A Brighter Apple
Last updated: Jun 11, 2020
Coding has always been hard for me. I’ve never been able to get my mind around loops, if and else, for and while, and break almost breaks me instead of the code. However, many people make it look easy, and for them, it probably is. In iOS 14, Apple may loosen their chains upon their technology enough for developers to explore the boundaries of what a pocket computer can do.
Apple is very controlling. All of its operating systems can only run on its own hardware. Its hardware can only be used to practically run officially sanctioned operating systems, unless a Linux user can get passed the security on the Mac. And, for a long time, notwithstanding workarounds that have never been so easy, apps on iOS have only been usable if they were downloaded through Apple’s own App Store. In iOS 14, however, things may change for the better.
Earlier this year, Applevis released a blog post about iOS 14 possibly gaining Custom Text to Speech engine support. While I won’t write about it here, as it seems a minor topic to me, I will say that this is something that the community of blind people have been asking for since VoiceOver revolutionized our lives. Furthermore, though, it is greater evidence that Apple is beginning to open up, just a tad. it isn’t, however, the first time we’ve seen Apple open up, a bit, for accessibility reasons. Apple allows us, in iOS 13, to change VoiceOver commands, and it uses the Liblouis braille tables to display languages in Braille that weren’t available before.
In this article, I will discuss and theorize about the availability of XCode on iOS, which is supposedly going to be released this year, and how it can help people learn to code, bring sideloading to many more people, and how it can bring emulation in full force to iOS.
Learning to code on iOS
As I’ve said before, coding has never been easy for me. My skills are still very much at the beginner level. I can write “print” statements in Python, and maybe in Swift, but languages like Quorum, Java, and C++ are so verbose and require much more forethought than Python. Swift seems a bit like Python, although just as complex as Java and more verbose languages when one becomes more advanced.
With XCode on the Mac, accessibility isn’t great. Editing text is okay, but even viewing output seems impossible on first look, and I’m still not sure if it can even be done. This means that the Intro to App development with Swift Playground materials are inaccessible. This has been verified today with the XCode 10 version. Sure, we can read the source code, but cannot directly activate the “next” link to move to the next page. And no, workarounds are not equal access. Furthermore, neither teachers nor students should have to look for workarounds to use a course created by Apple, one of the richest companies in the world, whose accessibility team is great, for iOS.
Because of this, I expect XCode for iOS will be a new beginning, of sorts, for all teams who work on it, not just the accessibility team. It will be a way for new, young developers to come to coding on their phone, or more probably, their iPad, without the history of workarounds that many developers on the Mac who are blind know today. It will also allow blind developers to create powerful, accessible apps. If it is true that Macs will run Apple’s own “A” processor someday, then perhaps this XCode for iOS will move to the Mac, as Apple TV is attempting to do. Hopefully, by then, iOS apps on the Mac will actually be usable, instead of messes, accessibility-wise.
Windows users also cannot currently officially code for iOS. Most blind users have a Windows computer and an iPhone. Having XCode on iOS will allow more blind people, who are good at coding, to try their hand at developing iOS apps. This could also bring more powerful apps, as blind Windows users are used to the power of programs like Foobar2000, NVDA addons, and lots of choice.
Another benefit of having XCode on iOS is that, because of the number of users, there will be even more people working on open source projects, which they could easily download and import into XCode. For example, perhaps PPSSPP User InterFace accessibility could be improved, or the Delta emulator could become completely accessible and groundbreaking. Of course, closed source app development could be aided by this as well, but it is harder to join, or make, a closed source development team than it is to contribute to an open source one.
Sideloading with XCode
Sideloading is the process of running apps on iOS which are not accepted by the iOS App Store. These include video game console emulators, torrent downloaders, and apps which allow users to watch “free” movies and TV shows. The last set of apps, I agree, shouldn’t be on the app store, but the first two are not illegal, but simply could facilitate illegal operations; pun intended.
Sideloading can be done in many ways. You can load the XCode project into XCode for Mac, build it, and send it to your own device. This must be renewed every seven days, but is the most difficult technically to do. You can sign up for a third-party app store, which allows you to download apps which are hosted elsewhere and may not be the latest version, but there is a good chance that the certificate which they use to sign the app will be revoked by Apple. Finally, there are a few apps which automate the signing of apps, and pushes the app to the device.
Two of these methods, however, require a Mac computer. Many people, especially blind people, only use a Windows computer and an iPhone. This usually isn’t a problem, as most blind people either use their phone for much of what they do, or use their computer for much of what they do. However, this means that people who have Windows, but not a Mac, cannot sideload apps. So, if a blind person creates an extension to alert you that your screen curtain isn’t on, which means that a VoiceOver user doesn’t have a feature enabled so that the screen is blank, that app cannot be distributed on the App Store, and cannot be sideloaded by Windows users. And I highly doubt a third-party app store would host such a niche app.
Emulating with XCode
Emulators were once a legal gray area. They allow gamers to play video games, from game consoles like the Playstation Portable, on computers, tablets, or phones. They have become legal, however, due to Sony’s lawsuits of emulator developers. While emulation is legal, however, downloading games from the Internet, unless, some say, you own the game, is not. Steve Jobs himself, at the 1999 MacWorld conference, showed off an emulator, one for playing Playstation games. Now, emulators are not allowed onto the iOS App Store, unless they have been made by the developers of the games which are being emulated.
XCode on iOS would also help in emulator use. The more people use emulators, the more their use will spread. iPhones are also definitely powerful enough to run emulators; the newer the iPhone, the faster the emulation. An iPhone X R, for example, is powerful enough to run a Playstation Portable game at full speed, even while not being optimized for the hardware, and being interpreted. It’s like running nearly a PS3 game using Python. A video I made demonstrates this. The game, Dissidia DuoDecim, isn’t as accessible as its predecessor. However, it runs, as far as I could tell, at full speed. This spectacularly shows that the computers in our pockets, the ones we use to drone over Facebook, be riled up by news sites, or play Pokemon Go, are much more powerful, and are capable of far more than what we use of them.
Also, since blind people will have access to the code ran with XCode, fixes to sound, the user interface, and even enhancements to both, are possible. PSP games could be enhanced using Apple’s 3D audio effects. Games could be described using Apple’s Machine Learning Vision technology. This applies to even more than accessibility, however. Since more users will be learning to code, or finally have the ability to code for iOS, bugs in iOS ports of open source software can more quickly be resolved.
In this article, I have discussed the possibility of XCode for iOS, and how it could improve learning to code, sideloading apps, and emulation of video games. I hope that this information has been informative, and has enlivened the imaginations of my readers.
Now, what do you all think? Are you a blind person who wants to learn to code in an accessible environment? Are you a sighted person who wants to play Final Fantasy VII on your phone? Or are you one who wants to help fix accessibility issues in apps? Discussion is very welcome, anywhere this post is shared to. I welcome any feedback, input, or corrections. And, as always, thank you so much for reading this article.