Another year has passed and a new year is awaiting us. In this article, I want to revisit 2012 from the perspective of an iOS developer. What were the important events of 2012 and what does 2013 have in store for us?
2012 for Apple
Analysts have been predicting a slowing down of Apple's growth for several years, but it continues to surprise everyone with exceptional growth numbers. In September of 2012, during the iPhone 5 launch event, Tim Cook announced that Apple had sold 84 million iPads and an impressive 400 million iOS devices. This is fantastic news for iOS developers. It means that the market continues to grow and Apple continues to perform exceptionally well.
In the fall of 2012, Apple also announced that more than 1 million iOS applications had been submitted to the App Store. Despite Android's dominance in terms of market share, Apple continues to lead the way in the mobile app space.
A less publicized but nevertheless important statistic is the amazing adoption rate of iOS 6. One month after the release of iOS 6, more than 60% of iOS devices had upgraded to iOS 6 and this number exceeded 70% in December of 2012. These numbers stand in stark contrast with the adoption rate of major OS releases on other mobile platforms, such as Android.
For most iOS developers, the introduction (June 2012) and release (September 2012) of iOS 6 has been one of the most important events of 2012. From a developer's perspective, iOS 6 wasn't the most exciting update to the iOS operating system. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the introduction of the new
UICollectionView class and the much improved integration of iOS with social networks, such as Facebook.
Another key feature of iOS 6 is Auto Layout. Auto Layout and Storyboards make iOS development both faster and easier. It feels as if Apple wants to push developers more toward Interface Builder for creating user interfaces, and I have the impression that this push is working. The Storyboard feature has been well received by developers, and Auto Layout will most likely see a similar adoption.
As with most iOS updates, the real winner is the customer. Siri has been improved, Apple introduced Passbook, and iCloud gained an important update and a few additional features. Shortly after the release of iOS 6, Mark Hammonds wrote a post about the new features and API's of iOS 6. Revisit Mark's post for all the details.
Even though Apple's own maps solution looks promising and offers a number of new features for developers, such as turn-by-turn directions, the general consensus has been that its current implementation falls short in many respects. It is promising and somewhat surprising to see Apple enter this space, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done.
The release of maps has been another effort by Apple to free itself from Google's services, but it is clear that this isn't as easy as it sounds.
Many pundits predicted that Apple would introduce the iPad mini "soon", but very few, if any, expected the introduction of the iPad mini so soon after the release of the iPhone 5. I was definitely surprised, and I was even more surprised by the fact that its big brother, the iPad, received an update as well. It almost feels as if the iPad mini is more revolutionary than the iPhone 5, and the reason is simple. The form factor of the iPad mini is close to perfect. It makes a tablet device easier to use, hold, and carry with you. The iPad is great and very performant, but it often feels a bit too heavy and bulky, and this will only get worse now that the iPad mini has been released. People love the iPad mini in spite of its low resolution screen (no retina display).
The release of the iPad mini is also great news for developers. No changes are required to run existing iPad applications on the iPad mini. In addition, the number of iOS devices, iPads in particular, will skyrocket, which means that the potential userbase of iPad applications will increase substantially. Watch out for Apple's sales figures when they are released for this holiday season. They will knock it out of the park ... again!
The only caveat that developers should be wary about is the size of touch targets on the iPad Mini. The resolution of the iPad Mini is identical to that of the original iPad and the iPad 2. The display of the iPad Mini, however, is much smaller, which means that touch targets are much smaller on the mini. This is definitely something to consider if you have any iPad applications in the App Store.
It has become increasingly difficult for Apple to keep new products secret until they are released. The result is that the iPhone 5 hasn't been much of a surprise for most of us. Even though the iPhone 5 is an incredible piece of hardware, it isn't revolutionary. The larger screen is a nice addition, but it isn't game changing. The lightness of the device is impressive, and I find it one of the most enjoyable features of the device.
For iOS developers, the larger screen is ... well ... more of a curse than a blessing. For many iOS developers, game developers in particular, who work with artwork that is tailored to specific screen resolutions, the larger screen is a real pain in the neck. You may have noticed that even a few popular iOS applications haven't been updated for the iPhone 5 just yet.
Again, the customer is the winner. The iPhone 5 is fast, looks and feels amazing, and it sports a number of new features, such as an improved camera...and a new connector.
When it comes to the new lightning connector, the customer is the loser. Sooner or later, Apple was expected to replace the bulky 30-pin connector with a slimmer alternative. The downside is that a lot of third party accessories no longer work without a suitable adapter.
For most iOS developers, the new lightning connector doesn't change much. However, if you develop custom iOS accessories, then the new lightning connector will definitely interest you.
In October of 2012, Apple announced that Scott Forstall would be leaving the company. It also announced that Forstall would be serving in an advisory role to Tim Cook until his departure. If you have been developing for the iOS platform for any amount of time, then you have probably heard of Scott Forstall. He was the senior vice president of iOS Software under Steve Jobs and he has been instrumental to the success and growth of the iOS platform.
It will be interesting to see how things will change when Forstall no longer holds the reins of the iOS Software team. Interesting times are ahead for us, knowing that Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for human interface across the entire company. This will probably be the first time that Jony Ive has the opportunity to not only shape Apple's hardware, but also its software. Does this mean that we can say goodbye to the skeuomorphic interfaces on iOS?
With a market share of 75%, Google's Android platform has triumphed over iOS in terms of market share. However, does this mean that iOS developers should shift their focus to the Android platform? Not at all. The iOS platform has never been a better place for developers. In spite of a market share of 15%, the iOS platform continues to be more profitable for developers. In addition, from a developer's perspective, the iOS ecosystem is much more "developer friendly". The platform doesn't have the same problems with fragmentation, but it does have a majority of customers who are willing to pay for high quality applications.
The tension between Apple and Google increased substantially in 2012. This culminated in the removal of the native YouTube and Maps applications. Not long after the removal of the YouTube, Google released a brand new YouTube application for iOS. A few months later, Google also introduced Google Maps for iOS. Truth be told, Google Maps for iOS offers a much better experience than Apple's native maps solution.
The battle between Apple and Samsung hasn't impacted iOS developers very much, but it certainly was a notable event in 2012. The legal battle between the technology giants culminated into a devastating ruling for Samsung. Samsung must pay Apple more than $1 billion in damages. Even for a multibillion dollar company like Samsung, this is hard to swallow.
What About 2013?
Even though iOS 6 has introduced many new additions and improvements to the iOS operating system, the overall look and feel of iOS is starting to seem outdated. Will Jony Ive change this and introduce a dramatic redesign of the iOS operating system in 2013? Will we finally see a redesign of the lock screen, possibly with the addition of widgets? My gut feeling tells me that 2013 will bring some major changes to the iOS platform!
With the recent introduction of the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini, I don't expect any major redesigns of Apple's existing iOS lineup. In 2013, Apple will most likely introduce the iPhone 5S, a device with a design identical to that of the iPhone 5, but with some improvements under the hood. The iPad won't see a major redesign either, but the iPad mini might be upgraded with a retina display.
Where there's smoke, there's fire. I think we can all agree that Apple has plans to release a television set in some form and I think it has had these plans ever since it introduced the first generation Apple TV. It feels like a difficult and crowded market to enter. In addition, it is a market that is so much different than the markets Apple is currently in. Most people don't buy a new television set every other year.
I must admit that I am curious to see what Apple has to offer and I am especially curious to discover how they plan to change this market, because that is what they intend to do. Apple won't simply compete with existing electronics companies. They will try to leverage every asset they have including the iOS platform and the almost 500 million iTunes accounts.
Even though 2012 wasn't as spectacular as 2007 or 2010, it was a year to remember. It was the first year without Steve Jobs and so far Apple has done very well. From a developer's perspective, what has been the most significant event of 2012 for you?