I've been writing about technology professionally since 1999, and love keeping up with the latest gadgets, software, and Internet trends. My home life consists mainly of science fiction and cats.
As usual, there were plenty of rumors before the annual iPhone launch event. Also as usual, there were still a couple surprises.
Apple is a design company, and spent a good deal of time showing off the complicated manufacturing process behind the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. It still looks like an iPhone, though, so what about performance improvements?
Inside, the A10 Fusion chip is supposed to be twice as fast as an iPhone 6. The 4G LTE connection, three times faster (assuming your carrier can go that fast). Dual speakers at the top and bottom of the phone produce stereo sound in landscape mode.
The 3.5mm headphone jack has been eliminated, so the included earbuds click into the Lightning connector; there’s a dongle for old-fashioned headphones, but Apple really would prefer that you buy their accessory wireless ones. The whole thing has been made water- and dust-resistant to the IP67 standard.
The real upgrades are concentrated in the visual input and output: the camera and the display.
Both models feature optical image stabilization for their 12-megapixel shooters, as well as an f/1.8 aperture lens for low-light photography. The iPhone 7 Plus actually has a second camera for 2x telephoto shots at f/2.8. The front cameras are improved as well, jumping from 5 megapixels to 7 megapixels. Both front and rear cameras record 1080p full HD video, with 4K for the rear ones.
The displays feature a wider color gamut and higher brightness than the iPhone 6s generation. That makes photos and videos “pop” a bit more, as well as making the screen more readable in the sun. The rear cameras support the same wide color gamut.
Apple Watch arguably received a more significant upgrade than iPhone this time around. Not entirely surprising, since the watch hasn’t been around nearly as long.
Like iPhone 7, Apple Watch Series 2 is water-resistant to 50 meters. The display is twice as bright as the first generation, and there’s a tiny dual-core processor inside.
Most significantly for developers, there’s now a GPS chip built into the watch. It’s available for use by third-party apps, which means that any location-based app can run purely on the watch without the need for a paired iPhone nearby.
How will you take advantage of the new iPhone and Apple Watch features in your apps?
If you somehow hadn’t heard of Pokémon before last week, you were probably brought up to speed by the latest mobile game craze.
Pokémon GO, developed by augmented reality company Niantic, became the most downloaded free app in the USA less than five hours after its release. It became the top grossing app in 14 hours.
Downloads topped 15 million by day 5 – and that’s just from iTunes and Google Play in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, the only countries the game was officially released. Germany and the UK have since joined in, and the number is still climbing.
It’s rare for any game to enjoy such massive and rapid success. Clearly, Niantic did some things right. What was the secret sauce?
The concept of Pokémon seems tailor-made for an augmented reality makeover. In previous games, as well as a television series, little monsters with special powers are hiding all over the place, and anyone can catch and train them. Rather than simulate the hunt in a virtual world, Pokémon GO uses the real world instead.
That approach isn’t free of legal issues and safety concerns. The game’s splash screen warns players to "Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings," but reports of minor injuries and even car crashes abound. Multiple police departments have reminded users that trespassing is a thing, and it’s illegal.
Still, the company made efforts to ensure it wasn’t encouraging users to wander into dangerous situations. Niantic had an advantage as far as understanding geography and maps: deep Google experience.
In 2012, Niantic released another augmented reality game, called Ingress. Though nowhere near as popular as Pokémon GO, Ingress attracted enough users to suss out reasonable locations that could act as markers. Historic landmarks, public artwork, and other distinctive spots became “portals” in that game.
The same data set has provided locations for Pokéstops (where players collect special items) and gyms (where captured Pokémon can be trained). Individual Pokémon are scattered in public places based on the local environment.
It doesn’t hurt that Niantic’s CEO started the company within Google, and that many of its employees spent years building Google Maps and Google Earth.
Another thing that doesn’t hurt? Two decades of brand equity. Millennials grew up on Pokémon in the 1990s, and for today’s kids it’s always been around.
While Niantic did the development work, the game has big money backers. The Pokémon Company is jointly owned by Nintendo, Creatures Inc., and Game Freak Inc. They started about as far from scratch as possible when hyping Pokémon GO, since fans of the franchise have been clamoring for just this kind of experience for years.
The game was announced in September of 2015, but was floated in 2014 as an April Fools’ Day joke by Google. The response was pretty much the whole internet screaming “WANT!” and two years later, Niantic had been spun off and could offer its very real game to the world.
The overnight success of Pokémon GO really took 20 years, but it shows that AR games can take the world by storm when done right. How many have you caught so far?
If you are interested in developing your own augmented reality games, Zco Corporation can help! To contact our experts please email us or call 603.881.9200.
At its World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) this week, Apple announced updates to all of its software platforms: iOS, OS X, watchOS, and tvOS. While all are getting new features, communication between all of them and more access to integral pieces are the big takeaways for developers.
Apple’s software is famously closed off, only running on Apple’s own hardware and offering limited pathways into core functionality for third-party apps. That restricted access is starting to be peeled away, now that the company is allowing developers to hook more deeply into iOS notifications, Maps, Messages, and even Apple’s voice assistant, Siri.
Siri’s capabilities have gradually expanded since its introduction in iOS 5. With iOS 10, any developer can take advantage of Siri’s voice interface – but only for certain types of services.
The SiriKit API enables services in apps that provide:
So you can’t have Siri take control of your fantasy RPG character, but you might be able to buy new armor or talk to in-game friends. The same Intents framework within SiriKit handles services from within Maps, too.
Apple is adding its own animations and Apple Pay support to the Messages communication app in iOS 10, and developers can contribute as well. Users can search a miniature version of the App Store with apps supporting extra functionality without leaving Messages.
App extensions show content within Messages and can even present a custom user interface. App developers can also add stickers to their apps that are available within Messages.
User notifications can be more interactive in iOS 10, making launching a full app unnecessary. As Apple’s developer documentation puts it, an app extension “receives the notification data and provides the corresponding visual representation. Your extension can also respond to custom actions associated with those notifications.”
In other words, notifications can show images and other live content, along with buttons for users to press. Rather than tapping the notification to enter the full app, users can access that specific bit of app functionality right away.
Cross-functionality between platforms was another signature theme in the WWDC 2016 keynote. Apple’s desktop operating system, OS X, was rebranded as “macOS” – similar to its name in the 1990s and pretty much what everyone called it anyway. Its latest version is called Sierra, and aside from the integration of Siri, the biggest news had to be the expansion of Continuity features.
Both tvOS and watchOS are allowing more direct control by third-party apps as well. It all adds up to an even more expansive landscape for app entrepreneurs to take advantage of. Have an idea? Get in touch by emailing us or calling 603.881.9200.
Google’s I/O keynote event on Wednesday, May 18 was uncharacteristically light on exciting info for consumers, but developers found plenty to sink their teeth into.
The next version of Android didn’t even get a name, just a page for suggestions beginning with the letter N. Personally, I think “Neapolitan” should get the nod, fitting as well as it does with the Android slogan “Be Together, not the Same.”
Google Home, Android N(eapolitan?), Daydream reference design
The only hardware announced was Google Home, a vase-shaped tabletop device that serves as the hub for a connected house, joining the ever-expanding Internet of Things. More than a voice control for light bulbs and thermostats, Google Home also incorporates the search engine’s machine intelligence to respond to information queries, read users’ emails and schedules, and cast audio and video to any room.
Home will be out “later this year” and takes advantage of what CEO Sundar Pichai called the “Google assistant”. The company has been refining its search engine to deal better with natural language, context-sensitive queries, and follow-up questions using pronouns referring to previous answers.
Erik Kay, Google’s Director of Engineering, announced text and video chat apps Allo and Duo also integrating the assistant concept. Context-aware Smart Replies are offered to chatters based on their message content, even identifying subjects of shared photographs. The apps come to both iOS and Android “this summer”.
Access to Google’s vast machine learning apparatus is the real story of I/O 2016 for developers. Android Studio and Firebase, a development and marketing platform acquired by Google in 2014, include hooks into the company’s giant cloud architecture.
Instant Apps are taking the deep linking concept – hyperlinks that lead inside an installed app – a step further. By breaking up their Android apps into smaller modules, hyperlinks can open apps without those apps being previously installed. Only the relevant portions of the apps are downloaded, and the user can choose to install the full app or not. Instant Apps will be backward compatible to Jelly Bean, released in 2012.
Perhaps the largest framework floated at I/O is Daydream, a virtual reality SDK for low-latency VR. Apps can be adapted from Unity or built from scratch, and upcoming Android phones will be certified to work with Daydream.
There was something left out, though.
Though widely anticipated, a Google-branded virtual reality headset was not announced. There was, however, a reference design released to manufacturers. The design includes a more refined headset than Cardboard, along with a one-hand remote for navigating within VR worlds.
No Nexus phones or tablets were previewed either. Since developers had gotten Android N previews earlier in the year than previous Android releases, many expected the device schedule to be accelerated in 2016 as well. With nary a mention of new Nexus devices in the keynote address, a typical fall release is looking more likely again.
What excites you about this year’s I/O? Let us know in the comments, and call or email us to work with app development specialists.
For two years, new iPhones had 4-inch screens. Before that, Apple had stubbornly kept the smartphone’s display at 3.5 inches. The iPhone 5, along with the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, bumped that up half an inch. After that, with the iPhone 6, the new screen size was 4.7 inches, with a Plus model at 5.5 inches.
Now, a new 4-inch model has been introduced: the iPhone SE. It’s essentially the body and display of an iPhone 5 with the internal hardware of an iPhone 6s.
2012's iPhone 5 (left) and 2016's iPhone SE (right) share the same dimensions.
When it comes to app development, the iPhone SE makes a lot of things easier – and offers additional opportunities.
The 4-inch size isn’t the only similarity between the screens of iPhone 5 and SE. In fact, just about everything is identical – the 800:1 contrast ratio (as opposed to 1300:1 or 1400:1 in the iPhone 6 range), the 1136x640 resolution, the 326 pixels per inch. The only difference is a miniscule improvement in the color gamut on the SE.
Bottom line? Apps should look exactly the same on iPhone SE as they did on iPhone 5. There’s no nudging, padding, or squishing required. If you’re making a new app optimized for iPhone SE, it’s automatically backward compatible with iPhone 5 – at least when it comes to display resolution.
Of course, if your existing app relies on the latest hardware, it never ran on iPhone 5. It will run on iPhone SE, however, with only a small tweak for display resolution necessary.
There are two main markets for the iPhone SE: existing customers who still have or miss their more diminutive iPhone 5/5s/5c; and the developing world. Starting at $399, it’s more affordable than larger models while matching the speed, camera, and other features of iPhone 6s.
Pre-orders of the SE reportedly reached 3.4 million units in China. Apple enjoys mindshare dominance and marketshare near-parity with Android in the United States, but Android holds a considerable lead worldwide. A new international audience gives any iOS mobile app more potential customers.
At the same time, US consumers who haven’t yet become smartphone users might jump on board at the $399 price point. Even though Android handsets exist at and below that price, the Apple brand name might encourage new subscribers.
Have questions about app development for iPhone, Android, or any other platform? Comment below, email us, or call 603.881.9200.
Zco Corporation is a custom software company with headquarters in Nashua, New Hampshire, USA specializing in mobile app development, enterprise software, and 3D animation.
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