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What do you think of Apple’s own calculator apps?

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

James Thomson: The honest thing is I never look at them. I never look at other people's calculator apps either. And that's been the way that I've done it from pretty much the start. Because if you're looking at, especially another third party's thing, if they've come up with a really good idea and you think, “oh, that's a really good idea. I should put that in my own app.”

I don't think that that's a good way of doing development and design and things. I kind of extend that to Apple's own things. I mean, they have some advantages. They have a nice private maths library that would be very nice if I could use it, but it isn't publicly available. And the UI on the calculator app that ships on the phone has to work for two or three billion people, something like that, so you can't go too deep on it. And some of the stuff I don't like visually the way some things look or whatever, but PCalc doesn't have to work... I mean, it'd be nice if two billion people bought it, but that's not going to happen.

It just needs to work the way I think it should work and I can try and make it not too complicated but to have some depth to it and things like that. They still haven't done a calculator for the iPad, how many years on we are. I don't imagine, and I don't know this for sure, but I imagine that they are some engineer's side project to their main project.

Paul Hudson: What do you think Apple will ship for iPadOS first: Xcode or Calculator?

James Thomson: Honestly, probably Xcode. I don't know that we'll get Xcode, but I think making something that was constrained like a SwiftUI development environment that could deploy apps. I think that's feasible. A full Interface Builder and supporting legacy code that can build PCalc with its tainted Objective-C-ness, I don't think we'll get the that anytime soon, but I could see them spending the time and making an actual development environment. I think that could happen. We might have seen it this year, who knows?

“If they did make some development tool, it would presumably grow as SwiftUI grows. So five years down the line, maybe it is something that people use as their main tool”

Paul Hudson: I think it feels a bit to me like SwiftUI is a significant step towards Xcode on iPad because you think about some of those inspectors in an interface builder where there's potentially dozens of numbers and up and down little buttons and so forth. It would translate into gigantic size iPad screens. Huge scrolling numbers, all touch friendly. Whereas SwiftUI has a much more visual layout.

James Thomson: Yeah, and if they did make some development tool, it would presumably grow as SwiftUI grows. So five years down the line, maybe it is something that people use as their main tool and things like the mouse support and all that do make it more feasible. I mean I can't see them saying, “well it requires a mouse.” But maybe it's easier if you have a mouse or if it's easier if you have a track pad or something like that.

When it comes down to it, we know it's all just pixels on the screen. Everything's possible on either platform. But yeah, I don't think we'll see full Xcode, but I think we'll see at least partial Xcode before we see the calculator. But that's always the thing, it's like that feeling every time, and I've had this for more than 20 years, every time I've watched an Apple keynote, is this the year that you know I get sherlocked on something. And I literally worked on Sherlock I should say.

Paul Hudson: So what new things do you think you might incorporate into Dice or PCalc next – more AR, or perhaps LIDAR?

James Thomson: Oh that's a difficult one. I think I would like to do more with AR, because when I first messed with AR it was the ARKit 1.0 stuff was pretty simple and it's gone a long way, with the occlusion of people and mapping out rooms and all that stuff. I would love to do something like that, especially with Dice because you can see the rolling virtual dice on a table would be fun. Problem with that is the scene kit physics engine doesn't work well with really small objects. They have a habit of falling through. So if I had to table, they might fall through the table. It's not what you want. So the dice in Dice by PCalc are currently one meter in diameter, which wouldn't work quite as well in AR.

It might be fun, but it's not as practical. So there's a few things and I've requested some features from the SceneKit folks for being able to scale down a scene but have higher accuracy physics, that sort of thing, which would be useful for doing things like that. But I would like to play with that, the more, like the shared AR stuff you could imagine. Like if you have two people looking at a table so you can both see the other person rolling dice on it in different parts of the country or the world. That would be fun.

Paul Hudson: Presumably Apple are going to launch some massive new framework imminently with new LIDAR they have on the iPad Pro. And that's going to do something presumably.

James Thomson: I don't know. I mean I assume that feeds into some of the existing APIs that are already there, just with more accuracy. But, I don't know. Maybe there's more stuff for that that we'll see.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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