This time last year, I wrote that 2013 was the most significant year since the introduction of the iPhone. Looking back at 2014, it's clear that I'm going to need to reiterate those words. Apple blew us away with announcements, new technologies, and promises. Let's take a few minutes to look back at 2014.
Many of us thought the introduction and release of iOS 8 was going to be the highlight of 2014 for iOS developers, but that wasn't entirely true as we'll see in a few moments.
While iOS 7 was predominantly focused on the user interface and user experience of the operating system, with iOS 8 Apple shifted focus to the inner workings of the operating system by adding extensions, introducing CloutKit and HealthKit, integrating TestFlight, etc. Amidst the flood of announcements and new information, two patterns stood out.
First, iOS 8 continues where iOS 7 left off. Apple continues to improve and polish the operating system, aiming to provide a more consistent and reliable user experience. With the introduction of extensions, iOS 8 opens up a wide range of opportunities and possibilities for developers, that is, if Apple allows them to.
Second, with the release of OS X Yosemite, the integration between iOS and OS X has become tighter, unlocking a new category of possibilities to innovate and improve the user experience. Apple has named this tight integration continuity and has shown us what is possible by adopting this new technology in some of its own applications.
The announcement of OS X Yosemite at WWDC 2014 didn't come as a surprise. Last year, Apple committed to an annual release schedule for OS X, starting with OS X Mavericks, and every developer at WWDC 2014 was expecting the next iteration of the operating system.
One of the key features of Yosemite is its redesigned user interface. My favorite feature, however, is continuity, making it possible for your Mac and iOS devices to do some really cool things.
If you have a Mac running Yosemite and an iOS device running iOS 8, then you can send and receive text messages on your Mac, start an email on your iPhone and finish it on your Mac, use your iPhone as a hotspot with a single click, etc. Continuity works pretty good if you ask me.
It's now also possible to use AirDrop to send files from your Mac to an iOS device. Family sharing has received a significant update and Apple also introduced iCloud Drive, a direct competitor to Dropbox.
Messages also received an update. It's now possible to send small audio messages to people, leave conversation you're no longer interested in, and make calls with your iPhone while on your Mac. It's amazing to see how Apple continues to improve an already fantastic operating system.
From a developer's perspective, one of the most important announcements and biggest surprises of 2014 was the introduction and release of Swift, a brand new programming language that will power the next generation of iOS and OS X applications.
We all know that Apple is great at keeping secrets, but the company did a fantastic job keeping Swift a secret. The language was introduced at WWDC 2014 and made every developer feel Christmas had come early this year.
Swift is a modern programming language with an easy to understand syntax that is incredibly expressive. It takes the best parts of Objective-C, including its runtime, and combines this with modern technologies. Even though Swift can be combined with Objective-C, Swift is not tied to C like Objective-C is.
If you'd like to learn more about Swift, then I encourage you to read the series on Swift at Tuts+. It's still early days for Swift, but there's really no reason to not get your feet wet with this new language.
As if Swift, iOS 8, and OS X Yosemite weren't enough already, Apple announced Apple Watch in September. Apple showed us what the company's first generation of wearables will look like and it also provided developers with WatchKit, a framework for creating applications for Apple Watch.
The first generation of Apple Watch applications will be extensions of existing iOS applications running on your iPhone, but Apple also announced it will open Apple Watch up to native third party applications in 2015. If you're an iOS developer, then you don't want to miss out on this new breed of applications.
With the announcements of iOS 8, OS X Yosemite, and Swift, Xcode received little attention at this year's WWDC. But it's important to remember that Xcode is the tool most iOS and OS X developers use day in day out to create the applications you and I use every day.
Xcode continues to play a key role in every developer's workflow and Apple's IDE is more powerful than ever with support for Swift, playgrounds, adaptive layouts, view debugging, and an improved testing architecture.
Interface Builder, in particular, receive a major update with the ability to debug views, preview user interfaces, and support for adaptive layouts.
iPhone 6 & 6 Plus
After years of rumors, Apple finally revealed a larger iPhone—two actually. The company released iPhone 6 with a 4.7" display and iPhone 6 Plus with a 5.5" display. The iPhone's looks also changed dramatically with a thinner design, a higher resolution, display, and an edge-to-edge glass front. They truly look stunning.
Both models are powered by the new A8 chipset and battery life has improved slightly for the largest model, iPhone 6 Plus. As with every major release, the camera received a significant update, delivering even better pictures as well as better software and new APIs to take advantage of the camera's new capabilities.
The new models also incorporate NFC (Near Field Communication) on which Apple Pay is built. I haven't had the chance to try out Apple Pay, but it seems to be a pretty solid technology that works both offline and online.
iPad Air & iPad Mini
The iPad Mini and iPad Air received updates too, but the changes weren't groundbreaking. The iPad Air is thinner, includes Touch ID, and ships with the brand new A8X chipset.
The only noteworthy upgrade the iPad Mini received was the addition of Touch ID. If you own an iPad Mini 2, then there's no need to upgrade your device unless Touch ID is a must-have feature for you.
While we're still waiting for Apple to build a retina Thunderbolt display, in the meantime the company released the iMac 5K, an iMac with a retina display. I haven't had a chance to see an iMac 5K in real life, but it's supposed to be amazing. How can 14.7 million pixels not be amazing?
Apple revealed Apple Watch in September and the general consensus has been positive to very positive. The watch looks nice and seems to be a more than viable player in the growing market of wearables.
Apple's first wearable is supposed to be available for sale in the first half of 2015, but it's still unclear how much your Apple Watch will cost. There are three collections, Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition. The straps are interchangeable and the materials from which Apple Watch is made are up to the user's choice. This makes it difficult to put a price tag on the watch that you'd like to buy.
Apple made it clear that the watch will support third party applications. The first generation of applications, however, will be extensions of existing iOS applications, running on a paired iPhone. The second generation will be more powerful and run natively on Apple Watch. We'll have to wait for 2015 to better understand how this will work and pan out.
What About Android?
Anyone saying Android is inferior to iOS should take a second look at what Google accomplished in the mobile space this year. Android Lollipop is another milestone for Android and arguably the most important release to date. It is packed with features developers can take advantage of, but that is only part of the story.
Google also introduced Material Design and Polymer at this year's Google I/O. Material Design is a visual or design language that builds upon Google's experiments Google Now. Android Lollipop leverages Material Design, but it is clear that Google aims to use Material Design in its other products as well.
Polymer was also revealed to the public during this year's Google I/O. To quote the Polymer website it's a "pioneering library that makes it faster than ever before to build beautiful applications on the web." Polymer clearly illustrates that Google has a wider vision and sees the web as a first class citizen of the mobile space—unlike Apple.
I'm sure you agree that 2014 was a busy year for everyone involved in technology or mobile development. No matter what platform you use or develop for, the future of the mobile space looks bright. What was the most important announcement for you in 2014? Let me know in the comments below.
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