10 compelling iPad apps developers will love

From hardcore development environments to remote consoles, these iPad apps put powerful programming features at developers’ fingertips

10 heavy-duty programming apps for the iPad

When the iPad was introduced, most pundits opined that it might be nice for reading online, but that it would never be useful for creating content, much less doing real work. And yet, here we are, a short while later, with 10 meaningful iPad apps for developers, ranging from hardcore development environments to remote consoles.

Without an external keyboard (of which there are many for sale) you lose screen space to the soft keyboard when entering text, though using the iPad in Portrait mode minimizes the amount of space you lose. The good news about using the on-screen keyboard with several of the apps listed is that the apps provide worthwhile enhancements, such as the onscreen equivalent of a TrackPoint joystick.

Kodiak JavaScript

Kodiak JavaScript is an offline HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript IDE for the iPad with a WebKit-based internal browser. It includes syntax highlighting and an enhanced keyboard in its code editor, as well as the jQuery library and 50 other JavaScript libraries and frameworks. 

Where Kodiak JavaScript really shines is its ability to run your Web code on your iPad without needing to upload files to a server: Just press the “play” icon at the top right of the screen to make the code page slide to the left and the browser appear. This vastly accelerates your development cycle, and it’s just what you need when you have to code a client-side Web UI on an airplane without WiFi.

Kodiak JavaScript, Play Ragtime, $9.99

Kodiak PHP

Kodiak PHP is an offline PHP IDE for the iPad with an internal PHP interpreter built with the most common extensions. It includes syntax highlighting and an enhanced keyboard in its code editor.

Like Kodiak JavaScript, Kodiak PHP lets you code and run Web applications right on your iPad without needing to upload to a server; however, PHP code generates the HTML for the browser, so the Kodiak PHP interpreter essentially is a local server, sending its output to a local WebKit browser. Note that if you want to use a database (typically MySQL), it will be on an external server, not your iPad, so you will need connectivity. The same caveat applies to using the PHP curl feature.

Kodiak PHP, Play Ragtime, $9.99

Textastic Code Editor for iPad

Textastic is a Textmate-compatible text, code, and markup language editor for the iPad with syntax highlighting for over 80 programming and markup languages. Textastic has its own WebDAV server and can communicate with FTP, SFTP and WebDAV servers as well as Dropbox. It can do local and remote Web preview for HTML and Markdown files, but it can’t run any other kind of code internally. It does code completion only for HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP functions when editing. 

The odd-looking compass just above the keyboard in the screenshot is Textastic’s cursor navigation wheel, which enables easy text selection. Not visible in this screenshot are the file properties, file and symbol browsers and file transfer module.

Textastic Code Editor for iPad, Alexander Blach, $8.99

Codea

Codea is a Lua IDE for the iPad that is especially useful for creating games and simulators. It includes syntax-highlighting and visual editing for Lua, a graphics renderer, reference documentation, shader support, a Physics engine and support for touch, accelerometer and camera. Finished Codea apps can be exported to Xcode and built as App Store apps. 

Bear in mind that Codea only supports Lua, not any other languages, and that it’s not a substitute for Xcode. If you have a “see what works” attitude and a willingness to read the Codea forums, you may pick up Codea and Lua quickly; if you expect extensive tutorials, you won’t find them here.

Codea, Two Lives Left, $9.99

Diet Coda

Diet Coda is a stripped-down iPad version of the Mac editor Coda, designed strictly for live editing of sites, which is fine if you have a staging site, not so great if you only have a production site, and useless if you don’t have a site with FTP or SFTP access. It supports syntax highlighting for HTML, CSS, PHP, and JavaScript. It briefly supported Ruby on Rails, but that feature has been pulled; it does not do syntax highlighting for Python or Perl. 

While Diet Coda has had its share of five-star reviews, it has also had a significant group of unhappy customers. Remember that Diet Coda edits files live on your website, not files on your iPad.

Diet Coda, Panic, $19.95

iSSH – SSH / VNC Console

iSSH is an SSH and telnet console with a tunneled VNC client, RDP client and X server support, for iPhone and iPad. This app was highly rated until recently, when an update for iOS 7 broke some UI features. If you need this tool and don’t yet have it, or have it and want to upgrade to iOS 7, watch for a new release in the App Store that gets positive reviews before committing.

iSSH – SSH / VNC Console, Zinger-Soft, $9.99

iOctocat

iOctocat is a GitHub client for the iPhone and (in compatibility mode) iPad. The basic version is free but won’t open private or GitHub Enterprise repositories; upgrading to Pro is an in-app purchase of $9.99. The developer is reported to be responsive and active, but so far there is no sign of full iPad support. I tend to avoid running iPhone apps on the iPad -- they never really feel right to me. 

An alternative that does have iPad support is the $4.99 Git Mobile for GitHub, but it has very few ratings. I’d try the free version of iOctocat and test it out on public repos to decide whether it’s worth buying.

iOctocat, Dennis Reimann, free basic version, $9.99 upgrade to Pro

OmniGraffle

OmniGraffle is a diagramming package for the iPad that is useful for site planning. It has gotten mixed reviews over the years, criticized mainly for its high price and limited sharing capabilities, although it appears to be nicely designed. 

It’s really too bad that ratings in the App Store don’t tell you anything about the hardware reviewers use. It’s also too bad that there isn’t an easy way to return iPad apps that don’t work for you. Half the ratings for the latest version of OmniGraffle are 5-stars; half are not, and a few of those report random crashes. That leads me to guess that OmniGraffle uses a lot of resources and probably runs best on high-end iPads. Caveat emptor.

OmniGraffle, The Omni Group, $49.99

AppCooker

AppCooker allows you to mock up iPhone and iPad apps and preview them on devices with a free companion app. AppCooker requires iOS 7 and iPad; AppCooker’s designer doesn't work on iPhones, although you can design iPhone apps with it on iPads. Are you confused yet?

Because AppCooker uses native iOS 7 controls for its mockups, it requires iOS 7 to run. This decision makes perfect sense from the app developer’s viewpoint, but caused a storm of protest on the App Store from the installed base of AppCooker buyers, many of whom either could not or would not upgrade to iOS 7.

AppCooker, Hot Apps Factory, $14.99

Pythonista

Pythonista is a Python IDE for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. It offers syntax highlighting, code completion and an internal Python 2.7.5 interpreter. You can export scripts as Xcode projects that build standalone iOS apps. Pythonista requires iOS 7.

Pythonista is the most expensive Python IDE in the App Store, but it has a nicer UI than the others. It has scene, sound and other modules for accessing iOS functionality in order to develop interpreted iPad and iPhone apps. Its greatest omissions are the NumPy, SciPy and matplotlib modules; these are, of course, popular requests from the scientific computing crowd. The free Python Math app includes NumPy as an in-app purchase, so adding NumPy to Pythonista may be feasible.

Pythonista, omz:software, $6.99