Last year, Apple gave us an iOS update that was all about the appearances. The update for iOS 8 takes a deeper look at the workings underneath. Last year was contentious. This year, it seems like Apple gave developers nearly everything we’d been asking for. Almost everyone has something to be delighted about. Plus, we got an entirely new language.
Before we head into Apple’s 2014 announcements, let’s take a last look at some of the rumors.
Bigger iPhones: These seem almost a certainty, but despite all the leaks and rumors, we know very little about the new features Apple has in store. I think the biggest thing I have to say here (no pun intended—well, maybe a little) is to strengthen my exhortation from last year: The responsive future is here. You need to be using Auto Layout. You need to use size classes and traits. It is increasingly difficult to make a non-universal or partially fixed-orientation app, and that is intentional on Apple’s part. They want you to fully support their customers, who are using any of their devices in any orientation they want.
Wearables (ugh) / iWatch (ugh) / fitness band (ok, I’m biased): Apple likes to come into a market that has already been proven, but not yet taken off. They bring their trademark laser-focused, vertically integrated, highly polished approach to the core features for version one, then grow their product line over the years. I think the introduction of HealthKit, combined with the nascent health market currently led by Jawbone and Fitbit (not to mention Nike’s unceremonious exit) makes a solid case for some kind of watch or band.
However, Apple has once again managed to keep all the important details completely unknown. Whatever this device turns out to be, I hope that Apple has found a way to add a reasonable heart rate monitor to their growing sensor list. In any case, it will be beneficial for developers to know the notification APIs, as well as Extensions, and likely HealthKit and HomeKit.
Apple TV: I haven’t seen many rumors that touch on this. After several years of predictions, I think all the pundits beating the Apple TV drum have either given up on it or retired completely. That’s too bad, because it might just be time for Apple TV to take another step toward a larger role. HomeKit could give this device a new purpose—especially since Apple hasn’t worked out more content deals to put together a truly compelling TV experience.
Siri: As much as I love the thought of a Siri API, I don’t think Apple is in a position to do this yet. How many developers have even touched semantic tagging for text? Still, we can hope for more opportunity to add voice-activated responses where it makes sense. Apple has been all about increasing its context and semantic knowledge of what the user is currently doing, and incorporating sound would offer more clues.
HomeKit and HealthKit: I think Apple will show off something big with both of these frameworks. They will likely be working hard to make sure they take off, and will reward developers who support adoption of both APIs. A lot of companies are vying to be the center of the next big market, which may well be home automation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple is pulling out all the stops to own the best home experience. And of course, healthcare is an enormous market.
Swift - 1.0! Of course, the advent of Swift isn’t really a prediction or rumor so much as a major curveball that is causing concern for many developers. There are a number of questions: Should you learn it? How hard will it be to learn? Can you skip Objective-C and go straight to Swift?
Swift is important, and you need to get started on learning it. Different patterns are possible, and in some cases, even required. It won’t be sufficient to try and transfer your Obj-C code straight to Swift. Rather, you will have to design differently.
There is no escaping the fact that iOS developers will be writing and reading Objective-C for some time. You should be writing clean, modern Objective-C.
I am excited about Swift, and it is important for our careers as iOS and Cocoa developers. However, I think our most pressing need in the next few months is to make UI adaptable to different sizes. Apple probably has some surprises in store for us, and the more rigid your interface, the more work you will have in front of you.
Regardless of the announcements, Apple has given us the building blocks we need. If you haven’t had time to dive into them, we’ll be talking about several new APIs in upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned for more info about our upcoming live iOS 8 demo. And for a full dose of Swift, the latest development tool tricks and the Cocoa framework, you can always join us in any of our upcoming iOS bootcamps!
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Charles Brian Quinn