Sep 12

Much has been written already about Apple’s event this past Tuesday. I will try to not repeat everyone else’s opinions, but instead focus on what the news means for you as an app business owner and an app developer.

iPhone 6

Let’s start with the least surprising announcements. The new phones were almost exactly what we had expected.

There was an interesting change in how the iPhone 6 Plus renders views to its screen. An app sees a native screen resolution of 1242 x 2208 but the resolution of the screen panel is just 1080 x 1920 pixels. The phone hardware downsamples from the larger screen buffer to the physical screen. This doesn’t sound like a good idea, but people who have seen it in real life claim that the result is not a fuzzy screen. I think we have reached the point where pixels are now so small that you cannot see any imperfections resulting from this downsampling. For app designers it means that you should not try to draw single pixels lines or depend on your UI to be pixel perfect. The trend away from skeumorphic pixel perfect designs has been very clear since iOS 7, so this should not be news. Focus on the content of your app, and it will look beautiful on these new HD screens.

Introducing this downsampling technique also provides a lot more flexibility for Apple in future screen sizes. They are no longer constrained to just 2x and 3x multiples of the original iPhone screen from 2007. The screen sizes seen by the app can remain nice multiples so developers don’t go totally insane when creating image assets for apps. Then Apple can pick an appropriately sized screen panel for the device they want to build.

Of course there are now two more screen sizes to deal with. The writing on the wall has been written with flashing neon paint for quite some time. By now you should be using auto layout and be getting familiar with the new screen size classes. If you have to maintain compatibility with iOS 7 (and earlier) then there will be pain.

I have yet to research if it’s possible to include/exclude specific iPhone models from installing your app. It seems that the old iPhone/iPad selector is too crude of a switch now that we have an iPhone that is quite close to the iPad mini size. I can imagine iPad only apps today that would work on the iPhone 6 Plus, look ok on the iPhone 6, but be totally unusable on the smaller iPhones. (Before you say “adapt the layout to the screen size”, imagine an app that displays a PDF file or any other asset that has a large fixed size.)

The new phones look like they have new keyboard layouts to make good use of the extra screen space. If you are developing a keyboard extension then you have some extra work to do. Maybe that was why no keyboard was visible in the variable sized simulators in Xcode betas.

Both iPhone 6 models support the new, more efficient H.265 video format. If you are streaming video to iPhones you should definitely check the device type that is requesting the video stream and where possible serve an H.265 stream since that will considerably save bandwidth for you and provide a better experience for the customer. Since the old iPhone devices do not support this new format it’s too early to replace any embedded video files you may have in your app.

Apple Pay

The real story here is about security and not about convenience. Physical credit cards and credit card terminals are in a sorry state in the United States. It’s probably the only country in the world where just the knowledge of the numbers on the card are sufficient to make a purchase. Most civilized countries require a chip on the card which proves to the terminal that you actually have a valid card and not a generic piece of plastic that you just magnetized with data from a credit card dump. Apple Pay is at this level basically a secure chip to guarantee the authenticity of the payment card.

In 2015 merchants will become liable for fraudulent transactions made at their POS terminals. Therefore they will become reluctant to take the old magnetic stripe cards in the future. iPhone 6 customers will be very welcome because the risk of fraudulent transactions will be much, much lower. Payment terminals will be replaced because of this shift in liability and new ones will include NFC. Apple’s timing here is perfect.

Apple likes to make plastic obsolete (floppy disks, CDs and DVDs, etc) and that’s really what they’re doing with Apple Pay. They are not replacing banks or credit card institutions, they are working with them. Apple brings trust and security to the equation in a way that no other company has been able to offer to the industry before. And it doesn’t hurt that they bring along a few hundred million highly valued customers…

Reports indicate that Apple is receiving a %0.15 fee on all transactions that go through Apple Pay. And it’s almost entirely profit for Apple. Of course they have spent years building up their products and infrastructure to put them in a position to be able to offer this service. Another example of Apple’s long term thinking.

What’s in it for you as an app business owner? There will be an API (in iOS 8.1) to add Buy buttons inside your apps. This will make it very easy for you to sell physical goods inside an app. You just add the Buy button and Apple takes care of the whole checkout process. So you can sell fluffy toys of your game characters easily from within your app. Or if your app requires a hardware accessory, then your customers no longer have to find your website to place their order.

If there’s some form of affiliate tracking capability built into Apple Pay, then you could earn extra revenue in your apps by selling other peoples’ stuff from within the app. Many podcasters print custom t-shirts and sell to their fans. Say you have a podcast app you could easily have buy buttons for such real goods in the app. This is a huge revenue opportunity for apps.

While there will soon be an API for Apple Pay, there will not yet be an API to access the underlying NFC hardware. Apple’s usual pattern is to introduce new hardware, keep the APIs internal for a while to better formulate a public API for 3rd party apps. The Touch ID sensor is a perfect example of this. If you have specific use cases in mind for NFC let Apple know via Bugreporter. See this article for some ideas of what they’re doing with NFC over in Android land.

I’m assuming that Apple will not allow you to sell digital items with Apple Pay. They still want their 30% on In-App Purchases, not the 3-6% that you would pay for a credit card transaction. I foresee some interesting gray areas and boundary drawing here in the future.

Apple Watch

Two things struck me about the presentation of the Apple Watch.

  1. There was no explanation for why you would want the Apple Watch before it was revealed. Compare this to the extensive preamble both in the iPhone and iPad introductions.
  2. The presentation and especially the demo was very geeky. Definitely more directed to a tech audience than the invited fashion editors.

I think both items stem from the fact that Apple doesn’t really know what the Apple Watch will become. Just like they didn’t really know how the iPhone and iPad would eventually be used. (Installed any web apps recently?) They showed some of the things they have come up with internally that they thought seemed cool. But with Apple’s secrecy the developers in the know could probably not walk around all day with an Apple Watch on their wrist to experience daily life usage. Apple has a great advantage because of the developer community who loves to take their beautiful devices and make them magical with new software. This is of course a great opportunity.

With the top of the line watches probably costing many thousands of dollars, you would think there could be a profitable market for high-quality apps. At least I can hope for a higher bar when it comes to UI design. Please, if you are going to develop for the Apple Watch, invest in good UI and UX design. Nobody is going to want to show off their new solid gold watch with crappy looking apps.

How do you get started as an app developer with a great idea for a watch app? First get familiar with iOS 8 Extensions. It seems very likely that extensions will be the way apps are delivered to the Apple Watch. Build a simple today widget with a very simple UI and limited interactivity. Now strap your iDevice to your wrist and you’re up and running. 😉 At least that should give you a sense of WatchKit Glances and Actionable Notifications. Native WatchKit apps will coming later as well, opening up more possibilities.

One of the more intriguing hardware aspects of the Apple Watch is the large button below the crown. It was barely mentioned in the keynote and the only thing it appears to do is bring up the communication feature on the watch. Apple must really think that will be an important aspect of using the Apple Watch. Don’t we have enough ways to send messages from person to person on our iPhones? Is it a game changer to be tapped on your wrist instead of having your phone buzz in your pocket? It’s probably one of many things that you cannot theorize about; you have to try it out in real life. Which is why all of us developer will line up and by an Apple Watch as soon as it goes on sale.

Why is it called Apple Watch and not the much rumored iWatch name? I think it’s obvious. Apple is one of the most valued brand names on the planet. It’s synonymous with fine design and high quality. The letter ‘i’ does not connote any of those qualities. An iWatch would be placed in the same mental category as Swatch.

Wait, There’s More

Apple really played up this event like few other events. It appears that Apple sees the Apple Watch as a seminal product for the company. However I have a hard time seeing Apple Inc. hanging its future on becoming a watchmaker, even if it is the coolest watchmaker on the planet. With all the build up and all people they have hired in the last year, there has to be more. I’m guessing that this is just their first foray into wearable computers. Just like Apple introduced the iPhone before the iPad because people immediately understood what a phone is; people have an existing mental model for a watch. I can see how there could be future, specialized variations of the watch concept. For example a medical device with more sensors. And there could be computers without a display that act as accessories in the Watch/iDevice ecosystem.

In Closing

With these new announcements, iOS 8 and all the new stuff released at WWDC it’s been quite a year for app entrepreneurs. And we probably have one more event later this year for the traditional iPad refresh before the holiday season. I wish Apple would take a breather now and just focus on execution and fixing the cracks in the existing tools and infrastructure before unleashing another avalanche of new cool stuff. But I doubt that will happen.

written by Nick \\ tags: , ,