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Mobile Communications

In-depth: Can iOS 9 revolutionise app development?

This is a contributed piece by Matthew Hunt, CEO of the enterprise app development division of Apadmi

 

Last month saw the release of Apple's latest mobile operating system - iOS 9. The new hardware brings with it a range of new functions that are available to use on the iPhone and iPad, along with a number of bug fixes to make this the smoothest iOS to date. This article takes a look at the key differences with the new software and provides an overview on what this means for future app development.

The new operating system, iOS 9, is now available to download and is compatible with all versions of the iPhone from 4S onwards. The iPad 2 and iPad Mini, and all of the devices after them, can also be updated to the latest software. But looking at the new features, it will be the latest version of the iPhone, iPad Air, iPad Mini and the iPad Pro which can really take advantage of what iOS 9 has to offer.

For example, the 3D Touch function, which can detect how hard the user is pressing down on an icon, is a feature that has been developed solely for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. It allows users to push down with varying amounts of pressure in order to open a range of menus, view photos and switch between apps. This is an opportunity not only for app developers but also for designers who are looking to evolve the way users interact with their app. Designers are given more freedom with the space that they can work in, and it allows them to move away from traditional drop down menus when it comes to giving users multiple action options. Having said this, it is important to consider that it only works on iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, so the audience needs to be big enough on these devices for developers to justify the changes.

What is particularly interesting is the idea that 3D Touch could potentially change the way in which users interact with apps such as mobile games. With Taptic Engine incorporated into 3D Touch, the vibrating motion that occurs when the screen is pressed, this could bring a new dimension to driving games or games, which require the player to shoot at targets. Driving games could detect how much breaking pressure is exerted based on the amount of pressure placed on the screen, and shooting games could alert the player that they’ve been shot through the use of vibrations.

Another new feature of iOS 9 is the multitasking function. This new addition has been designed to target the latest versions of the iPad and allows the user to run two separate, visual apps at the same time. There are three different multitasking features that are available - Slide Over, Split View, and Picture in Picture.

The Slide Over function can be used within any app and requires the user to swipe the screen from right to left. This then brings up a secondary app that is compatible with the feature, which appears on the right hand side as a small panel. Unlike the Split View function, the Slide Over function is not fully multitasking as both apps cannot be used at the same time – the app in the background is paused whilst the side bar is open. This function is useful for actions such as looking up something quickly in Safari or replying to a message.

By pulling the side bar further into the middle of the screen, this will then change to the Split View feature – but only when carrying out this action on the iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 4. Both apps will be displayed side by side, with each taking up 50% of the screen. Each app can be used at the same time, so users can now do things such as copy and paste content between both apps.
The final function is called Picture in Picture and allows the user to watch videos whilst using other apps on devices including the iPad Pro, iPad Air, or iPad Mini 2 – or one of the later versions. By tapping the Home button, the video will appear in the top corner of the screen so that the user can continue watching whilst opening other apps. It also allows the user to engage in Facetime conversations and operate a different app too.

Again, like with 3D Touch, the multitasking function is not ubiquitous which means that developers need to be able to justify the effort when deciding whether to incorporate it into apps. Only some users will be able to take full advantage of the features depending on the versions of the devices they have.

One update of iOS 9 that can be taken full advantage of regardless of the device model is the optimised Spotlight Search function. In iOS 9, search goes even deeper than it previously has in that it allows the user to search content within apps, and also content from the app’s website itself. This now gives developers more of an opportunity to integrate this search function into the design of apps so that the content and features are used more often.

For example, if the user types a location into the Spotlight Search function, such as ‘Manchester Piccadilly’, this will bring up the option to view this location in the native ‘Maps’ app and even get directions from their current location with a single touch. To make the most of this function, further integration needs to take place with other third party apps. Following on from the location example, a user could type this into the search bar – again perhaps ‘Manchester Piccadilly’ - and they could be shown an option to find the closest train station to this location and the price of a ticket from ticket sites such as thetrainline.com.

Finally, ‘App Thinning’ is a feature that not many people will be aware of. However it’s a great addition for developers as it means that Apple will now only download the parts of the app that are relevant for the users. For example, an app will contain different graphics that will be used depending on the version of the iPhone (e.g. iPhone 5 compared to an iPhone 6). With App Thinning, only the graphics required for that device are downloaded. There is much more to this under the hood, however, from a developer’s point of view, Apple is helping them to make their apps smaller which is particularly valuable as users are not always on 4G or connected to Wi-Fi.

iOS 9 certainly has some interesting new features which will appeal to both the end user and the app developers. The most important thing to bear in mind though, is that users can only really make the most of what iOS 9 has to offer when using one of the latest versions of Apple’s devices. So for developers, integrating the functions into their apps will be more beneficial once more people upgrade their devices and can fully interact with the apps. Nonetheless, the new update allows developers more freedom to be creative when building apps, and it will be interesting to see how far this can be taken and whether it will change the way people interact with apps.

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