After announcing iOS 5 at their World Wide Developers Conference this past June, Apple is getting closer to unleashing it on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users everywhere. The company has referenced a fall ship date for the final product and has been seeding developers with beta copies ever since the announcement. For those of us who build iOS apps, there are some exciting new features to take advantage of, both for end-users and developers. Here are the highlights:
Without a doubt, the feature that will have the biggest long-term impact is iCloud.
Imagine starting a document on your Mac, picking up your iPad and running out the door, finishing it up on the plane and then having your changes synced back to your phone for easy emailing to your customer. That’s part of iCloud’s promise—the ability to easily synchronize data between all of your devices without having to learn anything new.
In addition, iCloud dramatically simplifies the code required to communicate between devices, allowing developers like us to support advanced syncing features in your applications more easily.
iCloud will also store backups over-the-air, eliminating the need for users to connect with iTunes to keep their application data safe.
Phone calls, calendar alerts, SMS, and app notifications: as long as the iPhone has been on the market, one of its biggest problems has been the lack of an easy way to manage notifications.
In iOS 4, notification alerts appear and interrupt whatever you might be doing. In addition, there’s no way to see an alert after you’ve dismissed it, making them harder to use. Notifications should be able to keep you up-to-date on everything you care about but until now, they could only be used sparingly without interrupting a user’s workflow.
Fortunately, this is being addressed in iOS 5. The new Notification Center, accessible system-wide via a simple gesture, promises to make alerts easier to manage, further driving the adoption of technologies like push.
The iPad is a great device for reading and Newsstand takes that to the next level. With new backend capabilities, iOS developers can trigger an automatic daily download of updated content; your New York Times or Wall Street Journal can be waiting for you when you wake up in the morning.
In addition, Newsstand groups these reading apps together, both on the device and in the App Store, making user discovery that much easier.
ARC stands for Automatic Reference Counting, a developer term that means less code is required for apps to manage memory. Memory-related issues are the number one cause of app crashes and any new technology that reduces potential customer-facing bugs is welcome. Developers can spend less time debugging memory management and instead focus on what makes the app unique. Apps that use ARC should be faster and more stable.
ARC has the added distinction of being the only new feature in this list that also works in iOS 4. Developers can use ARC even before they’re ready to require iOS 5 for their apps.
The popular social network Twitter is now built into iOS. This means integration with popular built-in apps like Camera, Maps, and Safari, and easier hooks to build those functions into your apps.
Are you looking to make your app more social? Would you like your users to be able to tweet from within the app? With iOS 5, building this for your app is easier than ever before.
Popular on MacOS X for years, CoreImage provides powerful image filters that can run on the device GPU for the best possible performance.
Previously, doing advanced image processing and face detection required expensive custom code. iOS developers now can base their work on this strong foundation.
With CoreImage, developers can build in advanced image processing features without having to re-invent the wheel. This is great for apps that use the camera and for the next generation of augmented reality apps.
Region Monitoring and Location Services
One of the most interesting things about mobile devices is their integration with location and our movements through GPS.
iOS 5 expands on technology introduced in iOS 4 that allows developers to track when an iOS device enters or exits a specific region. Want to alert a user of something when they get home or reach the supermarket? Region monitoring provides the hooks to create that functionality.
Combined with new mapping and geolocation tools, iOS 5 will let developers build more interesting and impressive location-based applications.
Over-the-Air Software Updates
Although not a super-sexy feature, Apple adding over-the-air software updates for releases starting post-iOS 5.0 is a big deal for anyone involved in iOS software development. While iPhone and iPad users are notoriously good about updating their operating system software, today it requires a cumbersome sync.
This is no longer the case – after iOS 5 ships, subsequent releases will be delivered directly to the device. Quicker and more widespread adoption of software updates by users gives developers more confidence in using new features that may require a specific software update.
This is just a taste of what’s new in iOS 5. Every year Apple gives us better tools to make our developer lives easier…and to let us spend less time on boilerplate code and more time on what makes your app unique. That’s a win for everyone involved.
Sitting in that keynote hall back in June, we were all excited about what may be the biggest leap forward since the original iPhone.
I can’t wait to see what we can build on iOS 5 for you.