Software developers who create apps for Apple's
(NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS platform have had a fairly easy go of things.
Thanks to Apple's highly regulated "walled garden," iOS apps have been built upon a very standard and very consistent set of design elements and guidelines that remained relatively unchanged since the platform's launch in 2007. Actionable items such as menu buttons and setting toggles maintained a uniformity that not only kept apps looking consistent but also familiarized users with a standard interface that spanned across Apple's entire mobile ecosystem. Unlike Android
(NASDAQ:GOOG), Windows Phone
(NASDAQ:MSFT), and BlackBerry
(NASDAQ:BBRY), which have each undergone at least one major overhaul of their respective operating systems in the years since their launch, iOS stayed the course and never instituted an interface change that forced developers to rethink and redesign their work.
That is, up until a few weeks ago.
This month saw Apple unveil its long overdue revamp to its mobile platform in iOS 7. Sporting a brand-new look and feel with design elements that change the way users interact with their devices, iOS 7 presents a brand-new set of challenges that developers had yet to encounter while working within Apple's wholly consistent ecosystem.
While the overhaul finally modernizes iOS' admittedly stale look and introduces features that have become indispensable for users on competing mobile platforms, iOS developers have to put in extra man hours and make some difficult choices in order to adapt to Apple's latest platform changes.
Anyone who caught the keynote presentation at this year's WWDC already knows the animosity Apple now has toward skeuomorphic design. Any app which replicates a real-world element -- such as stitched leather on a calendar app or green felt in a poker game -- will definitely have to switch up its look to something cleaner and flatter. Even if interactivity remains relatively the same, new graphics and iconography will pose new work that many developers hadn't faced since launching their apps on iOS.
But even after getting a new look, changing interactivity to keep it in line with iOS 7 could be detrimental to the consistent flow an app has enjoyed since its inception. A feature-heavy app like Evernote will find itself undergoing massive changes to adhere to iOS 7 design guidelines, and even if it succeeds, users will be presented with a fresh interface that might not jibe with their particular workflow. Sure, every complaint about new design lends itself to a "you'll get used to it" retort, but few developers who've fought to maintain a familiar look want to throw in a new learning curve that could potentially steer users toward a competitor.
Instapaper founder Marco Arment didn't mince words concerning how this could affect some of the bigger names in the app world. "I don't think most developers of mature, non-trivial apps are going to have an easy time migrating them well to iOS 7." He added, "Even if they overcome the technical barriers, the resulting apps just won't look and feel right. They won’t fool anyone."
But iOS 7 adds a problem that we've really only heard about with regards to Android: fragmentation.
Along with adapting to the different screen sizes of iPhones and iPads -- as well as the different dimensions between an iPhone 5 and earlier iPhone models -- developers must decide whether to support backwards compatibility with iOS 6. Although iOS benefits from system-wide updates that the majority of users with capable devices will readily install, anyone with an iPhone older than two years will be unable to use the new operating system and, thus, won't be able to install any app designed specifically for it.
That leaves developers with two options: They can bid iOS 6 users a cold goodbye and forge headlong into iOS 7 territory, or they can add yet another version to their software list and maintain updates for versions running iOS 6, iOS 7, pre-iPhone 5 dimensions, post-iPhone 5 dimensions, and iPad dimensions. Granted, it's nothing like the multitude of different designs spanning the Android landscape, but for a platform that prides itself on consistency and system-wide updates, it's another headache for developers.
By and large, analysts and users are thrilled to see Apple finally update its iOS platform, but its success depends on how quickly (and how adeptly) developers adapt to its totally new set of guidelines.
We'll just have to wait and see how many will survive the migration and how many are willing to bring older users along for the ride.
Disclosure: Minyanville Studios, a division of Minyanville Media, has a business relationship with BlackBerry.
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