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iOS 5: A Developer’s Perspective

Last week, Apple released its long-awaited iOS 5 operating system, after months of beta testing from developers around the world. With over 500,000 apps available in the Apple ecosystem, there's never been a better time for developers as iOS veterans Septillion Developers take a look at Apple's exciting new release.

I've been an avid iOS developer for the last three years, and developers, in general, hate having limitations and I’m no exception to that rule. We want power, we like to push technology to the limits, and we never seem to be satisfied with what the platform offers them.

Having known the highs and pitfalls of iOS 4 development, I was hoping that iOS 5 would be worth the wait. I downloaded the iOS 5 SDK beta literally the minute it went up on Apple’s Developer site and played around with the iOS 5 SDK for several days and nights, and have been looking forward to the official release since. Here’s my take on iOS 5 from a developer’s perspective:

New Frameworks
iOS 5 includes the following new frameworks:


  • Accounts
  • CoreImage
  • GLKit
  • GSS
  • NewsstandKit
  • Twitter

The Accounts framework is a welcome addition as it brings SSO (Single Sign-on) support to iOS. SSO is a win-win proposition for developers as well as users. While it simplifies account authorization for the former, it eliminates the need for users to individually login across multiple apps which use the same account.

The CoreImage framework looks interesting as it provides a long-due alternative to OpenGL. At the same time, GLKit will ease developer’s life for using OpenGL ES. I usually do not develop apps which require high-end graphics or animation so I’ll leave it at that.

The iPad is an awesome reading device. Apple plans to further step up the ante by providing Newsstand - a central place for users to read newspapers and magazines. The NewssttandKit framework lets developers and publishers create such content delivery apps. The framework enhances iOS multi-tasking capabilities as it supports background downloads of new magazine and newspaper issues.

The Generic Security Services framework provides security-related services as specified in IETF RFC 2743 and RFC 4401. To be honest, I haven’t had an opportunity to explore it in detail.

Social media is all the rage these days, so it’s understandable that the Twitter framework managed to grab most eyeballs during the WWDC keynote presentation. I admit that a closer integration with Twitter would ease an iOS developer’s life, but I’m not sure if dedicated frameworks for every social network is the way forward on iOS roadmap.

Xcode
Xcode is an iOS developer’s best friend. Xcode 4.2 (bundled as part of iOS 5 beta) isn’t an overhaul from its preceding version but it offers a number of new features which would make a developer’s life simpler.


  • The Interface Builder has been revamped to support storyboarding and provides a refreshing change from the current one-controller-at-a-time nib file interface.
  • The new iOS simulator is capable of simulating various locations so you don’t really need a device to the location-centric functionality.
  • Developers can download app data from device on-the-fly and restore while debugging.


iCloud API
iCloud was undoubted one of the highlights of WWDC 2011. Several analysts were quick to predict that iCloud would be a game changer as it would make iTunes even more powerful and useful for end users.

IMO, Apple’s move to open up iCloud API to developers will lead to a new wave of innovation in online file storage. Developers can leverage iCloud API to store documents in user’s iCloud accounts. They can also use iCloud API as a data store to store key-value data. From a developer’s perspective, iCloud can be leveraged to persist session variables or application details which need to be accessed at a later stage.

Apps can leverage iCloud to search for documents and even open them directly from the cloud environment. IMO, Apple has done a fantastic job of documenting iCloud API in detail to make our (developers) lives easier.

AirPlay

The concept of AirPlay is interesting-—stream audio & video from iOS devices to devices such as Apple TV. iOS 5 strengthens the AirPlay integration by letting developers stream content from iPad to Apple TV.

Rumors suggest Apple might launch an iOS-powered TV later this year. If those speculations turn out to be true, I’d expect AirPlay to surge in popularity among the iOS developer community.

Other Frameworks
iOS 5 also includes a bunch of improvements and bug fixes across several other frameworks including UIKit, OpenAL, Message UI, Media Player,  Map Kit, iAd, Game Kit, Foundation, Event Kit, Core (Motion, Graphics, Location, Data, Audio), AV Foundation, Assets library, Address Book and Security. Developers are advised to refer to iOS 5 documentation for details.

Conclusion
When Apple launched iOS 4 last year, Android’s appeal in the developer community was limited. Since then, both platforms have grown at a scorching pace in an effort to outbid each other. As a result, a number of iOS developers switched loyalty to cash in on Android‘s explosive growth.

I strongly believe that iOS 5 could tilt the favor back in Apple’s favor. The development tools seem more powerful than ever, new offerings such as iCloud have the potential to create a new market segment of apps and the new frameworks look perfect to fill the gaps in iOS 4’s weaknesses.

About the Author:
Septillion Developers are seasoned technology professionals with more than a decade of experience in Mobile, Web 2.0 and Open Source Technologies.