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iOS 9 – what you need to know

From a development perspective, there will be some key reasons for brands and developers to spend time updating their apps ahead of the release of iOS 9. Here are just a few.

iOS 8 had one of the slowest upgrade rates in iOS history. Part of the early reason for this was the size of it – 4.6GB. For many people who have filled their phones with photos, music, apps and other content, this meant that they simply didn’t have space to install the new iOS. Then, there were reports that iOS 8 had a few bugs. Despite being installed on 83 per cent of active iOS devices today, it took a while to reach this point.

Prior to yesterday’s keynote, the majority of the rumours surrounding the new OS discussed Apple’s focus on performance and stability. It was clear that Apple didn’t want a repeat of iOS 8.

With iOS 9 then, it’s no surprise that the company made a point of saying that devices will only require 1.3GB to install. Furthermore, iOS 9 will support all of the devices that iOS 8 supported and will deliver up to an extra hour of battery life. Performance and stability formed a key part of Apple’s keynote.

From a development perspective, there will be some key reasons for brands and developers to spend time updating their apps ahead of the release of iOS 9. Here are just a few:

Swift goes Open Source
Being a developer event, the announcement that Apple is making Swift open source caused the biggest reaction from the crowd at WWDC. By making it open source, 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 releasing a version of Swift for the Linux operating system. This could see Swift used for a much broader range of use cases, such as backend web apps and server side tools. Who knows – it might even pave the way to seeing Android apps written in Swift.

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 through the search panel on the iOS home screen, helping users more easily find content that has until now been locked away inside apps. To support this, developers need to indicate that their app is eligible for search, and instruct iOS to index its content.

For many developers or brands, this could help to drive up usage of apps that have been installed but then forgotten about by users. With iOS 9, Apple is also making it possible for developers and brands to indicate links and content 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.

App Thinning
With iOS 9, app thinning helps users by making app downloads much smaller. Rather than downloading all of an app’s content upfront, app thinning only installs what’s needed for the app to run on the user’s specific device. For example, if a user has an older device without a retina display then iOS won’t bother installing retina-quality graphics, thus saving the user valuable storage space. 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.

Native Apple Watch apps

Just six weeks into its launch, Apple has announced watchOS 2. watchOS 2 decouples the Apple Watch from the iPhone, allowing developers to write native apps for the Watch and utilise hardware features such as the digital crown and accelerometers. Up until now, the ‘logic’ for Watch apps has run on a paired iPhone, resulting in slow load times and issues with responsiveness. As well as simply speeding up existing Watch apps, these changes will allow standalone apps with much more complex functionality such as analysing golf swings directly on the watch.

watchOS 2 also introduces more ways for developers to customise the Watch experience, through custom complications. If you’re unfamiliar, complications are small bits of relevant information that can be added to a watch face. Previously these were limited to just those complications provided by Apple: things like the date, your activity, the weather, and your calendar events, but now developers can add their own. For instance, you could soon be able to easily check the status of your flight or the number of Twitter mentions you have just by glancing at the time on your watch.

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 number of opportunities for retailers and other brands to utilise the Watch in new and innovative ways.

Apple Pay and Apple Wallet

Finally, it’s coming to the UK! People with the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, or of course Apple Watch, will be able to use their device to get around London on the tube or buses, pay for things 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 three times more engagement compared to other mapping apps, there could be good reason for retailers to want to tap into this user base.

Apple News
Apple News, which appears to be gunning for Flipboard, provides publishers big and small with the ability to publish rich, immersive content. With Apple News, publications can simply register to submit their RSS feeds or use Apple News Format to create the immersive format. Despite not mentioning it on stage, Apple will also let publications earn 100% of the revenue from ads they sell themselves, or 70% if Apple sells ads for them.

Apple clearly knows that reading the news is one of the most popular activities across iOS – over the years, it has wooed the publishing industry with NewsStand and iBooks. Apple News is the next evolution of that, designed for any online publication to easily target users, based on matching their interests to content.

iPad enhancements

After five years the iPad is receiving the first major update to its operating system, which 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 briefly before continuing in the app they were originally using. Essentially, this works by bringing up an iPhone-width version of an app. 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. To update apps to for Slide Over and Split Screen, developers will need to make their apps adaptive through the use of a number of technologies that have been introduced with over the last couple of years: for example Auto Layout, which arrived with iOS 6, and size classes, introduced last year with iOS 8.

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, videos 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, will make it easier to select text or move the cursor, helping to change how people use and view the iPad. It’s becoming more of a productivity machine than a consumption device.

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.

iOS is also the platform that sees the fastest upgrade to the latest OS by its users. This year, Apple is running a public beta program, starting in July, where users can sign up to receive an early build of the OS to test for bugs. This follows recent public betas of iOS 8.3, and should help to further iron out any potential issues before the OS goes live in late September.

Given the improvements to iOS, Apple’s focus on stability and the sheer number of iPhones that have been sold since October, it’s fair to say that iOS 9 could see one of the fastest OS upgrades in Apple history. Developers and companies who want users to be able to make use of the new features such as search, split screen on iPad, app thinning or any of the behind the scenes improvements should start looking at how to implement changes now.

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