Blog 53

Robert Walter, Technical Director

As an app development company any planned announcements about the major platforms brings a certain amount of anticipation about the new toys we will get to play with, and hopefully use for customers. Given the secrecy that normally surrounds Apple that anticipation is acutely heightened. June each year brings WWDC, Apples World Wide Developer Conference, and with it the annual announcement of the latest and greatest version of iOS. There were many rumours surrounding what may or may not come out of the keynote, some seem likely, some ridiculous, but no-one is quite sure what they will be.

So 6pm on Monday 2nd June came along and we sat down to watch the keynote by Tim Cook, CEO, with support from key people within Apple.

It took till the end but the biggest and most interesting feature from our point of view is Swift. It's a new programming language that Apple have built from the ground up to make app development easier and the apps themselves run faster. Having a quick look through the free eBook that Apple have provided it seems to have familiarities with Objective-C but borrowing elements from other languages including JavaScript.  I think this will be received well by the development community as something significant and new for the iOS / OSX veterans to learn and an easier language for the developers that want to get into Apple development but saw the learning curve on Objective-C as a barrier. Swift also enables a new Playground feature within Xcode, the application developers use to code iOS apps, where changes can be made to the code and they will be reflected in the simulator immediately. This was demoed to nice effect with some live coding on stage (not something I believe Apple have done previously) of a simple game.

HealthKit was the main feature that was rumoured beforehand (under the term Healthbook). It's a way for all health and fitness apps to have a central repository for their data so that they can all work together. There was no fêted iWatch yet but it looks like it will be the software platform that powers it when Apple are ready to step into the wearables arena.

Notifications is an area where Android has always been ahead of the competition with Apple slowly catching up and Windows Phone being well behind.  Being able to interact with them is a long overdue feature (been in Android for around 2 years) and great for them to announce this works with third party apps immediately. I think this will certainly add benefit for the apps we build, some projects that we've currently got in development will be able to make use of this feature too!

Widgets is another feature bringing iOS onto parity with the other platforms and I can see us developing them for clients to complement their apps.

Extensions for apps looks like a very nice feature which I can see software companies making good use of and will certainly allow closer integration between apps as previously iOS has been quite siloed with the only communication between apps being with the first party applications.

TestFlight has been our preferred platform of choice for beta app distribution but unfortunately they removed Android support when Apple purchased it. It will be interesting to see how integrated it has now become with iOS and Xcode.

Access to use TouchID, Apple’s fingerprint scanning technology, in our own apps is something we hoped for when it first became available and is definitely something we will be able to make use of. I expect at the iPad announcement event the new iPads will have a TouchID sensor in them.

Home automation is something I have a personal interest in and something we saw demonstrated very well at the World Mobile Congress in February by Qualcomm (using a technology called AllJoyn). This was something that was only recently started to be rumoured so the announcement of HomeKit was intriguing just a shame at this stage it is so light on detail. I'm hoping that more information comes to light during the rest of WWDC.

The Siri update wasn't a significant upgrade and there doesn't appear to be any third party development API yet which is when I think it will start showing it's true value.

A new software keyboard isn't something from a development point of view that is beneficial but as an iPhone user even after 4 years I still think my typing on it isn't as good as it was on my old Windows Mobile (HTC Touch HD2) where I could use a classic T9 keyboard so anything that improves it I'm keen to have a play with! It however looks very similar to the default Android keyboard so I'll reserve judgement till I can have a play with it. Third party keyboards are now also possible so maybe the T9 version that I crave for will become available!

I haven't covered all the new features here as there were many and as with all keynote speeches you don't get all the detail which will come out over the next few days as the conference continues so we'll be sure to post some updated information. I'll be getting my iOS team looking at Swift immediately!

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