I’ve never coded a day in my life before 15 minutes ago, and as I write, I’m looking at a map I just created to show me the location of every Instagram photo tagged Obama. Then Romney. Then Sandy. Then I added a progress bar that would fill up when the search query was successfully sent. And I did it all from my iPad.
The app I’m using is Scriptkit, by Kyle Buza, and it allows you to drag and drop snippets of code from a library of well-annotated APIs. The goal? Rapidly prototype your app ideas on the very device you’re looking to run them on. Sure, you’ll still get your hands dirty on the iPad keyboard from time to time, tweaking the X/Y values determining size and shape of a button, for instance, but building a functional app really isn’t much harder than a few taps and a few drags—especially if you already know what you’re doing (which I don’t).
Maybe it’s because I’m able to literally touch code, rather than disappearing into a terminal. Maybe it’s because as soon as I make a change, all I have to do is hit a play button to see my results. Maybe it’s because I’m just manipulating a few preloaded templates that Buza annotated in the app. But the sensation of manipulating code like a finger-painting child (well, almost) is incredibly empowering.
"Because it was specifically designed for mobile, touch is simply a necessity. If the goal of Scriptkit is to make it as easy as possible to build apps for the device, avoiding intermediate steps (building in the browser, using XCode, etc.) is crucial," Buza tells me. "In fact, one of the goals of Scriptkit is to help the user avoid typing as much as possible, and there’s just no substitute for prototyping an app on the device it’s being built for."
Just a few minutes in, and I already know that I’m spoiled by this instant gratification prototyping. I’m already wishing Buza’s team had included more APIs—right now the major apps are Dropbox, Facebook, and Instagram—but what could I do with Reddit and Twitter? I know that I have the option to dig through any coding treasure that exists on the web, but that currently requires going into a separate browser to copy and paste the code. And I’m not in any hurry to wean myself off Scriptkit’s elegantly pre-chewed snippets.
So say I grow up into a coding superstar—what can’t I do with Scriptkit, I’m wondering. Where will the app fall short?
"The API itself is designed to support building UIs and simple visualizations, where animation is triggered in response to direct interaction," Buza explains. "As a result, users are going to have a difficult time building something like a real-time fluid simulation with Scriptkit. [But] could they build their own photo sharing app or card game? Absolutely."
Interesting—like a trading card game in which all of my friends’ Instagram feeds become pawns in some Yu-Gi-Oh!-esque battle? Hey, I called it first!