Every new iOS version released brings with it a multitude of new features and specifications that developers must adhere to. iOS 7 was one one the most progressive operating systems that Apple introduced. It revamped the design, functionality, and usability of Apple’s mobile devices. iOS 8 is very similar to iOS 7 from an end-user standpoint. However, iOS 8’s main focus was the developer.
The majority of the enhancements were geared towards a developer’s ability to be creative and innovative. Let’s take a look at what this means for app developers.
App Store Enhancements
The first major change affects both the end-user and developer. With over one million apps in the app store, it is hard for developers to be found and stand out. Apple has introduced trending searches to show what is currently popular. Users can also use suggested related searches and a new Explore tab that helps to categorize apps. Another user focused feature is the advent of the “Editor’s Choice” tag that is applied based on an app’s rating.
Among these developer-relevant changes, the app store also has some fundamental changes that directly relate to developers. For example, developers can now include a video of their app in action instead of just the standard screenshots.
Another useful feature for developers is the ability to bundle apps together, allowing users to download an entire package of apps in one click.
For developers, this might be the most exciting enhancement that came with iOS 8. The new software development kit is allegedly the biggest developer release since the launch of the app store, according to Apple CEO, Tim Cook. The SDK improvements are vast and cover things like TestFlight, Extensibility, Widgets, Third-Party Keyboards, TouchID, Camera APIs, HomeKit, CloudKit, Metal, SceneKit, and Swift.
The first enhancement to iOS 8 with regards to the SDK is Apple’s newly acquired TestFlight. Chances are many developers are already familiar with TestFlight as it was an almost de facto beta delivery app.
Integrating the app with iOS allows developers to open up their apps in beta directly to users for feedback. This opens the channels for better beta access and overall, better releases.
Developers now have over 4,000 APIs (application programming interfaces) at their fingertips. To put this into perspective, the iOS 7 release came with an kit including 1,500 APIs. The most significant of these APIs is known as “Extensibility”. Essentially, this API will allow apps to offer services within other apps.
For example, Apple used to allow sharability for things like Facebook and Twitter directly in the iOS. Now, any app can do the same.
This may be the single biggest change for developers in terms of iOS 8. Objective-C, the primary language that has been used for the past 20 years by Apple has been simplified. The newly trimmed version is known as Swift.
Programmers using Swift will be able to see the results of their coding in real time, which is absolutely insane. The language is also faster that Objective-C while being able to run side-by-side with Objective-C and C within the same app.
Widgets, Keyboards, and Touch ID
The “Today” view and Notification Center can now include customized widgets from third-party developers. For example, users can include Yahoo Weather or Dropbox directly in their widget section now.
Users now have the ability to use third-party keyboards, something that has been a huge success for Android. Users can now choose an alternate primary keyboard over the one that Apple provides.
The infamous Touch ID has also been opened up to third-party developers. This will allow developers to create additional protective measures for their customer’s sensitive data. This can be particularly useful for account based apps such as Mint or Chase where users are required to login to access personal information.
One of the 4,000 APIs included was the photo kit API. This allows an app to edit photos directly in the Camera roll without having to import.
Metal is one of the biggest improvements for game developers. OpenGL, the current standard for 3D graphics in iOS, was fairly limited and required a lot of overhead. Metal allows devices to have improved performance and graphics. For example, Electronic Arts was able to use Metal to run its Frostbite engine to run a game on an iPad. That doesn’t sound too special until you realize that the Frostbite engine is what is also used for games on consoles such as Xbox One and Playstation 4.
iOS 8 looks to set Apple apart from its competitors. The simplicity of Apple’s iOS is finally allowing for the development power of non-Apple programmers. In short, iOS 8 is an app developer’s dream.