For iOS developers, 2013 was a pivotal year. I'd even go as far as saying that it was the most significant year since the introduction of the iPhone, almost seven years ago. The reason is of course the unveiling of iOS 7. Let's take a look at some of the key moments of 2013 and take a sneak peak at what 2014 has in store for us.
The release of iOS 7 was without a doubt this year's key event for iOS developers. For consumers, the UI and UX changes are the most important changes Apple introduced in iOS 7, but they're only the tip of the proverbial iceberg for iOS developers. It's true that the visual redesign of iOS is the most striking feature of iOS 7, but the operating system has undergone a major redesign both visually and under the hood.
Even though the visual redesign of iOS 7 isn't revolutionary, it is more than an incremental update of the platform. In fact, in some cases you can hardly speak of changes as some user interface concepts consumers have come accustomed to have been rebuilt from scratch, such as the Application Switcher, Spotlight, Notification Center, Control Center, and all of Apple's own iOS applications.
It seems, though, as if some of the changes were a bit too radical. Since the unveiling of iOS 7 during WWDC, Apple's annual developer's conference, Apple has reverted some of the more radical changes introduced in iOS 7, such as the Springboard animations and the ability to disable the system-wide parallax effect. The ultra-thin fonts shown during the WWDC 13 keynote didn't even make it in the final release of iOS 7 in September 2013.
It seems that most people agree that iOS 7 wasn't a finished product like iOS 5 or 6 were, which isn't surprising considering the scale of the redesign. The operating system has undergone so many changes that it would've been a miracle if iOS 7 was as polished as iOS 6 was last year.
In addition to the visual overhaul of iOS, the average user should also be excited about the addition of Control Center and the improvements made to Notification Center. Another great feature is iCloud Keychain, although, it isn't perfect yet and will need to be improved to be really useful. Third party solutions, such as 1Password and LastPass, are more polished and more advanced in terms of feature set.
Under The Hood
As with every major release of iOS, numerous new APIs were introduced, but it is no surprise that the visual redesign received the most attention for obvious reasons. At first, both developers and technology pundits had mixed feelings about the redesign of iOS. However, several months later, there's a general consensus that iOS 7 is a clear step forward. The question at this point is whether it is a large enough step forward to keep up with Android.
I'm very excited about iOS 7 as it introduces several new APIs and expands numerous existing APIs. The most prominent additions introduced in iOS 7 are TextKit, which iOS 7 heavily relies upon, UIKit Dynamics and Motion Effects,
NSURLSession to replace
The iOS platform continues to be an amazing platform for game development. This will only continue with the introduction of SpriteKit, the Game Controller framework, and several improvements to Game Center. It is also worth noting that iOS 7 supports OpenGL ES 3.0 and provides improved support for OpenGL ES 2.0.
In addition to these new and improved APIs, developers should be excited about another great feature introduced in iOS 7, automatic updates. It may not be ideal for power users, like most developers, but I can tell you that it's a blessing for the average user like many of your family and friends. For developers, it is something to be excited about as it means that your customer base will migrate much faster to new versions of your applications.
Even though Xcode 5 isn't strictly tied to iOS 7, its introduction at WWDC 2013 was an important milestone for Cocoa developers. The user interface of Apple's integrated development environment (IDE) has received a redesign and a number of new features were introduced, such as Automatic Configuration, much better support for Auto Layout, better integration with source control, added support for testing and continuous integration, and the Asset Catalog.
As with every release of Xcode, version 5 received its share of criticism due to stability and compatibility issues, but it is without a doubt an important step forward for both Apple and the Cocoa developer community. I love using Xcode 5 and only - reluctantly - fire up Xcode 4 if there's no other option. Xcode 5 continues to be one of the best IDEs available today and is an indispensable tool for Cocoa development.
iOS Product Line
As with every S release of the iPhone product line, the iPhone 5S was an iterative release with most of the changes under the hood. The most significant change was the unveiling of the A7 processor and the M7 motion co-processor. The A7 is a chip with an incredible performance yet still being power-efficient. The most notable feature, however, which came as a big surprise, is that it's the first 64-bit mobile chip. This means that applications can run and be written in 64-bit. One of the advantages of a 64-bit mobile chip is a better performance per watt, which will be especially noticeable for games and computing intensive applications. However, most applications won't really benefit just yet from the 64-bit architecture of the A7 processor.
The M7 motion co-processor is a nice addition to the iPhone 5S - and the new iPad models. The M7's primary task is to collect data from the device's sensors, the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compasses. Another interesting aspect of the M7 is that it does its job even when the device is asleep. This opens up a lot of possibilities for third party applications to integrate with the M7 through Apple's Core Motion framework. The net result for consumers is better battery life and applications with more as well as more accurate motion data (e.g., fitness applications, location services, etc.).
The most prominent feature for the general public was the addition of a fingerprint sensor integrated into the device's home button. Based on the reactions in the technology community, it works better than what most people had expected. It isn't flawless, but, when set up correctly, it works amazingly well. At the moment, the fingerprint sensor has no public API and can therefore not be accessed by third party applications, but I can imagine - and hope - that Apple will open this up in the future so that developers can benefit from this extra level of security in their own applications.
Alongside the iPhone 5S, Apple introduced the iPhone 5C. People were lukewarm about its introduction as it's basically an iPhone 5 with a plastic shell instead of the aluminum housing of the 5S. For developers, its introduction isn't that significant.
iPad Air and iPad Mini
The iPad received a minor update and is now called iPad Air to reflect its thin and lightweight design. The more notable update was that of the iPad Mini, which now sports a retina display. Like the iPhone 5S, the iPad Air and the iPad Mini come with the new 64-bit A7 processor and the M7 motion co-processor. Most of us were a bit surprised and disappointed that the updated iPads lack the new fingerprint sensor found in the iPhone 5S.
Most iOS developers were secretly hoping that Apple would stop producing non-retina iOS devices, that is, the iPad 2 and the non-retina iPad Mini. Unfortunately, Apple announced it will continue to sell the original iPad Mini as well as the iPad 2, which was introduced more than two and a half years ago. It looks like iOS developers will need to support non-retina devices for quite some time.
In 2007, Apple had an almost insurmountable head start and the introduction of Android in November 2007 didn't change that. In recent years, however, Android has not only become the dominant player in the mobile space, the operating system has matured so fast and consistently that it is without a doubt superior to iOS in several aspects. Google improves Android at a rapid pace and the integration with its popular web services, such as GMail, Maps, and Search, is one of the key factors of its success.
It seems that Windows Phone isn't really taking of or gaining a significant share of the mobile market. This saddens me a little as it would be beneficial for the mobile space if a third major competitor would be part of the game. The exit of CEO Steve Ballmer marked an important milestone in Microsoft's history and it'll be interesting to see how this affects Microsoft in the future and who will be at the helm in the coming years.
No Watch, No Apple TV SDK
At one point, the hype of an Apple smart watch reached a level at which many people believed Apple was about to announce a smart watch. Well. That didn't happen. The Apple TV didn't get a significant update either and it remains a mystery why Apple hasn't opened the Apple TV up to third party developers. I hope this will change in 2014.
For Apple, 2014 will be as important as 2013 was. It is clear that iOS 7 still has rough edges, even after the updates of the past few months since its release. Developers and companies are gradually updating their applications to iOS 7 and finding ways to cope with the UI and UX changes.
The rate with which users upgrade from one major iOS release to another has always been incredible, especially when compared with other platforms, such as Android. This is one of the most important advantages that iOS developers have over other mobile platforms. The same is true for OS X and Apple is well aware of this advantage. It is no coincidence that OS X Mavericks has been a free upgrade for every OS X user with compatible hardware. The result is that iOS applications are much faster at adopting new iOS features and developers are eager to require the latest iOS version. This will not change in 2014 and that is a good thing.
The release of iOS 8 will be another milestone for Apple and even more so for iOS developers. Developers have done their best to deal with the changes that iOS 7 introduced, but there are still many, many problems with iOS 7 especially from a developer's perspective. Apple has been addressing a lot of them in recent updates, but the real test for Apple will be iOS 8. It will give Apple a second chance at iOS 7 so to speak. I love iOS 7 the more I use it, but there are a number of problems that need solving.
It is notoriously difficult to predict what Apple has in store for us, but I hope the Apple TV will finally be open for third party applications. I am not terribly excited about a smart watch, but it is more than likely that we'll see something in the wearables space from Apple in 2014. What do you think or hope Apple will introduce in 2014? Share it in the comments or tell me on Twitter.