Every year, Apple releases a new version of each operating system running on their devices and the accompanying developer tools. Most of you will be familiar with iOS and macOS, but there are also updates for tvOS and watchOS. This annual cycle has been going on for over a decade. If you want to develop an application for an Apple device, you need to be familiar with the cycle, as it may have a significant impact on your company roadmap—and perhaps even your vacation plans!
It’s a well known fact that Apple keeps a tight lid on things they’re developing for both hardware and software—or at least they try to. Of course, there’s always information leaked of varying accuracy, as found on sites like macrumors.com. Even if a lot of information is kept secret, there are at least two very public events in the Apple calendar that expose to the world what new and exciting ideas will be brought to Apple products.
The Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) usually takes place in early June and is a week-long event that gathers developers from across the world to California, though not directly at Apple HQ.
To gain access to this event, you will need a registered Apple developer account, and the ticket price is around $1,500. Be warned that as the demand is high and a lottery system is used to distribute tickets, you should try to book as many of your developers as possible to maximize your chance of getting a ticket. At Dashlane, we rotate WWDC attendees so all our iOS and macOS developers get a chance to attend this special event.
The format of the event is pretty consistent these days:
The Keynote with the usual execs from Apple (Tim Cook, Craig Federighi, Phil Schiller, etc.) introduces new features that will be available in the fall of that year. This is an event usually designed for maximum media appeal with few technical details. The conference hall will seem very full, because along with the developers, there are a lot of media and marketing people present, but these folks don’t hang around for the rest of the week.
The State of the Union event goes into more details and is really designed to expose more of the interesting technical details. This is an important event to watch for your company developers and product teams as the information in this event can really help shape the features you will build for your applications.
The Apple Design Awards is a small event, not usually attended by many people because they’re probably recovering from their jet lag and waking up at 3 a.m. to get in line for the Keynote! For me, this is an interesting event as it really highlights the kind of integrations that Apple values, and clues can be taken from the winners’ products to see how you can better shape your features within your apps.
Tuesday – Friday
The remaining four days are dedicated to what are known as WWDC sessions. These sessions cover a wide range of topics and are targeted at very different audiences. The benefit of these sessions is that you really understand the reason and spirit of the APIs Apple designed beyond what they are and what they do. There are always some little nuggets of information hidden away in the sessions that will help you when you come to integrate the APIs that are not often served by Apple’s online documentation.
There are also Lab sessions that allow you to talk directly with Apple engineers. You can even take your application code with you, and they will happily take a look at any issue you’re facing and provide helpful tips to improve your work.
At Dashlane, our development team goes through all the relevant sessions together and we brainstorm how best to approach them in the weeks following the conference. Some APIs will be very pertinent to our app (like Password Autofill), whereas others may not be that relevant (like things related to tvOS).
The Apple Special Event
Apple hosts media events throughout the year, but one event attracts the most media attention. This event usually takes place around mid-September, and all the new flagship devices are announced during this event. Around the time of this event, the new OS versions are also released to the public, and app developers are also able to submit their app that supports the new OS versions.
Your annual roadmap and Apple
Depending on how much you want to keep your software updated with Apple’s operating systems, you should think about how you shape your development roadmap around these two events.
Here is a quick guide to how we follow the process at Dashlane:
- We follow the evolution of Swift to see what changes we can expect in future Xcode versions.
- WWDC (around June)
- We always try to send at least one developer to the event.
- We create one build machine that has Xcode-beta installed and the beta version of macOS. This is used to build and test our frameworks and app as we introduce support for the new version of the OS.
- Post-WWDC (between June and September)
- We identify APIs and functionality we’d like to implement and work on integrating them into our app.
- For those not attending the event, we gather as a team to watch relevant WWDC sessions during our lunch break. It’s a great way to better understand the APIs as a group and brainstorm ideas of how we could best make use of them.
- This is a great time to file bug reports with Apple. Their development team is a lot more reactive to solving issues with beta software during this period.
- New OS releases + Apple Special Event (September/October)
- We keep some developer resources ready to react to any last minute Apple announcements (e.g. TouchID or FaceID, which were not announced at WWDC).
- We try to be ready to upload our app update as soon as Apple opens submissions using the Golden Master version of Xcode.
- Post-OS release (November – March)
- We go through the lesser-known APIs to see if there are any interesting things worth implementing.
- We prefer to keep our code base up-to-date and avoid technical debt as much as we can. One way to do this is to drop support of the older OS versions. For iOS, we typically drop support for the previous version between February and March.
This cycle is not unique to Apple, but what is unique is how users have also become accustomed to the cycle. All modern software requires constant updates, if only for security reasons, but Apple users tend to keep their devices more up to date than other brands. This could be because of the update mechanism or the marketing Apple does to push the updates.
If you want to create a great experience for your Apple product users, we recommend you familiarize yourself with the annual Apple cycle. We’ve gotten used to it at Dashlane, and it’s a great way to keep our users and our developers happy.