iOS 11: A Fireside Chat

Photo by Ville Palmu on Unsplash

Hello 10 years

Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone, but here we are getting ready for the release of iOS 11. As they do each year at their Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple introduced a set of iterations to iOS and MacOS, as well as some cool new features and products. Rather than trying to give a rundown of every topic that’s already been well covered by the countless tech outlets and blogs out there, let’s gather ‘round the fire and chat about what our hardworking iOS team learned from this year’s WWDC.

App Store

Undoubtedly, one of the most successful products to be launched in Apple’s history is the App Store. When the first iPhone was launched, we saw the introduction of a revolutionary device, which was quickly followed by a new market for mobile apps that brought the creation of millions of startups and jobs. My role at Fuzz — and our entire organization itself — is a testament to that.

The App Store receives a total redesign in iOS 11 to showcase new and recommended apps. Instead of the default “Featured” tab, it’s now been replaced with the “Today,” featuring new apps on a scrollable card deck.

Brands have new tools and controls over the presentation of their app in the Store — a customizable subtitle under your app’s name, localization, app previews, richer descriptions of in-app purchases, and areas for editable promotion text.

In addition, brands can now respond directly to user reviews. It’s a great way to maintain a positive experience for the user and speak directly with your customers about their desires and concerns.

Make that text out to “cash”

Apple seems to be taking more cues from feature-rich messaging platforms like WeChat that go far beyond basic chat to enhance the iMessage experience. Messages is getting some visual fluff in its app drawer and sticker menu, and is adding features to push (see what I did there?) the experience beyond texting.

One notable feature is the new Apple Pay Cash. If you haven’t been shy about transferring funds on the digital space, you’re probably familiar with services like Venmo or Square Cash.

Now Apple is cashing in with the new Apple Pay Cash, allowing users to perform similar transactions directly through Messages.

Funds paid to peers through Apple Pay will be held on a digital cash card. This option will be quickly accessible in the app drawer and it’s worth noting that any textual references to money in the chat will cue the smart suggestion bar to show the Apple Pay button.

One criticism regarding Venmo has been how it’s almost too easy to send money. There isn’t much of a verification process, and sending money only takes a matter of seconds. Apple may have the upper hand here, using their fingerprint-based Touch ID technology to confirm payment.

This is a great move by Apple to control the cash flow of their enormous user base, and encourage users to make use of Messages, especially with so many competitive chat apps on the market. It will be interesting to see how this pans out for existing platforms like Venmo and Square Cash.

NFC for everyone!

When the iPhone 6 was announced, Apple Pay became the first NFC (near field communication) feature on the iPhone. It was exciting to finally see this hardware support, but that excitement was short-lived as Apple gave app developers no access to NFC. Until now.. With iOS 11, Apple finally announced a new developer framework called Core NFC, a library to access the NFC reader to expose in our apps.

I think of the NFC scanning experience as a QR scanner without the camera. Though still limited to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and new models, it’s an exciting step in the right direction as the world continues toward a contactless mobile experience. We can create interactions like employee check-in, door lock control, coupon scanning, loyalty card usage, deep-linking into content apps, and perhaps even public transit ride “swipes”.

Though support for NFC has long been a regular standard for Android devices, the lack of iPhone support has held back large-scale adoption of NFC by 3rd parties wary of expensive hardware deployments that exclude iPhone users. We expect access to NFC in iOS will spur a cascade of hardware and software advancements in the IoT space.

Drag and Drop … it like it’s hot

Drag and Drop is the feature I liked most in iOS 11. As the name suggests, users can now easily drag and drop contents from within an app and into another, granted the apps are programmed to receive the incoming data. This feature seems best suited to the iPad, since iPhone displays limit user to only the current app. On the iPad, users can easily toggle between apps through the app switcher or drag it into another app if opened on a split screen multitask mode.

Support for this feature takes the iPad a big step closer to being a laptop replacement for work, and boosts interoperability within the Apple ecosystem, which has been pushing for a more seamless and holistic iOS & MacOS experience with features like AirDrop and Continuity. Drag and Drop is a great complementary addition.

ARKit and go

If you wandered outside last summer, you probably noticed crowds of people loitering around random spots in your neighborhood holding out their phones. This trend was a game called Pokemon Go. It took the world by storm and introduced many people to the potential of AR (augmented reality) on a mobile platform.

Apple encouraged this movement when Niantic Games announced Pokemon Go for the Apple Watch in 2016. They’re now continuing this trend with the introduction of the new ARKit framework. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t convinced of it’s potential until Paul Conrad, a Product Manager at Fuzz, sent along the tweet below. Mind blown! If Take On Me’ing yourself wasn’t enough to convince you, at least that song is now stuck in your head.

Regardless, judging by the popularity of Pokemon Go (and its recent major update), we can be hopeful for greater immersive experiences to be cranked out by the developer community.

Nerd Stuff — Xcode 9 / Swift 4

Last but not least, developers can unsurprisingly look forward to another set of updates to their toolbox.

Aside from the new frameworks, Xcode boasts an array of updates that promises to greatly enhance the IDE’s performance and increase productivity for its citizens.

Some features to look forward are:

  • Build multiple simulators
  • Wireless debugging
  • Improved refactoring
  • Source control in Xcode
  • Overall improved performance

And of course, we can expect the next iteration of Swift as well (Swift 4). What’s great this time around is that devs no longer need to migrate their entire project all at once, provided that they have it structured in a modular way through the use of frameworks. Devs are free to pick and choose one framework at a time to convert, and the compiler will be able to link into both new and legacy types of frameworks.

I’m personally looking forward to the improved editing and indexing engine as the current IDE often struggles to re-index every time I change a line of code.

Moving Forward

A friend once said to me, “software will only be as great as the hardware.” Similarly, a computer scientist by the name of Alan Kay famously quoted, “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”

After reflecting on this year’s WWDC, I feel strongly about both of these sentiments. Technology has made so much progress in the last decade. The strides companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and others make each year brings us closer to a world where creativity may flourish.

As the world continues marching toward smarter gears, greater efficiency, and wild innovations, I’m reminded of the now legendary words echoed by Steve Jobs: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” It’s a thrilling time for the tech industry, and we should strive to encourage each other to success.