Apple files for interactive learning environment patent involving Swift Playgrounds

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20190205028) for a “touch-based interactive learning environment” that involves Swift Playgrounds, a free iPad app to teach kids of any age basic coding skills in Swift.

Playgrounds teaches basic programming concepts like loops and conditionals using an animated character that the budding programmers direct by...what else...writing code. The app offers suggestions for code to be used, and Swift Playgrounds also has a special iOS coding keyboard to ease entry of all of those pesky brackets.

Swift Playgrounds .png

In the patent filing, Apple notes that learning how to program a computer to perform tasks from a textbook can be challenging for many students. To learn how to code quickly, a student will often write code, compile the code, and execute the code on a computer to see if they get the expected results. If the results are unexpected, the student will "debug" the code, compile the code, and execute the compiled code on the computer again. 

Apple notes that this learning process can be frustrating to students due to the delay between writing, compiling, and executing the code and seeing the results. Most students would prefer to see the results in near real-time in an interactive learning environment. The computers that students are learning to program come in variety of form factors, including smartphones, smart watches and tablet computers. 

The use of touched-based tablet computers in classrooms is becoming ubiquitous due to their portable nature and ease of use. Writing programming constructs using touch gestures presents a new challenge to designers of user interfaces for touch-based computers. Apple obviously thinks Swift Playgrounds is a move in the right direction.

Here’s the summary of the patent filing: “n an example method, a user interface is presented by a device on a touch sensitive surface of the device. The device presents a keyboard image on a touch sensitive surface of the device. The device then receives a first touch input selecting a key of the keyboard image and responsive to receiving the first touch input, displays a primary character associated with the selected key. 

“While maintenance of physical contact is detected by the touch sensitive surface, the device receives a touch gesture starting at the key of the keyboard image and continuing in a diagonal direction along a face of the key. Responsive to receiving the touch gesture, the device displays an alternative character associated with the selected key.”

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.