DIYPad: Programming on the iPad?

Computers & Mobile
DIYPad: Programming on the iPad?

Processing.js on the iPad

I know that you can program for the iPad, but it’s not trivial: you need to sign up as a developer, write code on a Mac computer using Xcode, and go through the app store approval process. How about cutting out all these steps, including the computer, entirely?:


Back when the iPad was announced, my friend Morgan and I talked about a concern some people have with the iPad. Because you can’t program right on the iPad, we run the risk of depriving kids of what many of us consider to be an essential experience: the ability to learn to program “at the keyboard”. Instead, you need another computer, a set of tools, and a complex deployment process to actually get your code running on the device. When Morgan and I were kids, we’d hack in BASIC, and share our creations on cassette, written on paper, and eventually on floppies.

One solution to this–albeit an imperfect one–is an in-browser IDE. There are a few programming languages that have been reimplemented in Javascript, and as a result, it’s pretty easy to create a browser-based IDE for them. What’s missing is the ability to save programs locally on the iPad. But maybe that’s a small matter of programming. With HTML5 local storage and web database, you could easily hack one of these IDEs to save code to the local storage in addition to saving them in the cloud (but let’s not trap the code that people write on the iPad because that creates another problem).

I’ve listed a couple of options (Processing, Scheme), and there are a couple more in the comments. Check out the discussion: O’Reilly Answers – iPad-friendly browser-based programming environments?


22 thoughts on “DIYPad: Programming on the iPad?

  1. Jeremiah Johnson says:

    or just NOT BUY THE iPAD and avoid the whole issue.

  2. says:

    Let me get this straight.

    You want to program, but you want to pay upwards of $500 for a pretty piece of plastic without a keyboard, that won’t let you install a text editor, IDE, or compiler (or any interpreted language like Python or Ruby). Instead you want to type your programs into a webpage, and upload them to a server to compile and run. And when you’re done, you can’t even save your work?

    Why not buy a netbook or laptop and add some free programming tools (or if you’re really adventurous, wipe it and install Linux) and still have money left over?

    Yes, the iPad is pretty. But at the end of the day, pretty doesn’t get work done.

    What ever happened to “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it?”

    1. Nate says:


      I understand there might be some niche use for this…but I’m having a hard time finding one.

    2. Brian Jepson says:

      If I were asking “what’s a great cheap portable device to program on?”, I’d go with your answer. But the question I’m asking is whether people who have iPads can get some kind of hands-on programming experience with it.

      And take a look at the article I linked to; none of these compile or run on a server. It’s all interpreted right in the browser. Processing.js is JavaScript-based, as is scheme-js.

  3. neuroclast says:

    I see my comment got deleted, so let me rephrase it to make it nicer.

    It seems like every other article for the past week has been about the iPad: the most NON-DIY, closed piece of mainstream computer hardware to come out in a long time. You can’t run whatever you want, you can’t really modify the hardware, you can’t easily attach devices to it, and you are severely limited to what you can run on the existing software.

    While I like HTML5 and Canvas, someone please explain to me why all the iPad trite has any place on Make, especially with a misleading title of DIYPad? Is this a covert form of marketing from Apple?

    1. Carnes says:

      Dude! i saw that. I tried to visit your link and it was broken. Could you please get this fixed? i haven’t had enough ipad news yet ; )

      I have an older Hitachi visionplate i’ve been working on, great for email, web, checking on servers.. but no way can it play movies. But programming? yup.. c++, arduino IDE, whatever.. but it’s setup to distcc make jobs to another computer.. no need to waste power compiling stuff.

      These newer tablets are really attractive. I saw something called a “joo joo” tablet (ugh, name) that looked good.. hardware wise. Are there any other decent tablets out? or coming out? (that have actual working prototypes!)

      PS: My previous post was eaten, invalid_id, guessing because i was replying to a deleted post.

    2. says:

      @neuroclast, put a link in your post and it will get automatically held for ‘approval’.

    3. Brian Jepson says:


      I don’t think it’s fair to say that every other post has been about the iPad. Some of our readers own an iPad or are thinking of owning an iPad. We want to show them how to make it their own, as much as possible given how closed it is. That’s while you’ll see posts on jailbreaking, as well as posts like this one.

      That doesn’t dilute “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it”. By that measure, you don’t own the iPad, end of story.

  4. theophrastus says:

    and i thought the “will it blend” guy had retired. that utterly
    gratuitous grin/grimace at 1min10sec was genius! – give that man a
    golden-globe (they’ve been handed out for less):

  5. says:

    iPad is anti-Make.

    @doctorow No. 1 #iPad misconception: APPL’s device isn’t tinkerer-friendly. No. Apple’s device is ILLEGAL to hack w/o permission, thanks to DRM.

  6. Todd Brunia says:

    Check out I’ve taken up the challenge of creating a productive programming platform for tablet computers.

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I'm a tinkerer and finally reached the point where I fix more things than I break. When I'm not tinkering, I'm probably editing a book for Maker Media.

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