Apple brings AR to Swift Playgrounds programming app for iPad

Apple's iPad programming app now lets students place Swift Playgrounds' virtual characters into the real world.

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Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
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Swift Playgrounds, Apple's programming tutorial app for iPad, now has AR support.

Swift Playgrounds, Apple's programming tutorial app for iPad, now has AR support.

James Martin/CNET

Apple has brought augmented reality to its Swift Playgrounds app designed to teach kids the basics of programming and maybe even groom them into the next generation of iPhone developers.

The move means kids can incorporate Swift Playgrounds' cartoon characters -- protagonists who follow students' programming instructions -- into their Swift Playgrounds projects. The technology uses Apple's ARKit technology.

Apple announced the move Tuesday at Lane Tech High School in Chicago, where it unveiled a new, more powerful iPad as part of an effort to reclaim clout in the education market. For decades, Apple computers and then iPads were popular learning tools, but in recent years, inexpensive laptops powered by Google's secure and easy-to-manage Chrome OS software have proved very popular in schools.

Watch this: New iPad will run AR

Swift Playgrounds is designed for beginners, but it'll bring them to advanced levels, including Apple's XCode professional programming tools and its Swift programming language. Apple introduced Swift in 2014, and it's rocketed up the charts as programmers adopted Swift for writing iOS apps and more.

Helping kids learn is nice, particularly today when there's a broad effort to help kids more with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. But Apple stands to gain, too, as today's students become tomorrow's customers. That's especially true with iPads, the leading product in the once-hot tablet category that's now more notable for declining sales.

Swift Playgrounds on iPad

A boy uses Apple's Swift Playgrounds app for learning programming.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Swift Playgrounds is available only for iPads -- no iPhones, no Macs, no browsers.

Apple isn't alone in trying to win over the next generation of students and the teachers who teach them. Microsoft, whose Minecraft game is already popular inside and out of schools, has an education edition that's fine-tuned for teaching.

Apple undertook a 10-year study called Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow to track its products in schools, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said at the event. It "showed engagement increased exponentially for students and teachers who had access to our products," he said.

Also at Tuesday's event, Cook touted Apple's work Everyone Can Code initiative, which includes classes at its stores to teach programming using Swift Playgrounds.

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