BERLIN, Germany – Shifts that are taking place in the mobile app marketplace today are among some of the biggest overhauls to happen in the last two decades. Technologies, app management solutions, and user interactions are all undergoing dramatic changes this year - changes which are expected to leave both developers and users with better quality apps as well as more control.
iOS 14, which was released in September 2020, brought a significant shift in focus and priority for mobile apps and developers. Changes within the OS - the introduction of the app library in particular - will substantially impact the way users engage with mobile applications in the very near future.
With their latest release, Apple appears to be placing more importance on high-value interactions rather than on attention-grabbing apps and an over-reliance on ad sales. The ability for users to prioritise high-quality and frequently used apps on the home screen, for example, places a strong focus on quality and value over mere presence.
With the recent changes, Apple is announcing its intent to support simple, economical access to user interactions and device development long into the future.
Widgets (small snippets of app functionality and information) allow developers to provide information to users at a glance. Enabling app functionality without leaving the home screen or launching apps in-full, developers can now interact with the user in ways which will provide added value without undue distraction.
The economy of attention comes as a theme which emerges throughout the latest iOS release. App clips, also launched for the first time in iOS 14, allows developers to provide users with discreet app fragments without installing the full app. Accessible through NFC, hyperlink or QR Code, app clips enable developers to create transaction-based interactions without requiring buy-in from the app store ahead of time.
Better use of device real-estate and user attention reveals Apple’s intention to improve on future customer interactions. Future trends in iOS development, powered by emerging tools and support, are shifting away from advertising-focused revenue to prioritise subscription-based and transactional models instead.
- App Clips, allowing users to discover your app’s core functionality
- ARKit which provides improved augmented reality integrations with sensor and advanced location support
- PencilKit which introduces handwriting recognition for text fields and gestures
- SwiftUI, offering a new app life cycle and view layouts to support widgets
- WidgetKit framework, allowing your app to display information directly on the home screen
Tools and technologies recently released for developers assist them in doing their part to ensure newly created apps provide high-quality services that both Apple and their users are coming to expect from the consistently growing marketplace.
First introduced in 2019, SwiftUI superseded UIKit as Apple’s latest interface toolkit. In that time, SwiftUI has rapidly matured to become the de-facto standard for creating a modern, dynamic application interface using declarative tools.
While many developers will be required to stay current on UIKit tools to maintain legacy apps, SwiftUI is having a major impact on new projects. Tools and technologies available now are boosting app development opportunities for teams with fresh skill-sets and expertise that can utilise them.
A declarative toolkit, the advantage of SwiftUI is in allowing developers to define possible states of their application. This approach, in contrast to an imperative UI toolkit, releases the burden of writing code to transition between states manually. This has the added bonus of freeing developers from writing boilerplate code and preventing errors and omissions creeping in. By far the most significant benefits of declarative UI come from UI testing and verification.
Combined with modern mobile application development tools currently being made available, declarative UI will define development on Apple platforms for several years to come.
SwiftUI’s major strengths over other declarative languages come from its ability to port UI code between iOS, iPadOS and macOS seamlessly. Widgets built for iOS, for example, can run on iPadOS and macOS without changes to the code. This cuts the development time needed for writing, testing and verification while increasing the opportunities for developers to create truly seamless application experiences.
In the months since its release, SwiftUI has continued to grow in strength, adoption and support within the Apple ecosystem.
One of the most forward-looking mobile application development trends today is reactive programming, a multi-platform standard currently in use across web, Android and iOS platforms. Designed to work together with declarative UI to vastly improve the user experience, reactive programming uses asynchronous data flow to create highly responsive applications.
Far from being brand new to app development, a wide range of libraries already exist for developers looking to work with reactive tools. Growing maturity and increased adoption have brought reactive programming to the forefront of iOS development in recent years, and its capabilities and strength have raised it into an emerging trend. Apple’s Combine framework, available from iOS 13.0, is one set of tools which provides event-processing operators to work with asynchronous data. Similar tools, such as RxSwift, exist amongst a family of Rx ports which spans across several platforms and languages.
Both technologies provide the necessary tools to implement reactive programming paradigms to build modern mobile applications. They also create cleaner codebases which reduce the burden of maintenance, development, and onboarding for development teams.
Reactive programming is rapidly becoming the gold standard in mobile application development. The advantages are hard to ignore and have been significant enough that many teams are beginning to rewrite ageing codebases with reactive code to help legacy apps meet modern standards.
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning (DL) are having a revolutionary impact in every industry. Autonomous vehicles, social media, streaming recommendations and grammar checkers all lean heavily on these resources to provide services and quality that users have come to expect.
In many cases, mobile applications are the user-facing window to large scale services driven by machine learning technologies. Within iOS app development itself, these same technologies are having an outsized impact on application capabilities and overall user experience.
Natural language processing (NLP), a technology with machine learning at its very foundation, is essential to many modern mobile apps. NLP provides a new level of interaction, understanding, user experience and adaptability between application and user. It underpins the text corrections, suggestions, recommendations and speech recognition which are recommended to users dozens of times a day.
More than just luxury, users have come to expect this new level of interaction as standard for modern mobile apps. Speech recognition, automatic corrections and intelligent recommendations are assisting users to communicate with their devices in a frictionless way. These technologies are only just beginning to define the future of the human-computer interface.
Readily available tools such as Core ML make it possible for developers to integrate machine learning models in just a few lines of code. These tools require less specialist knowledge and theoretical grounding than previous generations while providing equally powerful results.
One of the most astounding trends in software development today is how much more can be done with comparatively less resource. Machine learning features, which would have once required a dedicated team or department, are now achievable by a handful of capable and experienced developers with detailed knowledge of the platform being used.
Features such as object detection, speech recognition and language analysis are paving the way for new kinds of interaction between app and user to create apps which are becoming increasingly more capable over time.
These capabilities add both value and depth to existing mobile apps. With these tools, developers are being empowered to create the high-value interactions and services championed in Apple’s latest iOS release.
Another technology which has matured into prominence recently is augmented reality (AR). Evermore capable software tools and increasingly dependable hardware sensors have created a dramatic increase in AR technology’s abilities and availability.
AR-based games such as Pokemon Go and Dino Trek exploded onto the market in a popularity boom rarely seen before or since. Developers have used AR tools to create virtual home makeover apps, measurement devices and ‘view in place’ services for a variety of product manufacturers. These apps have done a great deal in promoting products in new and innovative ways.
Apple has included an update to the latest AR toolkit within the latest release of iOS. ARKit 4 includes, along with additional improvements, the latest Depth API to work with the iPad pro’s LiDAR sensor. These tools allow developers to capture detailed data capable of enabling a new generation of architecture, design and manufacturing apps for the first time.
Tools such as RealityKit are making the process of developing AR apps more simple than ever before. The high-level framework enables machine learning tools to detect objects and planes in real-time which in turn allows developers to construct AR apps without getting lost in the weeds and details of AR technologies, cameras, sensors and applied geometry.
iOS 14 also includes spatial audio for AirPods, a technology which could play a large role in Apple’s ambitions for Augmented Reality in the future.
Continual investment in ARKit and related technology has shown Apple’s dedication to building out and improving its AR resources. As a technology with the potential, investment and space to grow into, AR has more than proven it has a promising future within iOS.
Reliable, consistent and affordable cross-platform mobile development is something developers have been looking for since multiple mobile marketplaces emerged in competition with each other. Until recently, it was a goal which often proved too costly, too impractical or too specialised to achieve at a reasonable cost.
Modern tools, however, are helping to close gaps which currently exist both within and between platforms.
One of Apple’s key offerings in this area, Catalyst, allows developers to use iOS frameworks to develop apps for macOS. The key advantage, being able to share code between iPad and Mac, enables developers to create experiences which remain consistent across desktop and mobile platforms.
Another option that developers have long wished for is the ability to span multiple app ecosystems with a single codebase. One leading technology in this area, Google’s Flutter, is rapidly coming to maturity for mobile application developers.
The technology is designed to allow code to be compiled into Android, iOS, web and desktop applications with relative ease. Developers say that one key benefit is allowing UI code to diverge between platforms, ensuring each app maintains its own distinctive look and feel.
Flutter promises developers cross-platform development without sacrificing app performance or UI compromises, both areas in which previous platforms have let down developers in the past.
The potential for truly cross-platform mobile applications with native app performance is truly game-changing. While the technologies involved are still in their infancy compared to more widely adopted development tools, cross-platform applications are an emerging trend which will make more things possible for the future of mobile app development.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is something which been with us for many generations of iOS releases. Over that time, the capabilities and uptake of its devices have grown at a staggering rate. Today, there are very few apps and services available that aren’t expected to communicate with peripheral devices in some way.
Wearable devices, fitness trackers and electronics connected to mobile applications have gone from niche interests to a mainstream part of life in a very short time. There’s no doubt that IoT technology will continue to revolutionise how people interact with their homes, track their health and manage their routines.
Although IoT has been around for a long time now, there are a few technologies that are currently trending, including:
- Smart home automation
- Retail applications for iBeacon tracking
- Wearable tech for monitoring fitness and health
- Keeping tabs on valuables and pets with low-cost RF tracking
Developers diving into new projects, particularly in these core spaces, and ignoring IoT services do so at their peril. Powerful technologies such as SwiftUI make developing across multiple platforms consistently easier, creating more opportunity to integrate devices into ever more capable services.
The future of IoT and ever-connected devices is one which integrates into life with minimal friction or notice. Wearables, smart gadgets and peripheral devices play a major role in making seamless application transitions without pulling any attention or focus away for the user.
The days of the most basic mobile applications making a big splash on app stores are being left very far behind. Users today expect a high standard of functionality, experience, response and reliability from their apps. They expect their apps to be interconnected, intelligent and communicative without demanding their attention or pestering them needlessly - and users are only likely to expect more of this in the future. For their part, app stores and marketplaces are rapidly moving away from attention-grabbing apps and flashy looking ad sales. The future of iOS development is firmly rooted in refinement, maturity and value.
The tools, libraries and frameworks being made available now enable developers to deliver on those expectations and provide the high-quality app experience that users are coming to expect. An exciting app future awaits, driving many services forward to heights which were previously unreachable.
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