A typical user opens only a handful of apps every day. With Apple’s upcoming mobile operating system, iOS 8, mobile developers are counting on apps reaching you well before they’re ever opened.
Since Apple’s June preview, software engineers have sought to take advantage of the new features including interactive notifications, today screen widgets and new ways for apps to share content and talk to other apps and devices in the home.
It’s the most significant set of new opportunities for developers since Apple invited other companies to develop apps for the iPhone. Though the iPhone and apps now seem synonymous, the original iPhone only supported apps developed by Apple, such as stocks, weather and a YouTube video player.
Urban Airship, which powers notifications for many sites, says interactive notifications open up a particularly significant new opportunity. Prior to iOS 8, users could decide only whether to click on a notification, which would open the app, or to ignore it. Now users can be presented with up to two buttons — allowing phone users to take action, share content or even buy things — well before opening an app.
“They are really no longer notifications,” said Urban Airship marketing chief Brent Hieggelke. “They are full-fledged interactions.”
Apple will also introduce software widgets in iOS 8 that take a subset of features of an app and makes them available directly from the today screen. In June, Apple demonstrated how ESPN could show sports scores directly from the Today screen.
“It gives brands and advertisers a completely new high-value real estate for almost no cost,” Hieggelke said.
If the improved notifications and widgets are the low-hanging fruit, the richer opportunities come when developers start working together. One feature of iOS 8 is extensions — a built-in mechanism that provides a common method for apps to talk to one another.
Saving to storage services like Box and Dropbox can be built into an app, while new options allow third-party photo filters that work within Apple’s main photos app.
Evernote CEO Phil Libin said in an interview that the extension approach is great for his app, which works best when it is just one click away from within other apps.
“Evernote has always wanted to be an extension,” Libin said. “We could never do that in iOS.”
Apple is also allowing third-party keyboard options for the first time, something users have been clamoring for. Nuance and SwiftKey have said they will be ready with iPhone versions of their software.
In addition to allowing apps to connect to other apps, iOS 8’s HomeKit feature paves the way for apps that can connect to other devices. Expect a flood of app-enabled devices, such as the August Smart Lock.
Privately, developers say they are also betting that support for iOS 8’s new features could prepare their apps to work well with whatever wearable Apple plans to introduce alongside the new iPhones on Sept. 9.
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