Setting up an iPad for coding is my greatest feat as a computer user

A few months ago, I detailed my process for setting up a Pixelbook to code on. It wasn’t easy or simple or straightforward, but it worked in the end: I had all the power and flexibility of Linux, access to my favorite code editor (VS Code), and, of course, the slick web browsing experience that Chromebooks are known for.

Around that same time, I attempted to set up an iPad for coding. I failed miserably. I love using the iPad for writing and other creative work. It’s super portable, has great battery life, an excellent screen, and the limited multitasking keeps me focused. Unfortunately, it’s very bad for complex tasks and intentionally crippled for software development.

But I’m older and wiser now, and after an entire Saturday spent bashing my head against a wall, I’m happy to report that I can use a $799 tablet computer to write software. Will I ever actually use it for this purpose? Maybe! But we’ll get to that.

Feel free to follow in my footsteps if you, too, wish to code on the iPad. I can’t promise you it’s a worthwhile destination, but I learned a lot on my way there.

As everyone knows, Apple is scared to death that anyone might ever run arbitrary code on one of its pristine iOS devices. It makes a little bit of sense: the strictures of iOS and the App Store are why a years-old iPad is vastly more responsive and cruft-free than a similarly aged MacBook Pro.

But it makes developing software nearly impossible. It’s ironic because the iPad is excellent for creators in so many ways like drawing, design, and music. Under the hood is the same Unix kernel that makes macOS excellent for programmers.

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