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Imagine this scenario: you are on vacation, and you only bought your iPad Pro since you are expecting to “decompress” from your work. Then, your boss is calling in that one of your codes is buggy on production and is affecting user experience and needs to be fixed now. Luckily it is a small fix but you didn’t bring your work laptop. What do you do?
Challenges of Developing on iPad Pro
There are a few things to know when developing on the iPad Pro
- iPad Pro is very capable: The latest iPad Pro uses the M-series chip that is designed for MacBooks. So we know they are capable to run anything
- iPadOS on the other hand … is neutered by Apple to be more content-consumer centric so there are no utilities like Terminal, hardware inspector or even Finder (Files is a bad replica of Finder).
- Apple keyboard doesn’t have function keys: The keyboards by Apple don’t have functions or ESC keys. Ironically, they added those rows of keys on the iPad 10 keyboard (Magic Keyboard Folio). This could be a problem if you are planning to use apps like Vim.
Building iPad app
Apple does not ship Xcode for iPadOS. Xcode is the official IDE from Apple. It is used to build other software like all Apple’s first-party apps like Notes, Music, and others. The closest thing that Apple allows you to code on the iPad is Swift Playground where you solve challenges by running some Swift code. The app is meant to teach people about Swift.
Building web app
Apple does not ship utilities like Terminal in macOS, so there’s no command line for you to manipulate anything in the iPad. So you can’t install 3rd party packages like npm or Homebrew where you can easily install 3rd party app.
The best you can do is to connect to 3rd party computers (or servers) and do your development work from there. Yes, a full-blown IDE would be nice, but it is possible to code from using the terminal using apps like Vim or Emacs, or even nano.
Some app that will help your way
Even the smartest developers need the best tools to do their job. Here are some of the free ones that can help you when you are in a pinch and need to get work done quickly.
Termius is a handy tool to connecto to servers and code in them
- Termius - Free / Paid - Termius is an ssh client for iPad. One of the things that I like about this is that you can save your sessions so you can connect to servers with a single touch. The app even has shortcuts for the ESC, function, and other keyboard keys right on the bottom. The paid version adds bells and whistle but you should be able to get by with the free version
- Inspector web service - Free - Of course when you are building/troubleshooting web apps, you need to inspect your site. The Apple was is to lay a wire between your iPad and your Mac is impractical. Inspector web service allows you to access web developer tools right on your safari page. My only gripe is that it takes too much screen real estate to do so.
- A-shell - Free - A-shell aims to build the missing terminal app for iPadOS. It is very basic but you can run Lua, Python, JS, C, and C++ (yes C++) scripts and binary in the terminal. File manipulation is possible, but like all iPadOS apps, it is sandboxed into the A-shell directory only. There are minimal buttons that add ESC, tab, and arrow keys functionality.
Yes, you can code on the iPad but it is not as powerful as using your Mac, but when you are in a pinch like going on vacation, you know you have some tools to make things work.
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