App Development

What to Expect When You Are Expecting iOS 8

In 2013, many leading apps were sent scrambling to make emergency updates when Apple drastically redefined their user interface with the release of iOS 7. Apple will officially unveil iOS 8 this Tuesday, and we will once again see wide-ranging changes to the iOS landscape. This time, however, the changes focus heavily on internal, developer-side updates that directly affect the ecosystem in which our apps live and work. Although these may seem to be in the background, they will have some big implications on both consumer-facing and enterprise apps.

Before reviewing any of our Top 5 iOS 8 Recommendations below, we strongly suggest that you download iOS8 and begin testing your current apps to see how they render and work.

1. The Big Screen (4.7" and 5.5”-up from 4”)

When the iPhone 5 came out, and iOS 6 launched, apps built using older iOS libraries did continue to function on the new hardware, but they were letterboxed and not able to take advantage of the additional real estate.

Similarly, apps built for 3.5” (iPhone 4s) and 4” (iPhone 5) screens will run on the new, larger devices with a black border if they cannot be scaled up. The remedy for this is to revisit the design and development of those apps and to upgrade their display logic to auto-layout, something that Apple has been unrelenting in pushing since the debut of the iPhone 5. Auto-layout allows for logical, real-time layout of an app’s views based on various constraints. It is much more flexible than the unyielding programmatic and static layout and will take advantage of differences in screen sizes.

But the real payoff will come with redesigning apps to take full advantage of the precious new real estate.

To Do:
Make sure all your apps use “Auto-Layout” to ensure they are not letterboxed. Begin designing/developing iOS 8 apps to take advantage of the newly-available real estate.

2. New Kits on the Block

Implications: Apple is adding or updating a variety of Kits – including HealthKit, HomeKit, PhotoKit, SceneKit and SpriteKit (the latter two primarily for game development). HealthKit will permit health and fitness devices and apps to integrate their data directly into Apple’s Health app.
HomeKit will unite various home automation apps and devices, and the race will be on to create next-gen devices that are controlled from your phone–everything from appliances to lighting to home security.
PhotoKit will allow apps that utilize the camera unprecedented control of the image. Storage Provider / Document Picker: Apps now have much more flexibility in terms of where information is stored, and what docs are available to other apps, opening up a rich ecosystem around sharing of information. Security and user access will have to be architected and carefully monitored.

To Do:
Understand the basics of the new kits and what new opportunities they present. Many of our clients were historically limited in items like interfacing with devices or sharing of data, and now that is opening up. Further reading:

3. Extend your Apps

We believe the new Extensions and Widgets will have the biggest impact on the iOS ecosystem, and are generally being ignored by the press, primarily because they are complicated to explain.

In a nutshell, apps will be able to both communicate with each other and get content to Apple’s Today view in the Notification Center–similar to functionality Android and Windows already offer. The permissions will be more limited than in Android, but here’s a summary of some of the types of things you can do:
Widgets: Deliver short content to the Notification Center–if you are a big user of Notifications or Alerts now, you’ll want to look hard at including this functionality. Share extensions are the next generation of the previous functionality for posting to Facebook or Twitter. Now Apple will allow apps to post links or files (e.g. photos) to an online service, to be consumed by sites or other apps. So you could include pinning photos or posting files into 3rd party services like AWS or Dropbox. Enterprise apps have often struggled on how to easily and securely share data, and this may be one answer. Action extensions allow you to leverage the functionality of one app in another if that app makes the functionality available. So a separate translation app could allow you to use its functionality in your app.

A much deeper dive on extensions is here:

To Do:
Review the core functionality of your app. Were you hamstrung in the past by Apple’s hard rules against sharing data or functionality among applications? This may be an opportunity to significantly improve your applications’ functionality. Do your apps make use of notifications or alerts (or should they)? If so, strongly consider adding widgets.

4. Sign In and Pay Me

We know that Apple will make Touch ID available to apps, as well as sharing of keychains and access to 1Password. We believe, but won’t know until September 9th, that NFC will be included in the new iPhone 6–which will mean at some point you will be able to wave your phone at a terminal for payment. That full functionality most likely won’t be available for a while as a variety of hardware and payment partnerships get worked out. In the meantime, apps that permit purchasing will be able to use Apple’s new security and login capabilities.

To Do:
If your app has logins of any sort, consider re-working them to take advantage of Apple’s newest security tools, designed to both ease the user’s experience and improve security. If your apps permit payment, start planning now for the coming sea change in mobile payments.

5. See you in the App Store

Videos: In iOS8, Apple will permit 30 second promotional videos. We expect these to be a huge hit with consumers before downloading, and likely figuring in Apple’s search algorithms and App Store optimization strategies. All consumer-facing apps should develop promotional videos as quickly as possible.

App Bundling: For the first time, you will be able to see multiple apps for one price.

TestFlight: New TestFlight features will make it much easier to test and distribute apps during the development cycle, which has always been painful. The only downside is after buying TestFlight, Apple took away the ability to use it for Android, so now you’ll have to use separate systems for each platform.

To Do:
Create App Preview videos immediately:
If you are selling multiple apps, develop a bundled pricing strategy.

We’ll be in touch again after Sept 9 around the impact of the pending announcements, especially when it comes to any developments around iWatch. In the meantime, the most important thing is to download iOS 8 and start testing your current apps to see how they will render in the new OS.

Bonus Recommendation: Not so fast on Swift!

We’ve been testing it, and it’s great. Really great. Swift will make next-gen iOS development faster, better, etc. etc. But not today. The language is great, but the compiler and some other surrounding infrastructure are still works in progress. 2015 will be the year of Swift, but there’s nothing to do just yet, and Objective-C isn’t going anywhere.

The WillowTree team wishes you a safe and happy transition to iOS 8! We’ll be back with an update after the official launch of iOS 8 and Apple’s new hardware on Tuesday.

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