App Development

WWDC 2016 Keynote Recap: Top 6 Announcements for Developers

This year’s WWDC keynote was packed full of exciting new technologies and features Apple is opening up for developers to use. The keynote started off with an overview of the four major platforms for developers: watchOS, tvOS, macOS, and iOS. On each of these platforms, Apple presented many new refinements to their existing applications and feature sets, but also opened up many frameworks that had been previously closed to third-party developers. While there were no new flashy platforms or pieces of hardware, the opening up and refining of their current ecosystem will allow developers to continue to enhance the experience for their users. The following 6 items are our biggest takeaways from this year’s keynote.

Doubling Down on Watch

Apple has clearly spent the past year refining the Apple Watch experience and is pushing to make this one of their major platforms. In every part of the presentation, they mentioned how the watch could also accomplish a given task. You can now control your home with the new Home app, unlock your Mac when you are in proximity to it, and even confirm payment on the web using the new Safari Apple Pay integration, right from your wrist.

The biggest announcement, however, is that application launch time on the watch has been greatly improved. One of the most common complaints about the watch and native apps has been that they take an extremely long time to load. Apple has improved this greatly and has changed the side button on the watch to act as a quick app switcher. This makes the case for creating a native watch app much more compelling, as frequently used apps will be much more accessible for an Apple Watch owner.

Recommendation: If your app has information that can be seen and interacted with at a glance, take a look at building a native watch app. Apple is clearly putting a lot of its resources into this platform and is continuing to refine the user experience. Now that speed has been improved so greatly, it makes building a watch app that much more compelling.

Enhanced Notifications

The first of 10 major features Apple presented on iOS 10, was enhancements to the notification center and lock screen. In addition to a visual refresh, Apple has created new notification extensions that allow a developer to add additional functionality to a push notification. Developers can now add a widget to a notification that is displayed when a user taps on your notification from the lock screen. These new widgets are very similar to the old Today Extension widgets in iOS 9 and will allow for functionalities like quick reply to messages, displaying sports scores, and even playing live video. This is definitely an exciting new way to interact and show important information to users in a very quick and elegant way.

Recommendation: If your app supports notifications, look at expanding them to support these enhanced notification widgets. Push is a very common way to pull users back to an application and by adding enhanced notifications it will be even easier to users to see new content. For example, sports apps could provide additional scores with a big game update and news apps could have a longer summary of an article with images to entice the user to read more.

Map Extensions

The second system that Apple has opened to third-party developers is Map Extensions. These new extensions allow for applications to add support for restaurant and ride booking directly from the Apple Maps application. This will certainly be a big win for car services such as Uber and Lyft as well as restaurant reservation services such as OpenTable.

Recommendation: Restaurant apps or apps that have any sort of ride booking, should look at building a map extension. This will be a very quick and easy way for users to get to your service or restaurant directly from where they are searching for that information.

Messaging Extensions

Apple also spent quite a bit of the keynote demonstrating its new Messages app and support for extensions. For developers, we now have access to 2 types of iMessage apps that can be sold in the new Messages App Store: sticker packs and iMessage apps. Sticker packs allow a user to send custom images and gifs through iMessage. iMessage apps are full-fledged extensions that can be used to create custom, interactive messages and to present custom UI in the Message interface. These apps can provide powerful new interactions within the Messages app such as peer-to-peer payments, editing photos, playing games, and working with friends. These extensions provide new and novel ways to interact through messages and to collaborate and share custom and personal messages. With millions of people using Messages every day, these apps are sure to be a hit.

Recommendation: With the success of all the emoji apps on the app store, brands will definitely want to get on board with creating sticker packs that are fun and exciting ways to engage users. As for full Message apps, these are going to be huge with users and messaging support should be strongly considered. Financial institutions will want to seriously consider the peer-to-peer payments and customer service apps may want to look at new ways of interacting with their users through extensions such as providing interactive step by step directions to solve their problems.


One of the biggest announcements of the keynote was the opening of Siri to third-party developers. Apple has released SiriKit, which allows developers to plug directly into Siri and have their apps respond to verbal requests by the user. The current SiriKit implementation is limited to a certain set of queries, which limits use to apps that implement the following services:

  • Audio or video calling
  • Messaging
  • Payments
  • Photo search
  • Workouts
  • Ride booking

While SiriKit is still fairly limited in scope, the APIs are designed in a way that makes it very quick and easy for developers to get started with adding voice integration into their app.

Recommendation: If your app falls in any of the categories of allowable usage, adding Siri support will be a must have. Users will begin to expect that they will be able to initiate messages or send payments in this way. This was one of the biggest requests from developers since Siri was introduced. Now is the time to get started integrating this feature.


Finally, one of the biggest takeaways is how strongly Apple is pushing the use of Swift across its ecosystem. From the Swift themed attendee badges at WWDC to the signs and banners covered with Swift, Apple is not so subtly showing that they believe Swift is the future of development. This is especially evident in the very polished Swift Playgrounds app for iPad that they closed out the keynote demonstrating. This new educational tool is a constrained version of the Xcode playgrounds that many developers have used over the past year but is very much geared toward teaching new developers and introducing younger developers to Swift. In addition, Apple is also updating core frameworks including CoreGraphics and Grand Central Dispatch to more closely align with Swift.

Recommendation: Swift is going to be the primary language for developing apps in the next few years. While Objective-C isn’t going away for a long time, Apple is no longer talking about it and Swift is getting huge amounts of presentation time in both the keynote and the state of the platforms talk. Apple’s continued support of this language makes a strong case for learning and moving new development to Swift. WillowTree has already made the switch and we have seen great improvements in app development speed and testability. If you haven’t made the switch yet, now is the time to start.

While this year’s keynote did not showcase new hardware or platforms, it was a very strong showing of the maturity and continual refinement that Apple is making to all of its platforms. We will be continuing to examine and take deep dives into these new frameworks over the weeks ahead. Stay tuned to our blog as we continue to share our findings with you.

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