Google I/O and WWDC: what’s interesting for developers?

By Charles Harley

Google and Apple’s annual flagship developer conferences brought us some tasty morsels for 2015. Most of you will be familiar with the big news items announced in the keynotes, such as Android Pay, Google Photos, Apple Music and the updated watch OS, but in between all these big announcements, there were lots of interesting tidbits that could have a big impact for app developers.

Here are a few nuggets from under the surface that I found interesting. (Sorry for the information skew, I’m an Apple fanboy at heart!)

Google I/O

Android app permissions

Google have finally given users fine grained control over which permissions an app has access to. Great for users but it does mean app developers need to include logic for checking the appropriate permission has been granted and requesting it if not. This isn’t necessarily hard, but it is something to be careful of when updating an existing app to support Android M. It could be a bit more work than you first thought.

Standardised fingerprint support

The immediate association with fingerprint recognition is improved security, but for most people it is really about convenience. Security is important but being able to quickly authorise a payment with a single, secure and simple action removes yet another barrier to someone making a purchase. With Android M and Android Pay, all app developers will be able to incorporate this convenience factor into their apps and potentially improve their conversion rates.


Swift going open source

Swift is definitely Apple’s programming language for the future, on both iOS and Mac OS X, and with the news that they’re making it open source it could very well become a popular option on other platforms — possibly even Android. iOS and Android are both popular enough that most companies want their app on both platforms. As I see it there are 3 options:

1) Develop separate iOS and Android apps 2) Write a cross platform app in a HTML 5 based technology 3) Write a cross platform app that shares business logic but still uses the APIs of each platform. e.g. using Xamarin.

Contrasting and comparing those 3 options is outside the scope of this blog post but having more choices for option 3 would be great — and something which Swift could feasibly provide in the not-too-distant future

App slicing

Generally speaking, the size of an app download is not something that too many people worry about in countries where cellular data usage is speedy and cheap. However, this isn’t the case for everyone, especially in developing countries. Apple have recognised this and are doing their part to help out with the new app slicing feature in iOS 9.

When an app is bundled into a single executable file in most cases it contains quite a bit of duplication of image resources for the varying screen resolutions and code compiled for the different processor architectures available. With app slicing, users are downloading a version of the app bundle that contains only the resources and compiled code required for their particular device. Pretty neat. Especially as it doesn’t require any work on the part of the app developer.

I feel this is also a reminder to us app developers to be mindful of those users who don’t have 4G or blazing fast wifi speeds. Not just in terms of the size of our app bundles but also in how our apps use network data.

Searchable app content from within iOS

With iOS 9, app developers have a new set of APIs that allow them to make their app content searchable from within the universal search feature of iOS. With an increasing amount of information spread over a number of apps, I’m going to find this feature great as a user. However it does mean that the apps I use need to integrate with the new APIs. Fortunately this is quite straightforward and definitely something app developers should look at sooner rather than later.

Multi-tasking on iPad

This long rumoured feature was finally unveiled and with 3 different modes: 1 — Slide Over, 2 — Split View and 3 — Picture in Picture. This might be one of the biggest updates for app developers to consider.

Using system resources efficiently is now more important than ever and the term “responsive design” will become an ever more popular term around the office! For users, it should make the iPad more useful — allowing them to quickly interact with a second app (messaging for example) without leaving the current app or perhaps writing a document with a reference website visible alongside. This new feature has the potential to hugely increase the iPad’s adoption even further.

With the rumoured 12 inch iPad Pro it is easy to see a trajectory for iOS and Mac OS X one day being very similar, especially if the iPad Pro comes with a portable keyboard. However, I doubt we will ever see one completely replace the other. Each device suits their own circumstance so well, and being able to use them all in parallel is very useful. What is far more important is universal access to your data, independent of device, and this is a hugely important consideration for app developers.

So there’s my round up of the interesting technical takeaways from this year’s biggest mobile conferences. Leave me a note below if you have any questions or additions, and thanks for reading!

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