12 Important Changes in iOS 8 (for App Businesses)

Yesterday Apple announced its latest version of iOS at its WWDC event in San Francisco. Here are my Top 12 features to note if you're developing apps for a living.

1. Live Widgets

Micro apps have finally arrived on iOS. These little previews (of data previously totally confined to the app sandbox) will give developers another opportunity to grab some valuable real-estate on our devices. It could be a neat solution to push notification overload, but might also prove to be a double edged sword for developers. The trick will be to provide just enough information to be useful, whilst not overdoing it and removing all reason to ever venture inside the app itself.

The first port of call though will be persuading users to give you that privileged spot on their Today screen in the first place. Easier said than done.

2. Touch ID Extended

The way we log-in to apps is changing. Hot on the heels of Facebook’s ‘Anonymous Log In’, Apple has announced that it’s opening up Touch ID fingerprint recognition technology to third-party apps.

Just like Anonymous Log In, no data gets sent to the developer other than the good-to-go meaning you can be safe in the knowledge that your biometrics aren’t being leaked across the internet.

For now it looks like it might be an additional security layer, but it can’t be long before it replaces the password altogether.

3. App Previews

One of the underlying stories of this year’s WWDC has been the raft of small changes surrounding the App Store itself.

A key addition is the ability to upload a full preview of your user experience in the shape of a video. This change alone could dramatically increase conversion to install for many apps; particularly games or paid-for apps which rely on users taking a risk and purchasing up-front.

Apple is also supplying a tool on OS X to make the creation of these previews easy peasy, if they can iron out the performance issues in the current beta.

4. App Discovery

The current App Store set up is undeniably skewed towards the top few percent of developers - the already successful revenue generators. If you search for an app you get one result per page on an iPhone. Most users won’t make it outside the Top 5 before dropping off...

Long-awaited good news has arrived then, in the form of an “Improved App Store search” and the discovery of apps via a new “Explore” tab - announced during the WWDC keynote. This means more fluid trending lists and hopefully a more intelligent search algorithm.

In addition, Apple will now append an “Editor’s Choice” badge to your app page if you’ve taken their fancy.

Reach is one of the biggest challanges we currently face as app developers, so any changes to make it easier for users to find apps organically is welcome.

5. App Bundles

One of the more subtle changes to the app store is the ability for developers to package up apps in a bundle and sell it at a discount rate compared to the sum of its parts.

Whilst this is unlikely to help smaller developers, it could prove particularly useful to the big game studios, many of whom have launched different flavours of popular products in the last few years. It reminds me of the bundles of traditional board games you used to get in shops.

An Angry Birds bundle cannot be that far away.

6. App Store Metrics

Rumour has it that Apple will be revealing to developers for the first time just how many people are visiting their app store pages. A fairly small detail given everything else that was announced but hopefully it’s the first step of many in reducing the size of the impenetrable app store wall.

Right now it’s still incredibly hard to attribute installs accurately, and although this won’t fix that, at least they’ll be another valuable data point in working out where your conversion path is working or failing.

7. Beta Testing

Earlier this year Apple acquired TestFlight's parent company Burstly. The fruits of that purchase are starting to come through, and significantly it seems that app testing platform will be fully integrated into the OS from this September. This will be an extremely useful integration for developers, allowing them to properly beta-test their products with up to 1000 users (not devices) before they release them to the wider market.

8. Battery Usage

Android have been doing it for years, but iOS 8 is the first time that Apple has opened up battery stats to users to view for themselves.

If your app is particularly power intensive then now might be the time to accelerate your optimisation plans. Expect users - particularly those on the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 - to start making deletion choices based on power consumption in addition to storage capacity taken up. For many it might be the only way to get to the end of the day without a recharge.

9. Swift

Apple surprised its developer conference yesterday with the announcement of Swift.

Swift is described by Apple’s SVP of software engineering as, "Objective-C without the baggage of C.”

Basically, they’ve developed a powerful scripting tool that’s easy to learn and one which also allows you to see the end result in real time. Identifiers can be made from any Unicode character so expect to see more dogs, cats and pile of poops slipping into a codebase near you. It also compiles lightning-fast which could considerably shorten the percentage of thumb-twiddling that goes on during a typical project and will likely improve the speed developers are notified about issues by continuous integration tools like Xcode Server.

This is a really positive long-term development as it makes the process of building apps quicker and easier, and that can only be a good thing given the painful skill shortage in the market right now.

10. HealthKit

HealthKit is iOS 8’s headline feature. It’s the one everyone was expecting, but nonetheless it’s hard to underestimate just how important its addition is.

HealthKit will be literally life changing for some people, and the new era of comprehensive self-monitoring is likely to lead to very significant health benefits given time. It should be useful for science too; all of a sudden there will be an explosion in data that can be used to track infection and spot emerging trends.

We’re all waiting for wearable tech to mature enough to feel natural and become cheap enough to mass produce.
We’re very close.

Expect a significant announcement from California this fall.

11. UIBlurEffect

Buried away in amongst the 4000+ new developer APIs announced is UIBlurEffect.

It might not look like much on first glance but it seems that this API unlocks the dedicated graphics processor to be used by third-party apps to recreate the 50px gaussian blur effects seen across the rest of the operating system. Since the launch of iOS 7, developers have had to make their own effects with the exception of navigation and search bars which were given for free.

In iOS 8 developers will have 3 overlays to choose from: ExtraLight, Light and Dark.

We can look forward to seeing the creative ways this is put to use in the coming months.

12. Resizable iPhone

Finally, a note to all designers and developers. Xcode 6 includes new iOS simulator features name “Resizable iPhone” and “Resizable iPad” - a not too subtle hint that bigger devices are on the way.

Unlike the transition to the iPhone 5 which was a height increase only, it’s likely that wider screens as well as greater pixel densities will be announced in September.

Factor in additional design and testing time now.