Top 5 iOS 8 Features for Game & App Developers

by Ryan Morel

The latest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 8, has already entered its third beta and is expected to be released to the general public in Fall 2014. iOS 8 is packed with a ton of features for developers (as Apple puts it: “huge for developers”) which will change the way you create, test and deploy apps.

We take a look at the five best new iOS 8 features, and how they’ll impact you as a developer:

1. Swift

“It totally rules.”

This is what Craig Federighi had to say about Swift at WWDC. It wasn’t mere marketing hyperbole; Swift is the single biggest development in iOS since the development of iOS itself.

Swift is a brand new programming language for Cocoa and Cocoa Touch that is based on Objective-C, minus the “baggage of C.” It is the result of years of research and experience culled from developers working on Apple platforms.

Apple has stripped a lot of unnecessary syntax from Swift, which gives it Python-like readability. To improve safety, Apple has also rid Swift of entire classes of unsafe code. Measures such as initializing variables before use and checking arrays for overflows will also make your code more secure. Swift promises faster performance with the LLVM compiler that churns out optimized native code for every iOS device.

Additionally, Swift comes with “Playgrounds” where you can write code and see the results in real-time – easily the language’s most overlooked, but developer-friendly feature.

All in all, after app developers have gotten over initial hurdles, Swift is likely to dramatically change the way you write apps.

2. Metal API

Metal is a new high-performance graphics API that will replace OpenGL in the next version of iOS. Apple has engineered Metal from the ground-up to extract maximum performance from modern GPU’s. This means better utilization of shared memory, support for multiprocessing and improved graphics rendering performance.

The Metal API comes with “a unified graphics and compute shading language,” which, in layman’s speak, means significantly improved performance for visually intensive games. To show off Metal’s superior graphics processing capabilities, Apple demoed a  Plants vs. Zombies clip and had an extended chat with Tim Sweeney of Epic Games who showed off a demo built in Unreal Engine 4.

Apple’s aim with the Metal API is to help developers create games with “console-like” graphics quality and performance. Games like Real Racing already demonstrate the capabilities of iOS as a serious gaming platform. Metal API will take iOS further with a serious challenge to consoles as a viable gaming option.

3. Interactive Notifications and Widgets

iOS 8 will support interactive notifications, which means users can act on a notification without launching the corresponding app. For example, if you get a new message notification, you can respond to it from the notification bar itself, without opening up the associated messaging app.

Another new feature is interactive widgets in the Notification Center. Taking a page from Android’s book, these widgets can display interactive, real time data such as current weather, a stock ticker, etc., right in the Notification Center itself.

For developers, this promises increased engagement and usability. Interactive widgets also mean developers get a chance to corner some coveted screen real estate in the Notification Center.

4. App Extensions

Of all the new features in iOS8, App Extensions promises to provide the most immediate and dramatic results. Extensions, basically, allow apps to interact with each other. Your photo-editing app can now talk to your photo-sharing app, and your cloud storage app can now interact with your document viewer app. This hybrid approach will help developers create context-sensitive apps with improved functionality and interactivity. How do you plan to create context sensitive games? Weather? World events?

5. HealthKit and HomeKit

With the “Internet of Things” maturing from a fringe movement to a mainstream phenomenon, Apple has introduced HealthKit and HomeKit – two API’s meant to control data sharing with wearable health and smart home devices respectively.

The HealthKit API will allow sharing of health-related data across devices. You could, for example, share weight information from your connected scale to your activity tracker. This data can then be viewed in a simple, consolidated interface in Apple’s new “Health” app.

The HomeKit API works on similar principles, except it deals with personal home devices such as smart thermostats, locks, etc. This API places the smartphone at the center of the home automation experience. For example, using the HomeKit API, you could hook up Siri to your thermostat and instruct it to switch off the heat at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or control all your smart devices from a single app on your phone.

These two API’s should help app developers to create new experiences and apps that harness the power of connected devices – just in time for the Internet of Things revolution.

iOS 8, though similar in look & feel, is a serious improvement over the iOS 7. While the consumer facing features are significant enough, the deeper changes to the way apps and games are created make it the single biggest change to come to iOS in years. Metal API, Swift and App Extensions alone could go a long way in cementing iOS’s mindshare with the developer community.

How do you plan to take advantage of the new API’s & features in iOS 8? What do you think its biggest improvements were? Let us know in the comments!

By Ryan Morel

  • Chris Mackenzy

    I heard about Metal API a lot, really want to get into it.
    Any guidance will be appreciated.

    ~ Chris

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