Welcome to Apple College. School is in session.
Everyone I know has a mobile app idea. I even have a few, but little idea of how to build an iPhone app.
Last year, I tried learning code with Apple’s Swift Playgrounds iPad app. It schooled me in the basics of Swift, the new programming language Apple unveiled three years ago, while entertaining me with an adorable on-screen code buddy. I liked it, but also had trouble seeing the path from my training (which, to be fair, I never completed) to building a Swift-based mobile iOS app. Swift Playgrounds also launched at the same time as Apple’s K-12 Everybody Can Code educational curriculum materials.
Now, though, the path is clearer as Apple has launched its first ever college-level code curriculum—with it, Apple’s Swift-based curriculum now spans from kindergarten through the first two years of college.
Available for free starting Wednesday in Apple’s iBooks, the curriculum includes everything students and teachers need to learn how to code in Swift and build real mobile apps.
“We couldn’t be happier about rolling this out and getting it under way,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told me on Tuesday.
Two years earlier, Cook told me how he believed everyone should learn how to code and that coding should be “a required course like social studies, English, and mathematics in every public-school curriculum.” But, until now, that vision had never extended beyond the K-12 education system and into the non-compulsory school arena.
Apple’s new App Development Curriculum is, Cook told me, “Designed for both community college and high school students who want to learn how to develop apps and pursue careers in what is the fastest growing job segment in the economy.”
The app economy is substantial. App Annie put mobile app revenue at roughly $51 billion in 2016 and projects it to be over $100 billion by 2020. That kind of growth means the demand for skilled app workers is growing.
“One benefit of [Apple’s App Development Curriculum] is that if you look at the 2 million Jobs we’ve created in the economy, about three-quarters of those, give or take are in app development,” said Cook, “That segment of economy has really grown leaps and bounds since the introduction of the App Store in 2008.”
Apple hopes to help people of all ages enter this workforce with a year-long course that was developed and designed by Apple educators and engineers, some of whom came directly from Apple’s platform engineering team.
While the curriculum targets late high school and college students, Cook sees the potential for anyone who wants to download the course. It could, he told me, be for someone “mid-career or looking to make a career change, or even some just looking to learn something new or a new hobby.”
The course—which comprises roughly 180 hours of training and includes lesson plans, presentations, instructions, and exercises—will provide the framework for teachers to guide students through the fundamentals of Swift programming and have students build real, functioning apps. The curriculum will even include some of the architectural work necessary for scaling up an app.
Even though this announcement comes just two weeks before Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference, Cook insists that the two are not related.
Instead, in order to “make the academic year” they announced the course so “community colleges could begin communicating this to prospective students.”
It appears Apple is already on schedule. Seven community college systems serving half a million students have already adopted Apple’s App Development Curriculum, with some planning to teach it as early as this summer.
Among them is Houston Community College (HCC), where Dr. Madeline Burillo, president of HCC Southwest College, is so excited about the course, she signed up for it herself. “The key factor to Swift is that it is much more intuitive, making it easier for people to learn,” she said in a written statement.
‘We’re excited about where it could lead and how many it can help in this new economy.’ — Tim Cook
HCC Chancellor Dr. Cesar Maldonado said, “This partnership is one that will benefit our community by teaching students a valuable skill and it will benefit Apple by providing future developers who are trained specifically for the needs of the iOS community.”
The focus on community colleges is not accidental.
A 2015 survey of community colleges found that 6.3 million people were enrolled in public, two-year colleges. Of those attending these schools, many (44 percent, according to the Education Longitudinal Study covering 2002 to 2006) were low-income students. These schools also often serve women and minorities.
Putting these tools in the hands of these schools could, Apple hopes, serve as a new engine of economic development.
In a statement provided to me, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner applauded Apple’s new college-level curriculum. “Apple’s investment in our community with the launch of the app development curriculum will tap into the creativity of our students, inspire new possibilities, and foster our culture of technological transformation.”
Apple’s interest in education is, Cook reminded me, deep in its DNA.
“We’re excited about where it could lead and how many it can help in this new economy,” he said.
Even so, the expansion of the program comes just weeks after Apple announced a $1 billion fund to support manufacturing jobs in the United States, and (at least for now) the new App Development Curriculum is focused on U.S. colleges. I had to wonder, is Apple trying to send a message to the Trump administration that Apple also cares deeply about American job growth?
Cook quickly dismissed the idea.
“We began working on Swift many years ago. It spanned multiple administrations. No this isn’t related to anything to do with politics.”
He did grant though, that the impact Apple has been able to make on manufacturing, what he termed a “ripple in the pond,” could be mirrored in a similar, albeit larger, “ripple in the pond for the mobile app area.”
Ultimately, Apple’s new App Development Curriculum is part of a much larger, still unrecognized plan. “It’s sort of the next step of a long plan for us with Swift and trying to help prepare people for the new economy,” said Cook.