August 22, 2019

WWDC 2019 Keynote Recap: This is Only the Beginning

One thing is for sure. Apple is working on something big. We’re not even exactly sure how big just yet.

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June 4, 2018

The Most Important Feature for Brands from the WWDC 2018 Keynote

Every year, developers make the Great Migration to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). This week-long event is where Apple announces all the latest tech and tools coming to the suite of Apple products. Like Google I/O, WWDC kicks off with a keynote that hints at all the things that are to come throughout the rest of the week.

This year, it seems many tech companies are focusing on “quality of life” (QOL). Usually the phrase “quality of life update” refers to a software update that makes many changes to an application or game to improve the overall experience – usually a combination of bug fixes, interface tweaks, performance enhancements, and anything else that improves someone’s experience with a particular piece of software. However, most recently, we’ve noticed more and more emphasis being placed on the user’s QOL rather than the software. Both Apple and Google have released features to help users spend less time on their phone and more time with those around them. Digital Health is not a new concept, but it does seem to have gone by the wayside in recent years. Although not the one key takeaway that we chose to highlight in this article (but it was a close second), we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the hot topic of app optimization. Quite a bit of time was spent covering how developers could and should optimize apps in every way possible – in file size, performance, and amount of time users need to spend in it to accomplish the desired task (which you should be doing anyway).

Speaking of QOL, Apple spent a majority of the keynote announcing new features for their apps and devices. Things like Search Suggestions for photos, updates and UI changes for several first-party apps, new workouts on the Apple Watch, and much more. They also announced that you could FaceTime with 32 people while using your own emoji, aptly named Memojies (below).

Tim Cook and other Apple employees using Facetime and the new memojies

A majority of these updates benefited the ultimate end users of Apple devices while some helped developers more easily and effectively build on Apple’s platforms. There was, however, one update that stood out above the rest as the “killer feature” for apps this year. And that feature, is Siri Shortcuts.

Siri Shortcuts

These. Are. Big. Siri Shortcuts will change how a lot of people interact with a lot of apps. Since the emergence of DVAs (Digital Voice Assistants), the biggest barrier for adoption has been the learning curve for users. “What can I ask it? Was it how I phrased it? I didn’t want it to open that app to do ____.” are all statements you may have muttered to yourself when trying to communicate with your Google Home, Home Pod, or Amazon Echo. But Siri Shortcuts are going to change that. Instead of adding voice-controlled features to an app that users may or may not ever discover, developers can now prompt users with a button to “Add to Siri.” This does not add a particular action to Siri­­, but instead it allows users to create their own custom phrase to activate a certain feature that the app allows. For example, instead of having to say “Hey Siri, play my ‘Running’ playlist in Spotify,” someone can create a custom phrase for “Hey Siri, I’m going on a run” and the outcome will be the same.

arrow pointing to an iPhone X displaying Siri Shortcut

This doesn’t sound like much, but this could change Siri’s role to many as a peripheral accessory of the iPhone to an app necessity. Instead of having to try several times to get a request to work, users can simply make their own. As we aren’t exactly sure on how this will work just yet, we are assuming it will be based on deep linking.

example actions in a Siri Shortcut series

Another reason apps need to be Siri-ready is that Shortcuts will not just be for individual actions, but for a series of actions. Seen above, when asked “how’s the surf,” Siri began running through the requests the user had previously set up – like checking the weather and getting directions to the beach. Other examples Apple provided were Siri Shortcuts for “time to go home” or “let’s go to work.” In the “let’s go to work” example, Siri automatically knew to order a coffee from Starbucks that the user gets on the way to the office every day. So, for example, if your brand allows pick-up for groceries, you may want to integrate Siri in a way that allows people to create a grocery list of common items they need each week so users can order with a simple phrase.

Platform State of the Union keynote slide explaining the best uses for Siri Actions

By creating useful Siri integrations that can become part of a larger, daily/weekly/monthly routine instead of a one-off request, branded apps can quickly become a necessity of life even if they aren’t being manually launched. Like in the example above, the user with the morning routine didn’t open the Starbucks app, but they still bought a coffee.

Stay tuned for more from Apple’s developer conference or contact us today to learn more about Siri Shortcuts and how your brand can best leverage them.

June 20, 2017

Engineering Jedi: Five(ish) Things to Prepare for with iOS 11

Now that WWDC 2017 has concluded, it's time to evaluate any apps you currently have in the App Store, as well as any soon to be released, to ensure that they're ready for the new version of iOS. It's not a very long list, but the changes are important.

  1. Prepare for the new App Store look and feel. Your app will get a new presentation style, and you're encouraged more than ever to use video to demonstrate the app. Also, reviews no longer reset with each submission to the App Store, so it's a good idea to decide on what interval you wish to reset those ratings averages. Related to the new store: you may need to remove any existing mechanisms prompting the user to rate the app. Starting now, only the built-in functionality is allowed for prompting the user. You can still use any techniques you prefer to decide when the stock technology should present the request, but be aware that the user will only receive that prompt at most three times per year, and may never see it due to choices that they've made.
  2. Apple has provided a new set of tools for determining where items should be placed on screen. Hopefully your app is already using AutoLayout, and is prepared for multiple device layouts using size classes. These have been around for a while, and should be considered the bare minimum for supporting modern devices. In addition, there's now a concept of the "safe area" on an iOS device. This is the area of the screen where critical user interactions should take place. This concept is common for development for televisions to account for overscan, but is new for iOS development. This may indicate that in future devices, interactive elements might not work if they're too close to the edge of the screen. Prepare now, and you can ensure that future devices won't hamper your users' experiences.
  3. In iOS 11, users can allow location services either in-app only or at any time. Some apps are designed to work only if they have access to the user's location at all times. These apps need to reconsider their location usage strategy and adapt to this new requirement.
  4. If your app uses a custom typeface, it is now much simpler to support dynamic type with those custom typefaces. This is often the first step in making your app accessible, and now you can easily set up your app to handle this combination of dynamic type and accessibility. If you had done this using some arbitrary custom code before, you can now handle it more completely and safely.
  5. Finally, if your app runs on the iPad, the time has never been more appropriate to adopt multitasking. With the new multitasking features and drag-and-drop support, it's more important than ever to support these techniques, so that your app remains relevant to advanced users of these devices.

Once you've completed these must-do tasks, there are a few other things that can help make your app more modern and relevant. Generally speaking, these are more technical, so you don't necessarily need to keep going from this point.

The first of these optional items would be replacing any icons in your app with vector art. You've been able to use PDF vector art to provide images for quite some time, and there are additional areas where these will be used (such as accessibility hints for toolbars). This should be a straightforward change for ongoing development.

The second optional item would be to simplify any of your custom JSON transformations using the new Swift Codable protocol. This functionality should be backward compatible back to iOS 6, and this can give you a simpler, lighter-weight application.

If you support a user login system on the web as well as your app, you should definitely prepare to share those logins using the new password support. There are very few steps needed to complete these logins, and it can allow the user to use more secure passwords.

You should consider updating any animations in your app that are frame-locked to 60Hz. Having animations locked to a particular refresh rate can cause less-than-ideal appearance on the most recent iPad pro, which has a 120Hz refresh rate. Future devices may have refresh rates other than 60Hz as well, so preparing for that future would be a wise move.

Hopefully you're inspired to get your app ready for the next version of iOS. If you get started now, this is a very light lift for most apps that have been well maintained. Your users are certain to be appreciative of your app if it's kept current with the latest developments.

Want to make sure your app is ready for iOS 11? Reach out and let’s talk about it.

April 6, 2017

App Rating Changes in iOS 10.3 Update

Bottle Rocket builds apps that include a framework for encouraging high ratings. This framework also funnels negative comments away from the App Store. We call this our Bottle Rocket Applause Generator (BRAG). Apple’s latest 10.3 update brings some changes to BRAG. Here’s what to expect.

Previously, we asked users if they liked an app during the mobile experience. If they did, we prompted them to rate it. If they didn't, we requested feedback, which came to us or the client. In iOS 10.3, Apple will now handle interactions that BRAG facilitated. BRAG also allowed us to drive and know when apps are reviewed. In iOS 10.3, we won’t be notified. But, Bottle Rocket will still access and use knowledge of how users interact with our clients’ apps to determine when we’ll ask for ratings. With iOS 10.3, however, our standard messaging won’t redirect comments to clients or Bottle Rocket. Instead, we’ll have to rely on Apple functionality.

That all sounds a little ominous, but we’re excited about the opportunity it affords our clients. Another change iOS 10.3 brings is one we’ve been asking for the last 5 years—responding directly to user reviews. Responding to common user problems can turn negative reviews into opportunities for education and lessen impacts of negative reviews.

We’ve already done the development on our end to support our clients and allow them to utilize the update’s capabilities. We’ll work with clients to determine the best strategy for handling this process.

We’re ready for 10.3, and so are our clients’ apps.

February 16, 2016

iOS 9.3 Developer Preview

iOS 9.3 Update Overview

iOS release 9.3 was announced early January but no release date has been set. This update is a Quality-of-Life version of iOS, more than a developer-focused release. While we don't see many deep new opportunities for our customers, many of the features will make using iOS much better for users.

 

Update Features

Night Shift

The first important feature to note is Night Shift. Similar to f.lux, Night Shift changes the screen's temperature in the evening. It takes advantage of the current time, user's location, and sunset time to adjust the display's settings. This will result in an easy-on-the-eyes experience late at night. Many Rocketeers have been using the OSX f.lux for years, and we're excited to see this incorporated into iOS 9.3.

 

Notes & TouchID

The built-in notes app got another significant upgrade in 9.3. In iOS 9.0, the notes app underwent some serious upgrades for network capabilities, images, lists, and more. In iOS 9.3, each note can independently be protected by TouchID. This gives us another example of "best practice" for using TouchID to protect sensitive user information.

 

News expansion

The News app received more attention in surfacing articles to readers. For You will suggest trending topics and Editor’s Picks to help users find new favorites. News has also received an update to refresh stories faster, allow landscape view on iPhones, and play video straight from the news feed.

 

Health App Store

The HealthKit app is one of the less-utilized features of iOS, and yet has great promise. In iOS 9.3, apps that integrate with HealthKit have a custom store within the HealthKit dashboard. This should make it easier for customers to find health-related apps.

 

Car Play

Car Play, Apple's vehicle dashboard integration system, was enhanced in 9.3. While this platform isn't yet available for broad development, we are finally seeing a significant number of vehicles adopting this system. Remember that AppleTV was once a closed platform; it's worth keeping your eyes on CarPlay for future opportunities.

 

Education

The most interesting feature in the iOS 9.3 update is the one that rather few of our customers will see; 9.3 includes many features for enhancing the iPad's use in an educational setting. The most important of these is support for multiple users on a device. When this is viewed alongside the iPad Pro, and iOS 9's multitasking support on the iPad, it's not too big a stretch to see Apple looking to iOS as a desktop operating system in the not-too-distant future. While this doesn't affect our users right now, this could be the kind of change that makes a huge impact in the next two years.

 

 

In short, iOS 9.3 is focused on a better overall user experience. It does not focus on new features that should be implemented in apps. 9.3 will allow users to find apps and engage with their device more effectively.

 

 

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