Apple Inc. released the latest version of its iPhone operating system, iOS 10, for beta testing today, and several outlets are already highlighting some of the tantalizing changes in store for programmers, consumers, and enterprise customers alike.
While the App Store isn’t likely to resemble the Google Play store anytime soon, it’s evident based on the previews that Apple is giving developers greater access to its mobile platform than ever before, encouraging them to add third-party extensions to its signature Messages, Siri, Phone, and Maps applications in addition to providing them with more features to incorporate into apps of their own.
“You can’t say that you didn’t see it coming,” author Romain Dillet writes in his preview for Tech Crunch. “Apple is going all in on third-party extensions, and many core parts of the operating system are now expandable.”
The new Messages framework, for example, will allow developers to create app extensions that give users access to third-party apps from within Messages, much like Facebook’s messenger chatbots (but hopefully more responsive). Apple anticipates customers using iMessage to make payments, engage with businesses, and download third-party apps without leaving the program.
Meanwhile, the Siri developers’ kit will allow users to vocally request content and services such as ride booking – “Get me a ride to Pearson Airport with Uber.” – peer-to-peer payments – “Send $100 to John for school using Ugo.” – texting, and calls.
Maps, too, can now be used to request rides through Uber, or make P2P payments, or to book restaurant reservations through apps such as OpenTable. The program will even suggest relevant apps for services in a user’s current location.
Developers will even be able to add extensions to the platform’s core phone functions – apps can now be added as Favourites contacts, for instance, meaning incoming Skype calls will now look like regular phone calls.
Unstated, but speaking volumes, is how sizable a departure these new features are from Apple’s previous way of thinking, Dillet writes.
“Instead of defining the one best way to contact people, look for restaurants or talk with Siri, Apple is taking advantage of its developer community to provide options,” he writes.
Equally telling are the long-awaited changes to the platform’s home and lock screens, he writes: for the first time, iPhone users will be able to view photos and videos, or respond to messages, right from their notifications windows, for instance.
However, Dillet’s favourite iOS 10 feature was also among its least intrusive: the platform allows multilingual users to type two languages at once without switching keyboards, simply by detecting the language being typed.
“Now I don’t have to switch dozens of times per day between my French and English keyboards depending on the context,” he writes. “You can even switch in the middle of a sentence – it works flawlessly.”
Unfortunately, impressive as these additions might sound few can presently experience them as intended, as no third-party apps have been uploaded, an underwhelmed Scott Stein writes in his preview for CNet.
“I’d say iOS 10’s first beta on the iPhone adds up to some useful additions, but nothing that’s hugely groundbreaking,” he writes. “And I started to find all the various sub-features and functions confusing to keep track of, or even to manage.”
Like Dillet, Stein appreciates the changes Apple is making to the iPhone’s formerly rigid home screen: In addition to allowing users to access certain apps from the lock screen, iOS 10 will allow them to delete core nonremovable apps such as Stocks or iTunes (though he notes that Health, Photos, Wallet, and the App Store itself remain fixed in place).
Another new iOS 10 feature that might sound especially enticing to enterprise employees but didn’t work for Stein is Apple’s new contextual prediction software: In theory, by typing something like “I’m free at,” “Where are you,” or “What is Jane’s phone number?” should result in iOS 10 filling in the missing pieces: showing users Jane’s phone number, their friend’s location (assuming their phone’s tracking software is activated), or producing the first available time the user is free in their calendar.
“For me, it didn’t work,” Stein writes. “I have no idea why. Maybe you’ll be luckier.”
For users, another potential disadvantage of iOS 10 is the number of legacy devices that will be unable to run it, Andrew Cunningham writes in Ars Technica: the earliest iPhone that will be capable of running the new platform will be the iPhone 5, while iPads predating the iPad 4 and iPad Mini 2 will also be left in the dust.
Yet that rigidness should also serve as a boon for developers: “For the first time in two years, the baseline hardware capabilities are increasing, and they’re increasing quite a bit,” he writes. “The iPhone 5 has between two and three times the CPU and GPU power and double the RAM of the iPhone 4S… developers can finally stop worrying about cramped 3.5-inch screens, and non-Retina displays are a thing of the past. Every single one of these devices supports Siri and can communicate using AirDrop and Handoff.”
The new lockscreen illustrates Apple decision to use these technological features as a new baseline, he notes, since few users have seen the “slide to unlock” prompt since TouchID was added to the iPhone in 2013.
iOS 10 will be released this fall as a free update, and according to Apple, public beta should begin very soon. Developers can find out more about the platform’s under-the-hood changes here.