App DevelopmentStrategy and Innovation

Apple Event Recap: What You Should Know

Last week’s Apple event did not disappoint. And as developers, we believe the decision to open up Apple TV to applications is the biggest announcement from Apple since they introduced the iPad. Apple’s announcement also means the battle for control of the next-generation big-screen experience has begun in earnest. In addition to their TV announcement, Apple also unveiled the iPad Pro, a new iPhone lineup, and the untethered Apple Watch. With each of these new products come features your applications can begin taking advantage of now.

iPad Pro

After lengthy industry speculation, Apple has finally unveiled the larger format iPad, the iPad Pro.

It’s Got Size

At 12.9 inches diagonally, it delivers a screen that is 78% larger than its next smaller brethren. The screen has a resolution of 2732-by-2048, making it the highest resolution iOS device, second to only the iMac with Retina 5K display across all Apple products. The iPad Pro is as wide as the iPad Air 2 is tall, so there is plenty of new real estate for app designers. Designs can, and should, take advantage of the new space to provide more efficient and effective layouts. Of course, the larger size will incur larger asset bundles, but the App Thinning that comes with iOS 9 (if properly utilized) will keep individual download sizes down for smaller devices.

It’s Got Power

Sporting the new A9X SOC, the iPad Pro promises greatly improved power over its predecessors. A portion of this week’s Apple event showed two 4K videos being edited simultaneously. (Two apps will run at full size, side by side with multitasking.) Apple says that the A9X will provide desktop-class performance, and whether it’s hyperbole or not, we will see increasingly complex and powerful apps.

It’s Got Accessories
  • Smart Keyboard - With the increased size, the iPad Pro becomes ever more useful for general computing. In this vein, Apple is providing a new Smart Keyboard designed specifically for this device. The keyboard connects via a special Smart Connector port that also provides power. App designs that rely heavily on text entry should keep the Smart Keyboard in mind, as app specific commands and keyboard shortcuts can be defined for better integration and an enhanced user experience.
  • Pencil - While both increased device size and Smart Keyboard integration will allow for better text entry, the Pencil is the most pleasant addition for users like graphic designers and artists who require a sensitive input mechanism. The Pencil is a versatile input device that detects force, position, and tilt. Beyond virtual line drawing though, the Pencil also allows us to replace dedicated input devices like Wacom tablets.
What To Know:

Larger screens mean longer sessions. As people spend about 23% more time in iPad apps than iPhone apps*, your business has an opportunity to create richer and longer content on the large and welcoming iPad pro screen. Make sure your app designs are using space efficiently and effectively, and that they take advantage of App Thinning, especially if they are universal apps. The iPad Pro will be available in November.

iPhone 6S and 6S Plus

This year’s hardware update brought most apps two major features. The first is our old friend, better performance. Your apps will boot up faster and run more smoothly on Apple’s new phones, no development time required.

3D Touch

The second major hardware feature is “3D Touch.” And although an iteration of this technology called “Force Touch” is already present in the Apple Watch and a recent line of MacBooks, the feature is new to smartphones. This is a big deal for how your customers use your app, as the physical language for interaction — tapping, swiping, pinching — just got richer. We’ll be applying that new interaction language in custom gestures when appropriate, but Apple has already used it for two new features in iOS 9 that all apps should begin taking advantage of immediately: application shortcuts and content previewing.

Application Shortcuts

With iOS 9 Apple has introduced Application Shortcuts, enabling a user to communicate their intent to an app for the first time. While tapping on an app icon still translates to “open up the app to the default experience” in iOS 9, now users can also force press app icons too. When an icon is force pressed, the user is letting the app know they want to take an action, or go somewhere specific within the app. A shortcut menu appears once a user force presses an app icon, and displays a list of app-specific actions a user can take. There is limited space on the shortcut menu, though, so you’ll need to carefully prioritize your app’s most-important features in iOS 9. Good uses for shortcuts are:

  • Featuring the task your user most commonly performs (e.g. “take selfie”).
  • Jumpstarting a time-sensitive task (e.g. “record video” right now).
  • Pre-filling commonly selected data (e.g. text my favorite contact).

Application shortcuts also create an additional layer of discovery for your app. Since shortcuts will be reserved for your most used and most valued tasks, the shortcut menu itself is a bird’s eye view of your app. Moreover, since static shortcuts are available immediately after app installation, this will be the first impression your app makes on a growing subset of your customers. This is a feature most apps will want to support immediately.

Content Previewing

Apple debuted another iOS 9 feature based on 3D Touch: content previewing. This feature lets a user force press on a link or other item to immediately see a preview of the content. If they’d like to navigate to a detailed view of that content, they press more firmly; if they’d like to dismiss it, they lift up their finger; and if they’d like to take another action, they can swipe the content up to see a set of quick actions they can take. The most useful element of that interaction flow, is that a user can now dismiss preview content by lifting their finger. Currently, most app navigation requires an additional interaction to undo an exploratory tap. After navigating into a new screen the user must tap or swipe out of it. By only requiring users to lift their finger to dismiss the content, Apple has introduced a low-friction way for them to explore apps. The easier it is to do, the more of your app your customers will explore. And of course, those touch interactions are baked into iOS 9, which means the experience is unified across apps. Your customers will quickly learn them and then expect your app to fulfill the same promise of instant content previewing.

What To Know:

3D Touch is not only a new mechanism you can use to enhance and enrich the user experience of your apps, but also a feature that enables the use of Application Shortcuts and Content Previewing. It’s important for your strategy team to begin identifying the high-priority features in your app that should be lifted to users’ attention in the Shortcut Menu. A quick round of user-centered research should help you determine and validate potential opportunities. The new iPhones launch on September 25th.

watchOS 2.0

While it’s only been five short months since the launch of the Apple Watch, Apple has released a major revision to the software powering the device. This update, dubbed watchOS 2, enables apps access to various watch sensors and hardware like the Taptic engine and the Digital Crown. It also provides the opportunity to display meaningful information with a simple flick of the wrist in one of the small clock face elements called “Complications.” Lastly, watchOS 2 allows Apple Watch to run more independently from the iPhone it’s paired with. Watch apps can now request data directly via Wi-Fi without being tethered to an iPhone, resulting in a much faster user experience.


While the initial version of the OS that shipped with Apple Watch did allow for third-party apps, the majority of these were static views of information located on a user’s paired phone or recently fetched by the device. Interaction was possible, but none of the hardware on the watch could be leveraged in your application until now. Here are some of the sensors you might want your app to interact with:

  • Taptic Engine - Helps reinforce a user’s actions by delivering a distinct vibration or “haptic” feedback.
  • Speaker - You can now play audio snippets and short video clips directly through your Apple Watch app.
  • Microphone - If your application could benefit from audio input, the microphone is available.
  • Accelerometer - Identify movement patterns by recording several days worth of data from the watch.
  • Digital Crown - With data from the Digital Crown you can now directly manipulate your app’s UI in response to the Crown’s rotations.
What To Know:

Each of these new sensors provides an opportunity for you to create unique watch experiences, differentiating your brand from competitors. For example, by creating a distinct tap for your push notifications, users will think of your brand every time they feel a particular tap. And as users become more comfortable navigating through apps using the Digital Crown, they will naturally expect to move through your app the same way.


A user’s clock face can show an array of information at a glance via Complications, but now your app can provide these quick bits of information too. Say your app provides scores for a user’s favorite basketball team, this information can be delivered straight to the clock face. This will allow users to get the information they want from your apps directly from the main watch interface. These also act as great launchers for your app, swiftly moving your user directly from the clock face into your app with one simple touch. Depending on the clock face your user chooses, there will be different templates for displaying your data. These range from large canvases which can be used to display multiple lines of content, to small circular image templates that may only appear in the corners of a watch face. With this in mind, it’s important that your app supports as many different Complication templates as possible.

Loosely Coupled

Previously, your watch app could only run when in range of your phone. So if your iPhone wasn’t present, your app couldn’t even launch. This is because the apps on watchOS 1 were running on the paired iPhone, not on the watch itself. If you wanted text to appear in your watch app, a user’s iPhone had to request that the watch display that text over a bluetooth connection. This resulted in a very slow experience for users. In watchOS 2 this has been re-architected and true native applications can run on the watch, allowing for faster launching and response times than were previously possible.

What To Know:

The Apple Watch has become much more useful as an independent device. With the trove of hardware modules that have been made available to developers, start looking for new ways to enhance your companion watch apps by leveraging the interactions and experiences that are only available through the Apple Watch. watchOS 2.0 is available September 16th.

Apple TV

The announcement of the Apple TV brought the device from its former position as a self-proclaimed “hobby” into another new and innovative application platform. Just as Apple has taken on the phone, tablet, and smartwatch industries in the past few years, the move to TV presents another opportunity for developers and companies to engage with their users in new and exciting ways.

The new Apple TV is a full-fledged application platform with the release of tvOS. Developers can now write fully-native apps that target the TV interface. The same A8 processor present in the iPhone 6 is also present in the new Apple TV, which allows us to engineer very fast and intensive apps, from 3D games to video applications supporting multiple streams side-by-side. In a nod to the popularity of the iOS platform, many of the same APIs have made the transition to tvOS. This will make the transition to the new platform very quick and painless for developers already experienced at making apps for iOS. As an added bonus, Apple TV apps can also be packaged alongside the iPhone and iPad apps in a universal bundle. This means code that was written for iOS, such as API integrations and business logic, can often be reused by a tvOS app.

Apple also announced two new ways to interact with your TV through Siri and the new Apple TV remote. The new Siri integration allows for voice search across multiple video providers, allowing a user to find content wherever it may be available. Apple will launch with a few services integrated, but alluded to adding more over time. The new Apple Remote adds an element of the iOS touch interface to the TV, as users can now swipe between items on the screen and quickly scrub through video in real time. In addition, the remote doubles as a game controller with motion and touch sensors that Apple demonstrated during the event.

What To Know:

Looking ahead, developers and companies with iOS apps should think long and hard about adding tvOS support, especially if an app contains video content. Just like with the iPhone and iPad before it, users quickly form habits and favorites among the new applications available, so being early is often critical.

Users will quickly expect a fast and seamless video experience instead of the former multi-step Airplay process. Additionally, companies that create tvOS supported apps stand to greatly increase their customer reach by tapping into a new segment of users that may not use video on their iPhones (or even have one), but want a better TV experience.

Native apps also offer the ability for apps that don’t use video to present data in new and interesting ways. For example, a sports app may show cards of the current games and scores or a news app may show a quick set of glanceable headlines. To us, the tvOS is the most exciting opportunity we’ve seen in years. Over the next 12 months, we expect to see incredible applications developed that will transform how we use the big screen in every room of our home.

The new Apple TV and tvOS will launch in late October.

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