Inside iOS8 and WWDC: What You Need to Know About Apple’s Latest Update

iOS8

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is always a huge event in the development community. And while there was the usual waiting list for developers wanting to attend the event, this year’s WWDC was not just important for developers. It was also one of the biggest platform updates Apple has ever made to iOS and Mac OSX.

In particular, Apple has introduced some key components into its iOS platform that both developers and product owners alike need to know about and be prepared for. From minor updates like rich notifications (Hi Android!) to the introduction of entire new frameworks like HealthKit, Apple is making a statement with its latest iOS8 announcement.

So to help you get ready for iOS8, here’s a list of the major highlights and what they might mean for you.

HealthKit and the “Health” App

HealthKit logoWith the announcement of HealthKit, Apple is trying to place itself at the center of the health and fitness ecosystem.

HealthKit is a framework and shared central repository for all your health data. As a result, it allows this data to be distributed between iOS applications, meaning that HealthKit-enabled products will be able to seamlessly share and leverage a variety of data sources to provide a more integrated and comprehensive user experience.

Additionally, the framework provides developers some serious horsepower right out of the box to perform complex data queries and manipulation. The new “Health” app, bundled with the iOS8 update, sits on top of HealthKit’s infrastructure and provides a dashboard that allows users to aggregate, manage and provision data access across all their apps.

What can we do with HealthKit?

Initially, Apple showed off HealthKit’s capability with the new iOS8 “Health” app. The Health app has a familiar card based UI (think Passbook or Google Now) and acts as a one-stop place for all of your health data.

With partners like the Mayo Clinic and Nike already on board, it’s not hard to see other health and fitness apps opening up their data to HealthKit, allowing it (and thus the Health app) to provide a comprehensive window into an individual’s overall health and fitness profile. Think of a world in which a diabetic’s glucose meter readings can be combined with electronic medical records, provided by the Mayo app, and automatically notify your primary care physician if certain glucose readings seem off. That’s exactly the type of data mashups Apple is envisioning.

Yeah, but what about privacy and security?

Traditionally, Apple “sandboxes” applications, which means apps don’t share data with each other. But with iOS8 and HealthKit Apple has shifted its paradigm and standards around sharing. Users can now opt into sharing their health-related data with other apps.

This raises some obvious privacy concerns, and consumers are bound to be weary of sharing data. These concerns may limit the appeal of HealthKit, as its potential can only be realized if users are willing to open up everything. App developers may also be leery, since it likely won’t be Apple feeling the backlash of any security breach but some unfortunate developer.

Additionally, there are still a few open questions regarding HealthKit. Are there different security levels that users can opt into (i.e., is some data treated more sensitively) and if so what are the implications of this? What about the possibilities for a cross-platform solution – will HealthKit be coming to an Android or Cloud near you? A siloed solution would likely face some serious limitations.

Home Automation and Home Kit

HomeKit logoWhile the details on HealthKit were plentiful, the information offered on Home Kit was a little underwhelming.

Home Kit is billed as “not just a framework, but a protocol too” for your home’s SmartDust. The protocol, most likely built on Wifi Direct, appears to be more or less a certification mechanism for companies like Phillips to say they are Home Kit-compatible while the framework itself leaves some developers scratching their heads at the lack of capabilities.

Okay, but what can we do with it today?

While the announcement leaves a lot of people disappointed, the platform still has some nice possibilities. Apple announced Siri integration into the framework, which will allow developers to create voice-activated experiences. Another key feature will be the use of a single shared repository (similar to HealthKit) in which apps can share home-automation objects. These home automation objects can be programmed individually or grouped together, providing a way for your connected devices to work in harmony.

In creating a protocol, Apple is looking at standardizing the Internet of Things community (at least in the home space) around one common language. You might look at Google’s now-defunct Android’s @Home project as a sign that this is doomed to fail, but with some big backers like Philips and an industry waiting to be standardized, Apple is looking at this as an opportunity that can’t be ignored.

What can’t it do and what should I be worried about?

For hardware manufacturers, the certification process looks a bit like vaporware right now, as there’s isn’t much information on it. Also, the lack of development features could create concern that Home Kit-based products would underwhelm consumers. And finally, Home Kit has a very linear interaction paradigm right now and not much robustness around grouping smart objects together. All this to say, if you are entering or in the Internet of Things space, you may want to let the “SmartDust” settle before choosing a platform to back.

What’s some other cool “stuff” in iOS8 that should be on my radar?

  • Touch ID

While developers are still wincing at the fact that they don’t have access to the Siri framework, the Touch ID (fingerprint recognition) assistant has been made developer accessible. What that means is developers can now integrate fingerprint technology into their apps and authenticate users with the touch of a button

  • CloudKit

CloudKit-IconIf you are building an iOS team and iOS-only products, pay attention to this announcement. It was a footnote, but it’s important. If you are not familiar with the term Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS), there is no better time to “Google” it.

Basically what MBaaS does is allow you to make your development teams full stack, so that your team can build products without needing separate app- and backend-development teams. With CloudKit, Apple is dipping their toes in the server-side water, giving iOS developers both the client and server tools they need to build a cloud -enabled product. While it’s an iOS-only solution, it’s still an interesting play for a company that hasn’t traditionally been focused around server-side technologies.

  • Interactive Notifications

For the first time actionable widgets can now be added to the “Today” view and will allow the user to respond to actions “in-line.” Have a friend request from Facebook? Respond in-line without having to enter the application. Like I mentioned in the opening, Android has had this feature for quite some time, so it’s nice to see Apple has caught up.

  • Swift

This is Apple’s attempt at lowering the barrier of entry for iOS developers.

swift-iconForget all the performance stats they threw at you during WWDC and focus on the fact that this is a play to control the mobile developer ecosystem (even more than now) and provide a low barrier of entry for new developers picking up the platform.

People who bristled at the thought of learning C, especially those that have scripting and Web-development backgrounds, now no longer have an excuse not to at least try iOS development. This is especially attractive to companies who have existing Web-development staff whom they are trying to move to mobile. Like an Apple executive might say, “it just became THAT much easier”.

So those are the core iOS8 changes that you need to know about.

These updates open up a lot of new possibilities, but a lot will depend on how developers make use of new frameworks and how consumers react to possible privacy concerns.

Check back soon for more on iOS8. Next up our Director of iOS Development, Arun Venkatesan, will offer a closer look from a developer perspective.


Filed under: Product Engineering | Topics: engineering, Healthkit, iOS, IOS 8, platforms, WWDC

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