What developers want from iOS 10

Apple is expected to take the wraps off the next version of iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and OS X at WWDC. We spoke to some app developers to find out what's on their wish lists.

When it comes to WWDC, we all have a little developer in us. Apple’s biggest annual event may be targeted to app designers and coders, but you don’t need to know how to declare a string-type variable to get caught up in the hype. In the weeks leading up to the kick-off keynote address, everyone has an opinion on what Apple should bring to iOS and OS X, and right on cue, there are already a lot of great ideas floating around, from dramatic Control Center revamps to smarter and more versatile ways to handle files.

But while it’s fun to imagine what our iPhones will be able to do in the fall, for developers, WWDC is indispensable. When Tim Cook and Craig Federighi break down the newest features and technologies, they are providing app makers with the tools they’ll need to prepare their apps for the future. Developers look to WWDC to not just bring design and productivity improvements, but to also supply a new set of blocks on which they can build the next great apps.

So I sought out some of the App Store’s most creative minds to see what they wanted out of this year’s update. While we’ll all enjoy playing with whatever cool new features Apple unveils, these are the people who will use them in ways that are infinitely cooler than the ones demoed on the main stage. And they’re already dreaming about how iOS 10 will take their apps to the next level.

Siri API

Ever since Siri made her debut in iOS 5, users everywhere have been waiting for the day Apple loosens its grip on its digital assistant and allows developers access to her intelligence. And as you might have guessed, developers are itching to get their hands on her smarts, too.

Dan Counsell of Realmac Software thinks a Siri API is the only way Apple can keep track with its competitors. “If Apple wants to stay ahead of other virtual assistants like Alexa, they really need to open it up to third parties. I think there’s a really high chance this will be one of the announcements during WWDC this year.”

ask siri coming to mac 01

Before Siri goes cross-platform, it would help if it works with more third-party services.

Max Seelemann, co-founder of The Soulmen, creator of the popular Ulysses text editor, agrees with Counsell. “From the day of the announcement, I have wanted something like this and have been wondering when they will open it up. Siri’s charm comes from the vast range of language she understands—-there are literally a thousand ways to express the same command of setting an alarm.”

But Seelemann isn’t so sure a Siri API is in the cards. “How would an API have to be formed that represent this manifold of input?” he asked. “Would developers have to care about all the languages Siri is localized into? I wouldn’t be surprised if it still takes years for an API.”

Similarly, Ken Wong, who helped created the sublime Monument Valley, thinks a Siri API is “probably unrealistic,” but Hosam Hassan, lead software engineer and co-founder of Taphive, home to TodoMovies, is a bit more optimistic. “I would expect a Siri API to work somehow like the Spotlight API in iOS. Basically developers can provide content to Siri to search and connect the content to certain actions. For example, you can ask Siri to search for a movie then add it to your watch list in TodoMovies or create a to-do item and add it to a third-party app.”

And he has one Siri-related wish that has nothing to do with his own apps: “Imagine if Uber is integrated with Siri, how cool is that!”

Better App Store

It doesn’t matter how powerful the next generation of apps are if no one can find them. Apple’s App Store search issues are well-documented, and above any API or framework, the developers I spoke to want to see it cleared up sooner rather than later.

Earlier this month, App Store search just broke. (It's working again, but still needs a lot of improvement.)

“Above all, we know Apple is working on App Store discovery and search, and I hope to see some exciting new stuff there,” said Dave Baggett, creator of Inky Mail. “Search is hard, and a lot of good apps are getting lost now that there is so much in the App Store. That’s bad for developers, bad for the ecosystem, and bad for users.”

“Discovering an app in the App Store has always been a problem for users,” echoed Karthik Suroju of CloudMagic. “Search on App Store is broken. For example, a search for ‘email’ will bring up a lot of unrelated apps.”

But discovery isn’t the only thing Suroju and his team want Apple to beef in iOS 10. Equally frustrating, he said, is the review process. He’d like Apple to provide a mechanism for responding to reviews, as well as rethink the way scores are tallied. “If you have an app for a year at five stars and 1,000 reviews, too bad. All that information disappears and becomes zero when you publish a bug fix update. That is a powerful incentive to not fix app problems.”

Similarly, Wong also sees app discovery as “a huge problem for developers,” and has a few ideas on how Apple could improve it. “A recommendation system like Netflix or Spotify is really what’s needed to get new games and apps in the hands of the people who would be interested in them. The ability for users to make ‘playlists’ or ‘collections’ of apps that are shareable would also be a boon.”

Camera API improvements

Ever since Apple opened up its camera for tinkering, the store has been has been packed with alternatives to the stock Camera app. Advanced shooting modes and editing tools have turned the iPhone into a virtual all-in-one photography studio, but Camera+ co-founder Lisa Bettany is hoping Apple can help her make the app even better.

iphone 6s camera 4k Apple

Aside from looking forward to the possibility of a dual lens in the iPhone 7 “to either control focus and depth of field after the fact, or simulate a bokeh (effect) from a bigger sensor like on a dSLR,” she wants iOS 10 to deliver features that can help iPhone users of all generations.

“I’d love to see optical zoom, better stabilization, and wider aperture for low light photos. … I would also like to see continued improvements to their local tone-mapping and noise reduction algorithms that currently cause pixelation and blotchiness with skin tones in particular. Deep trench isolation was a step in the right direction, but the problem still exists, especially with the front-facing camera.”

Secure Enclave access

Bagget might be the only developer who has had a hand in creating iconic marsupials and industry-altering algorithms, but these days he’s focusing his energy on a decidedly less-envious endeavor: email. But Inky isn’t just another email client, simple, safe and versatile, Baggett is trying to do for messaging what he did for trip planning. But he needs Apple’s help to realize his vision.

“We’re hoping that developers get access to the Secure Enclave. There are mainstream USB and MicroSD devices called Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) that allow truly secure storage of cryptographic keys. In particular, an app can ask the attached HSM to generate a key, and the key will be securely stored in the HSM’s local storage. … For example, an application might say, ‘Please decrypt this ciphertext using the secret key,’ or ‘Please sign this message using the secret key.’

“This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s huge, because no matter what software the user runs (malware, etc.) the keys are absolutely, positively safe.”

Tighter tvOS collaboration

Since the idea for his app SketchParty TV germinated while watching a demo of AirPlay mirroring from an iPhone to an Apple TV, it’s no surprise that Matt Braun wants some of iOS’s ingenuities to make their way to Apple TV. At the top of his list is an obvious one, Picture-in-picture for video apps on Apple TV, “possibly invoked through the app switcher.”

sketchpartytv appletv SketchParty TV

Apple should do more to alert you when an app is available for more than one platform.

Elsewhere, Braun wants to see tighter collaboration between companion apps on iOS and tvOS. “When an iOS app has a tvOS counterpart app (particularly as a Universal purchase),” he said, “I’d like an API to prompt on either device to open the companion app. For instance, opening SketchParty TV on the iPhone or iPad, it should be possible to invoke a dialog or automatically open the SketchParty TV app on the Apple TV.”

Better Game Center

Since he left Monument Valley developer ustwo, Wong has been busy starting up his own development studio, and along with better discovery, he’s hoping Apple can do a little to improve the gaming experience on the iPhone.

“Game Center doesn’t feel as important to mobile users as its counterparts do on other game platforms like Steam or PlayStation Network. A lot of interesting game design has to do with online multiplayer, streaming and sharing. Seeing Amazon promote cloud services as the unique selling point of its game engine is really interesting. It would be great if Game Center could continue to evolve and provide more network and social functionality out of the box, for smaller teams who wouldn’t otherwise be able to roll their own services.”

And he has one wish that we can all get behind: “On iOS, the Game Center icon is horrible. I would love to see a new one!”

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Michael Simon

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