iOS 9 goes smarter, iPad gets more productive: An enterprise and developer eye on WWDC

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With iOS 9, Apple didn’t need to introduce a raft of new features. Many of us expected the company to focus solely on quality and performance improvements. In many ways, this is what the company did - but for both enterprise users and developers, the next evolution of its OS brings enough to keep it relevant, and exciting.

Complications on Apple Watch

Apple didn’t spend any time going over numbers at this event, so we still don’t know how many first generation watches it sold. All the company revealed was that everything was really good. Regardless of numbers, Apple positioned Apple Watch as the device it wants developers to unleash their innovation on. The company will be aware that many of the early media reviews have struggled to find a compelling reason to own it, other than being nice to have. 

One of the most useful features of Apple Watch is complications, a term taken from the traditional watch industry. Complications are extra bits of information, such as the date or a timer that do more than just telling the time. 

Six weeks into its launch, Apple has announced WatchOS 2, opening up the ability for developers to create their own complications that can appear on the Watch face. This means, for example, that businesses could create apps for employees that provide them with the information they need, such as delivery time, job schedule, data about the local environment or other tiny bits of relevant information.

Native Apple Watch apps

WatchOS 2 decouples the iPhone from Apple Watch, allowing developers to write native apps for the Watch and utilising its hardware. As demoed on stage, this means that golfers will be able to get feedback on how good their swing was. This could also be potentially used by game developers to use the Watch as a controller for games on the iPad, or potentially Apple TV later in the year.

As the Watch will be able to join known networks, this also means that apps can run without the iPhone being nearby. This will open up a huge amount of opportunities for retailers and other brands to utilise the Watch in new and innovative ways.

Swift goes Open Source

Last year, Apple announced Swift, its new programming language. This year, it announced that Swift can be used across iOS and OS X. It also announced that it is going to make Swift open source later this year. This means that the developer community will be able to make contributions to the platform, extending the functionality of the language. 

By making it open source, Apple is also extending Swift to Linux - the language that Android is based on. Despite being based on Linux, we can’t get our hopes up yet as Linux apps don’t run on Android. Whether a Swift compiler for Android is created, enabling developers to code in one language remains to be seen.

Search API

iOS 9 features a more powerful search system that is embedded into the entire system. Developers can make information in their apps discoverable, helping them find the best place to view results. To implement this, developers simply need to indicate that their app is eligible for search, and iOS 9 will take care of creating the right links. 

Added to this, developers can make information within their app searchable. For many developers or brands, this could help to drive up usage of apps that have been installed, but forgotten about by users. With iOS 9, Apple is also making it possible for developers and brands to indicate items on websites that can be accessed from apps. This will make it easier to take users back to a website, or directly into the app if it is installed.

This is somewhat similar to what Google enables on stock Android - where users can easily search for virtually any content. From an enterprise perspective, there may be some initial resistance from CIOs to make content within apps searchable at a system level. Yet, with new security features and the ability to force enable password protection on corporate owned devices, we see no reason for CIOs to be resistant to this.

Search is also becoming a little more intelligent with iOS 9, with the introduction of natural language search, that should make it easier to find that things based on context. From a developer perspective, search alone should make it worth spending the time to upgrade apps ahead the release of iOS 9 in late September.

Apple Pay and Apple Wallet

Starting next month, people with the iPhone 6, 6 Plus or Apple Watch, will be able to use their device to get round London on the tube or buses, pay for things using contactless payments and store all of their loyalty cards in one place. While Passbook has had a certain amount of success, it hasn’t necessarily been embraced by as many retailers as it could have been. With Apple Wallet, this should help to encourage more companies to tap into this function. 

When it comes to Apple Pay, Maps in iOS 9 will show users where retailers are that support it. With Apple Maps now getting 3x more engagement compared to other mapping apps, there could be good reason for retailers to want to tap into this user base.

App thinning

With iOS 9, app thinning helps users by making app downloads much smaller. Rather than downloading all of the features, app thinning only installs what's needed for the app to run. For example, if a user has an older device, the app will only install the core features supported by that device. It’s also able to provide on-demand resources, meaning that certain elements such as images, videos, sounds or game levels only get downloaded when the user needs them.

iPad enhancements

Five years into its life, the iPad is receiving the first major update to its operating system that truly differentiates it from the iPhone. Bringing the iPad in line with Microsoft’s surface and some Android tablets, the device can now run two apps in split screen. 

Slide Over is the first stage of this, where users can quickly open a second app at the side of the screen to use it, or check some information, before continuing in the app they were originally using. Essentially, this brings up the iPhone version of apps on the iPad. Developers will need to use Auto Layout, introduced with iOS 8, in order for this to work. This feature will be available for the iPad Air and Air 2, iPad mini 2 and mini 3.

True split screen support will only work on the iPad Air 2, where users can run two apps side-by-side. This also supports multi-touch, where users can interact with two apps at the same time. With sales of the iPad shrinking in recent years, we see these features as being key reasons for helping to encourage people to upgrade their iPads. In many ways, it should help to turn it into more of a viable laptop or desktop alternative, by making it more of a productivity machine. With Windows 10 around the corner, this couldn’t come at a better time for iPad users.

Apple is also enhancing what happens when you’re watching a video on the iPad. Rather than having to interrupt your viewing, video will be able to minimise to provide picture-in-picture, so that you can continue watching Game of Thrones whilst reviewing an email on your commute home. This will also apply to FaceTime, so that users can review documents whilst also being able to see each other.

Other enhancements, such as turning the keyboard into a trackpad, making it easier to select text or move the cursor will also help to change how people use and view the iPad. It’s becoming more of a productivity machine than a consumption device.

Conclusion

Of course, there are clear comparisons to some of the improvements that Google has been making to Android - but the same is true the other way too. iOS and Android are closer in functionality than ever before, yet from a developer perspective, iOS remains the platform where they stand to make the most amount of money and see the most engagement.

 

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