6 Reasons to Be Patient With iOS 8 App Developers
As consumers adjust to iOS 8 and learn to use the new features and capabilities that it brings even to an older iPhone, they expect that their favorite apps will take advantage of the myriad new features that the mobile operating system has made available to developers. From new integration with the Touch ID sensor to closer control of the camera, as well as the new presence of frameworks like HealthKit and the upcoming HomeKit, app developers have a wide array of choices of new capabilities that they can add to existing apps or build entirely new apps around. Read on for six features that make iOS 8 more challenging for developers — all reasons that users should be a little patient with developers as they prepare their apps for the complex new world of iOS 8.
1. Apple added more than 4,000 APIs and services with iOS 8, bringing far-reaching new capabilities for apps
As Apple’s developer portal explains, iOS 8 opened “a huge set of APIs and services, so you can create new categories of apps and features.” These new APIs and services enable developers to add new features to their apps and to create apps with newly extended functionality.
Among those are App Extensions, which enable custom functionality within the context of a user task: Touch ID, which now enables apps to authenticate users before accessing some or all of the content of the app; Apple Pay, which lets users pay for purchases within developers’ apps; PhotoKit, which enables apps to edit photos directly in the Camera Roll; Manual Camera Controls, which enable apps to direct camera focus, white balance, and exposure settings; HealthKit, which enables health and fitness apps to access shared health information; HomeKit, which enables apps to configure smart home devices and create actions to control devices; CloudKit, which enables developers to store and retrieve app data from iCloud; and Handoff, which enables users to start an activity on one device and resume them on another.
2. With features like Handoff and Continuity, users expect an app to work from iPhone to iPad to Mac
With iOS 8 adding the ability for users to begin a task on one iOS device or Mac and pick it up on another, Apple is ending the traditional way that apps are “siloed” on a specific device. As Matt Johnston, chief strategy officer of app analytics company Applause, told Wired’s Christina Bonnington: “Apple is enabling this Jetsons-esque future where everything talks to everything. It’s not only a bigger challenge for Apple, it’s an order of magnitude more complex for app companies.”
If a developer has created an iOS version and an OS X version of an app, then users who have seen the utility of Handoff and Continuity with Apple apps like Safari and Mail will expect the feature of third-party apps, too. Adding the functionality makes the development process considerably more complex.
3. iOS apps now need to share data and functionality with each other in ways they haven’t before
As Bonnington notes, iOS 8’s share extension is a good example of the interdependencies that iOS 8 enables among apps. The extension makes custom functions of a given app available to users — via the share button — while they’re using other apps. As Evernote’s vice president of mobile products, Jamie Hull, told Wired: “The share extension called for the team to work within an entirely new set of constraints, different from those in the main app, using technologies that they don’t work with on a daily basis. We couldn’t just take what we had done for desktop browser extensions and apply it to the iOS app without severely compromising both performance and usability, so the team had to build and test several approaches in parallel until we found something that worked.”
4. Getting an app’s widget right can be a big obstacle
Widgets in the Notification Center’s “Today View” need to adhere to Apple’s set of specifications, including a limit to the maximum height of the widget. Those limitations mean that developers need to determine what users will want to see when they open the Notification Center, and what function will be the best use of the widget’s limited space. For developers, taking the time to get the widget right means figuring out which function of the app will be the most useful. Wired notes that for a calendar app, the team might have to choose between a list of to-do items or a calendar of the month ahead. For many developers, preparing a useful and well-designed widget can delay an update to iOS 8, but taking the time to consider the options pays off with a better user experience.
5. The new screen sizes of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus create user experience questions
Beyond the logistics of figuring out how an app will function on the new screen sizes that Apple introduced with the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, developers also need to contend with new questions about changes that a different screen size may necessitate for the app’s user interface or even its workflow. Hull told Wired’s Bonnington that the Evernote team had to decide whether the app for the larger iPhone would operate more like a tablet or emphasize different onscreen items given new buttons that iOS 8 brought to the iPhone’s keyboard.
6. Developers need to decide how many versions to support
Beyond thinking through how an app will function on different screen sizes, developers also have to consider how many different versions of iOS the app should support. For many apps, maintaining support for multiple versions of the mobile operating system would mean maintaining completely different versions of the app.
Flipboard co-founder Evan Doll told Bonnington that the team had to decide how far back the iOS app should support, and whether supporting just iOS 7 and iOS 8 was enough, or if Flipboard should also support iOS 6 or iOS 5. Some developers have opted to support only iOS 8, hoping that users who want the app will have already updated to the latest version of the operating system, or will update once they realize that the app only works on iOS 8.
While the added capabilities of iOS 8 make app development more complicated, they also bring new possibilities that excite developers as much as they challenge them. Users will just need to be a little bit patient as developers update, redesign, and reinvent their apps, implementing new features, troubleshooting inevitable bugs, and rethinking what mobile apps can do with the new capabilities of iOS 8.