The Fundamental Futurist

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference Maps Out Stronger Cross-platform Development

–  Ignacio Segovia, Chief Architect, Head of Product Engineering, Altimetrik

Apple is known for its flashy consumer product launches, but this week’s 2019 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) demonstrated that the company knows how to impress the developer community too. I thought this year’s conference was one of the more impressive WWDC events of the last two decades, with important new features and products for end consumers and developers alike.

Here are some of the things that really impressed me:

Project Catalyst

Cross-platform development was one of the key themes of the conference, and nowhere is this more apparent than with Project Catalyst, sometimes known by its internal codename of “Marzipan.” Apple announced that the next update of macOS, due out in November, will be able to run iOS apps written for the Apple iPhone and Apple iPad. Catalyst is what makes this possible.

Catalyst incorporates a large set of friendly APIs for cross platform development, which makes it easier, cheaper and faster to bring new apps to the Mac. I suspect this will give a much-needed jumpstart to the Mac app ecosystem, which has been in the doldrums since the rise of mobile platforms like iOS and Android. This opens up the whole world of the top iOS and iPadOS apps to the Mac.

SwiftUI

Even more significant is the announcement of SwiftUI, a cross-platform framework that promises to transform the development of apps for Apple platforms. SwiftUI offers a nice abstraction layer for increased productivity, and ease of use, especially for entry level programmers and those building enterprise applications with less custom UI needs.

My first impression is that SwiftUI is highly compositional, easy to read, and simple to learn. Building apps used to be an undertaking of several months. SwiftUI lowers the bar in both the time needed to develop an app and the skill needed, making coding more universally accessible to people. As a developer, I’m just excited to use it. It will make Apple platforms more fun to use.

Currently, iOS apps are typically written in either Swift or an older language called Objective-C or a combination thereof. I predict SwiftUI will become the de facto standard for UI development on Apple platforms very rapidly, expanding adoption of Swift at the same time. SwiftUI will be easier for both entry level and veteran programmers to use.

Such domain-specific language (DSL) paradigms have been around for a while, we even had our own flavor at Altimetrik. Microsoft (UWP, Windows RT), Facebook (React), and Google (Flutter) have all tried similar offerings for mobile app development, but none come close to the scale of Apple iOS and iPadOS. Over a billion devices are ready to consume apps built with SwiftUI, leveraging a fully native stack across 3 platforms; this is in contrast to the more web centric approach Facebook and Google are taking with React and Angular or the more niche mobile offerings such as Flutter or Kotlin. SwiftUI will also have the full backing of Apple as a company, while some of the others seem more like a side play than a major focus.

Sign-in with Apple

I also think this is huge news. Apple has a reputation for putting privacy as a top focus, and it certainly knows how to build a strong and cohesive user experience. Sign-in with Apple provides a secure, private, and unified interface to sign-in to all app experiences across all Apple platforms. Watch out, Facebook and Google, as this could be a game changer for identity and authentication technology. This actually could be the most disruptive web related news out of WWDC 2019 and will be an interesting space to watch as potential antitrust movements currently surrounding all these companies play out.

Apple Watch

I was impressed with the progress Apple is making. As Watch apps can finally run independently from the iPhone, and Watch apps are even now available in their own Watch oriented App Store, this enables new and exciting use cases, such as more connected experiences with smart homes, connected vehicles (see our own case study with a leading US automaker), more robust retail solutions, true indoor navigation, just to name a few.

Last but not least, there are the new health features of the Apple Watch, which have been growing in both breadth (e.g., activity trends, and period tracker) and depth (e.g. ECG app, CareKit, clinical trials, insurance). With iOS 13, Apple released tons of new APIs for developers to deliver even better health-centric apps and solutions. Look for much more on this from third-party developers in the months to come.

Apple has certainly raised the bar across a number of fronts. Developing on Apple’s platforms will become easier and more efficient. It’s also a win for consumers through improved integration across devices and new and better apps.

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