iOS 8: The 4 Biggest Opportunities (and Challenges) for Developers

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Credit: Paris B-A

Now that Apple has scheduled a Sept. 9 event where many people expect to see a new iPhone, it's likely that iOS 8 will be in the hands of users relatively soon. While the operating system doesn't have the same kind of dramatic design overhaul that came with iOS 7, it has a number of big changes that offer opportunity for both good and bad. Here are the top four to look out for:

More connectivity: Apps today take advantage of a host of onboard capabilities like GPS, Bluetooth, and cameras, as well as Internet based capabilities. With iOS 8, and its support for Apple's new HealthKit and HomeKit frameworks for fitness wearables and home automation devices, apps have the ability to connect with far more.

"It's not just connectivity to the Net but to different services and different devices," said Rob Kwok, CTO and co-founder of Crittercism, which makes technology for monitoring mobile apps for problems.

"The great thing is there will be more information, more intelligence to the app. But the downside is that there are many more ways an app can fail. If you build apps that are dependent on the app being connected to a fitness monitor and there are things triggered based on changes to your blood pressure, as connectivity goes down, you lose all this functionality you assumed you had," he said.

More APIs: iOS 8 has 4,000 new APIs. The new APIs give developers the opportunity to differentiate their apps, Kwok said. Differentiation is increasingly important as the app store grows and grows.

However, the more new techniques a developer adds to an app, the more chance they have of unexpected problems. "If you're relying on new APIs, if it doesn't function the way you expect it can hurt your differentiation," he said.

Testing apps that rely on the new APIs is particularly difficult when actual hardware isn't available. If Apple does release a new phone with new dimensions, as expected, developers haven't had the chance to test their new apps on actual hardware.

The combination of a new OS release and new hardware that's not on hand for testing means that there could be a notable lag time between the release of the devices and when apps get upgraded. It's a delicate balance for developers between getting their app out there fast and making sure it works right. A longer lag tends to happen most commonly on apps where developers push the boundaries of the new hardware and software as a way to differentiate their apps, Kwok said.

Split screen: iOS 8 is rumored to support a new kind of split screen capability that lets users run two apps side by side, in a similar way that Microsoft allows this capability in Windows 8. Split-screen support will be welcome particularly by business users who may want to run a chat app, for instance, alongside a web browser or the email client on an iPad.

However, such a capability might come with challenges that could be out of a developer's control. If two apps are fighting for the same memory and CPU resources, app performance might take a hit, Kwok noted.

Swift: While Kwok doesn't expect an overnight wholesale migration to Swift, Apple's new programming language, he does think it might give a boost to the development community. The language is designed to be easy to use which could bring new developers to iOS, he said. That opens the door to new kinds of apps.

But until Swift gets all the same capabilities as Objective C, it won't convert everyone, he said. "I think it will take off, just not immediately," he said.

It's not certain yet when new devices running the OS will be in the hands of end users. But given the many updates to the OS, a new breed of apps might be coming our way. 

This story, "iOS 8: The 4 Biggest Opportunities (and Challenges) for Developers" was originally published by CITEworld.

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