iPhone 5 for developers and content providers

This post was originally published on AIIM's Expert Blogs by Serge Huber, CTO at Jahia Solutions

As every year Apple releases a new model of their flagship smartphone, content providers, mobile application developers and other businesses are eager to see what has changed in order to see if it is worth the costs adapting to the new device. They are also interested in seeing which new opportunities they may benefit from. The iPhone 5 is mostly an evolutionary release from a content provider point of view, but it does has a few major changes that may have strong impacts in terms of development costs. In this post, we’ll analyse the most important ones and how they may be addressed.

The first major difference is the new screen size. As I previously blogged about, the introduction of a new screen size and resolution makes it more difficult for developers to release mobile applications that scale well on multiple platforms. So the new screen resolution and ratio of the iPhone 5 (16:9 ratio instead of 3:2) will require developers to adapt the layout and size of their development, be they mobile or web applications. As the screen is only wider in one dimension, this should prove a little easier than if both dimensions had changed, but it will still require updating all layouts (possibly using the new auto-layout feature in the iOS SDK to minimize the work needed) as well as resources (images, icons). Even screenshots will need to be provided at the new resolution, as this is a new iTunes App Store requirement. The new screen size will allow content providers to display more content on the screen which is indeed a good thing for users, but developers will need to provide the support for the new screen size. So in effect where Apple once shone as being developer friendly by reducing the combinations of resolutions, it is now behaving exactly like all other handset manufacturers and requires developers to adapt. The exact cost of such changes is difficult to estimate, but since it will require image and illustration modifications, it will require not only developer man hours but also graphic designers’ time.

As introduced with the new iPad, the iPhone 5 will now support LTE & Dual Cell HSDPA, which basically means that in theory the bandwidth available to the phone is getting similar to what most people have access to on a home internet connection. This is something of a revolution by itself since it means that web network optimisation, while still a good practice, will become a little less critical, and so users can actually access content and data in a way that is similar to what they are used to on regular wired connections. What this implies for content providers is that they have a little less work to do for content re-targeting, provided of course they assume that most users will have access to such networks. In a more realistic view, creating multiple versions of images will still be highly recommended, but the new device and network makes it possible to offset this cost over time as it will not be as much a problem as it used to be. The biggest obstacle to such network speeds are bandwidth limits imposed by cellular carriers such as bandwidth caps or additional costs after 1GB has been downloaded. Hopefully network operators will get smarter and maybe look at what the Swiss carrier Swisscom has pioneered: paying for mobile network speed instead of bulk data.

Looking at the software side, iOS 6 introduced also a few changes that will impact content providers and developers:

The new (and very controversial) Maps application uses a completely different data set of maps, which are actually considered by many as a step backwards as their quality seems vastly inferior than what Google Maps provides. This might be an opportunity for some developers to produce applications that will integrate with other map sources to offer a better alternative to end-users. What is lesser known is that Apple has introduced in iOS 6 the possibility for developers to integrate with the new Maps application. This may be done either by launching the Maps application from another application and providing a route to calculate, or to open an application that will actually perform the routing when a user requests directions in the Maps app. For example, one could imagine that an application such as Kayak, a travel metasearch engine, could use such an integration capability so that when a user requests directions from Paris to New York, she will get an option to use the Kayak app to search for the best flights between the two locations. This example illustrates that this new integration point does open a door for location-aware content providers to integrate better with the new smartphone operating system.
The new Passbook application makes it easier for users to find all their electronic tickets, coupons and loyalty cards provided again that application developers integrate with it, which will probably require a little bit of time. But again, this new feature makes it possible for developers to expose their content and services to end users, and I think we will probably see some interesting usages of this new possibility.
The new version of Safari included in iOS 6 now support the Web Audio API. This very powerful API makes it possible to develop web application that can perform complex audio mixes and apply sound effects directly from an HTML page. As any web-exposed technology, these improvements help reduce the dependency on Flash as a delivery service for games, animations or ads, and as they are standardized, they will be available on multiple platforms ranging from desktop to mobile browsers. Content providers and developers might want to take advantage of such new possibilities early to differentiate from competitors or surprise users by providing an above-average user experience.
The new social framework (that includes Facebook integration) also makes it easier to integrate with Facebook and Twitter so that content providers and developers may integrate social features into their applications. Although this is very easy to explain and understand, it is still underestimated by many in terms of importance, and it is a very good thing that it is available as a system-wide framework.
The above examples are of course only the main differences that I thought were important to mention to content providers and developers since they bring both new problems and new solutions to be dealt with. I’m of course very interested in knowing if I missed anything important or if you disagree with some (not everything ok ? :)) of what I said. Please let me know in the comments.

Serge Huber

Serge Huber
Serge Huber

Serge Huber is co-founder and CTO of Jahia. He is a member of the Apache Software Foundation and Chair of the Apache Unomi project management committee as well as a co-chair of the OASIS Customer Data Platform Specification.