Can kids use the iPad to program for the iPad?

When the iPad was released this past year, to much fanfare and millions of sales, a lot was said about how Alan Kay’s vision of the Dynabook had finally come to pass. (Well, some people said Jobs stole the idea from Kay, but most people just trumpeted that the future was finally here…)

Screen shot of Apple iPad in use

And yes, there are a lot of similarities between Kay’s Dynabook and Apple’s iPad. Portability, price, the uses for creative expression, etc. But there is one thing missing. Kay’s Dynabook had 12 year old novice programmers creating new programs for it! In fact, that was one of the best parts for me about Kay’s essay “Personal Dynamic Media”, that a kid was able to use the Dynabook to make it do things she wanted to do – in order to create the things she wanted to create.

The Dynabook prototype, pt. 3

Unfortunately, that is not the case with the iPad, as Wired magazine reported back in April. (By the way, the app that is mentioned in that article that was removed from the Apple Store is an app for Scratch, which looks like a really interesting program…)

Has Kay’s Dynabook been reincarnated by the iPad? I think the answer is no.

One Comment

Alan Levine October 17, 2010 Reply

I mused along similar lines. One might say in terms of form factor and most of the functions, the iPad is as close as we’ve seen to the instantiation of a Dynabook.

While a brilliant vision, I’m not sure with evolution of ideas and innovation, that something not matching all of the attributes of the Dynabook is something to say falls short.

but no, the iPad of course is not tool Kay saw that enabled people to *easily* create more tools. I’d venture we can make the same criticism of most desktops, laptop systems too. Yes, they can and are used to create software, but not nearly in the manner Kay and Goldberg painted (animations programming animation tools, musicians coding music tools) — for the most part, it requires semi-specialized knowledge (C++ etc). It’s more of an exception in things like (Kay’s role here) tools like Squeak.

Likewise, I don;t see much being done in the way of creating opportunities for kids to learn the skills to create digital tools- the world is leaning more towards one of consuming content, c.f. Why Johnny Can’t Program: A New Medium Requires A New Literacy (

Leave a Reply