a step in ‘an exciting direction.’
  • Still, they wish Apple would release Xcode for the iPad. The new Playgrounds is close but not quite.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

At its 36th annual developers conference — dubbed the Worldwide Developers Conference or WWDC — Apple announced operating system updates, new features, and enhanced developer tools during its two hour opening keynote.

Developers received some long-awaited updates on Xcode, Apple’s app for building applications for its phones and other devices, and Swift Playgrounds, an app that teaches the fundamentals of app development in Swift, Apple’s programming language.

The firm said that Xcode’s updates allow developers to build, test, and deliver iOS apps faster than before, while the Playgrounds changes will allow novice coders to actually launch their creations into the world. 

Three developers who talked to Insider expressed excitement about some of the changes. 

“Both of these announcements are steps in an exciting direction,” Theo Browne, lead developer at TTFM Labs, told Insider. 

But also that they hope the best is yet to come. For example, they’re hoping for a more ambitious redesign of Xcode or the ability to use it on the iPad. 

“Most of the chatter I’m hearing from other devs is excitement around what’s next rather than what was announced today,” Browne said. 

Xcode Cloud allows developers to build apps in the cloud

One of the biggest announcements was Xcode Cloud, which lets developers test their apps across all Apple devices in the cloud while freeing up space on their Macs for other tasks.

Xcode Cloud runs automated tests to ensure the software runs properly and once the tests are passed, developers can easily send the app to beta users through Apple’s testing service, Testflight. This makes app development more efficient, since it brings the entire continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipeline — the steps required to release a new version of software — directly into XCode’s cloud software. Instead of occupying hard drive space, developers’ apps reside safely in the cloud. 

But some feel that this much-anticipated announcement left some unanswered questions. For example, some developers are wondering how Xcode Cloud will integrate with the tools developers already use.

“I’m specifically interested in how the API for Xcode Cloud works with respect to integrating the results of your test run into an existing CI pipeline,” iOS developer Noah Gilmore told Insider on Twitter. Xcode Cloud can, for example, integrate with GitHub to allow developers to merge a pull request based on tests, but Gilmore wondered how often new integrations with other tools will be added.

Another iOS developer, Jan Lorfeo at NanoGiants, told Insider that he was “looking forward to a grander redesign of Xcode.” 

“I am glad that Xcode gets more features for working together on code, but I still struggle with slow code completion and slow Swift Package loading every day,” Lorfeo said, and updates don’t do enough to solve those issues. 

Lorfeo and Browne are optimistic about the future of Xcode Cloud but are left wondering how Apple’s tool will compete against other tools for building both Android and iOS apps such as Bitrise, Expo.io, and others. Xcode Cloud tool will be free in beta testing, but Apple plans to roll out its pricing later this year. 

“I don’t know how practical this will be, because most companies are building apps for both iOS and Android and are looking for one CI tool, that can do it all,” Lorfeo said. “So we will see if this will be commercially successful.” 

Browne said that Xcode Cloud is interesting because it’s like “running Xcode without running Xcode,” because it frees up the developer’s computers for other tasks. It could be useful for huge projects with slower build times, even though other companies have been building “apps on the server” long before Xcode Cloud.

“This feels like an attempt to stay ahead of those third parties with first party integrations,” Browne said.

Playgrounds almost brings Xcode to the iPad… But not quite

Browne was also hoping that Apple would release Xcode for the iPad. He’s not the only one: Coders have begged for development tools on the iPad for years, as the devices have become more robust.

He believes that the improvements to Swift Playgrounds are a step in the right direction. Apple’s update on Swift Playgrounds allows users to create an app with SwiftUI, open and edit app projects in Swift Playgrounds or Xcode, and when they’re finished, they can submit it to the App Store directly from their iPad which wasn’t possible before today’s announcements.

“Swift Playgrounds is a big stepping stone to proper Xcode on iPad,” he said adding that Playgrounds ultimately feels like “a stripped-down Xcode you can run on iPad.” 

Gilmore agreed: 

“The fact that Swift Playgrounds can build full running apps is amazing for accessibility of app development, especially for simpler apps,” he said. Still, he has some reservations: 

“I’m just hoping that the infrastructure for sync improves, since I’ve heard horror stories of entire Swift Playgrounds just, disappearing.”

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