January 5, 2018
I caught up with my friend Jaimee yesterday. We talked about lots of things and then she asked me what my three words are going to be for this year.
I thought I knew.
And then this morning I read a Facebook link from Ian Baird to a job at Apple working for the Swift Playground Content team.
It reminded me of when the iPhone first shipped.
No, really. Stick with me here.
When the iPhone first shipped ten years ago it was amazing. There were some fundamental changes to the way in which we did things.
In the old days if we wanted to listen to a single phone message we couldn't just scan a list and tap on the one we wanted to hear. We had to listen to each one and skip to the next.
To send the text "Hi" we had to type "44444444". That's right. Upper case "H" was "44" and lower case "i" was "444444".
The phone also did slick things. The animations were beautiful. The table views scrolled smoothly and bounced naturally at the bottom of the table.
There were also things we didn't understand how important they would be.
I don't think most people saw that the phone in their pocket would become their camera of choice.
I don't think most people saw how the phone connected to the internet would change the way they interacted with friends near and far.
But there were also things that the phone didn't do.
The first iPhone didn't know where it was.
It could approximate the location based on cell towers - but that wasn't very accurate.
So many of the things we use the phone for depend on the phone knowing precisely where we are. Getting us from here to there. Finding nearby restaurants. Finding people who are close by. Popping up loyalty cards when we walk into stores. Showing us the local weather. And so much more.
The first phone didn't know where it was.
And then it did.
Apple did a clever thing in software.
For a $10 upgrade (and boy did people complain about that) I had a whole new phone.
The phone knew (roughly) where it was and everything changed.
Apple used an existing system that used WiFi base stations all around you - even those you weren't connected to - to refine your location. The base stations knew where they were so if you could connect to them your phone had a better idea of where it was.
Apple started with a phone that could do cool things. It did enough things for Steve Jobs to stand on stage and sell the hell out of it. It was a great demo.
Apple started out with a phone that could do useful things. It did enough things for Kim to decide that I needed one and gave me one for my birthday when I was too cheap to buy one for myself.
I was contracting for Apple then and she said "you can't walk in there with someone else's phone." As usual, she was right.
And then at MacWorld Apple told me that for $10 my phone could do even more.
Look at what it can do now.
So that brings me back to Ian's post for the job at Apple.
I loved the promise of Swift playgrounds and educational content for it.
I hate the Learn to Code content but I understand why it was there.
It made a great demo. The 3D-ness and waterfalls and the animated dude walking around the screen in response to input from students was a great demo.
Swift playgrounds could do cool things. It does enough that many of us moved our sample code into Swift playgrounds to make it easy for people to experiment with it.
But now it's time for the "and then".
Students need to be able to build on existing code. They need to be able to reference other pages in their playgrounds or add to and modify some elements in the Sources directory.
Teachers and publishers need to be given tools that make it easier for them to author these playgrounds.
Students need a way to more easily share their accomplishments like they can in minecraft so friends can see what they've done and build on it.
Teachers and publishers need to be able to monetize their offerings.
The content needs to be less flashy - it must be more adhoc so students can believe they can create content that looks like it.
The content must support creating pieces that can fit together into bigger efforts.
You work on the part that moves the head and I'll work on the part that moves the arms.
We're at the "and then" part.
This is a critical moment.
So many offerings from Apple and others stagnate at this point. (iBooks and iBooks Author for example)
People leave to work on stuff that is flashier, newer, and will be part of this year's demo.
But this is where, if we dig in, we can build something that can change the way a student interacts with the code they create. They can quickly code up something that pulls down data from the web and display it in a pie chart to better understand the world around them.
So this is my first word for 2018.
"Wait," you say, "that's two words."
I'm ok with that. This isn't an "off by one" error that bothers me.
"And then" reminds me to look at what I've done and see what I can do to take it up a notch or two.