When iOS is referred to as a ‘walled garden‘, it’s often derogatory, used to refer to Apple’s unwillingness to open up their operating system. Since the first iPhone, software control started and ended with Apple, allowing them to control the iOS experience. More importantly, this has helped provide end users with a safe and secure platform, one that sees the vast majority of its user base upgrading on a yearly basis. As Tim Cook mentioned during the WWDC 14’ keynote, Google’s Android platform remains incredibly fractured, with only 9% of its users running KitKat, as compared to 89% of iOS owners running iOS 7. Android also owns a staggering 99 percent of the mobile malware market. That’s not the market you want to dominate. But Google’s Android is open and with that, it’s immensely customizable. The features announced for iOS 8 show that Apple is starting to open things up, allowing for customization that rivals its open software rivals.
“Widgets in iOS. Not happening.”
Some guy on Twitter wrote last week and was he ever wrong. Apple’s iOS 8 now supports widgets in the Notification Center. Widgets aren’t anything new. In fact, they’ve been a staple on Android for years now. These are like tiny versions of your favorite apps, that provide live information or player controls for an app like Sonos. They will differ from Android in that you cannot currently put them on your home screen. For now, they are tucked away in the Notification Center. Still, you’re just a swipe down away from accessing them. Based on Apple’s interpretation, we’ve had widgets with stocks and weather. By allowing third-party developers to get in on the fun, this is going to amp up this feature. Hey, I’d love to see them available on the home screen, but this is a good start.
Nothing is more central to the iOS experience than the keyboard. Outside of games and photos, the keyboard is used in most apps. Web browsing, email, notes, calendar. All of them rely on the keyboard for data entry. One could say it’s a core part of iOS. This new Apple is letting use third-party keyboards systemwide. Yes, Apple is now letting you change the default keyboard. If you like Swype, Apple is no longer standing in the way. iOS 8 puts you in charge, offering a new level of keyboard customization previously found only on Android. If you use a cloud based keyboard like Swype, your predictive text will travel between platforms.
Further advancing the openness of iOS 8, Apple has provided developers with access to 4000 new APIs, unlocking new capabilities. These are small APIs that have a minor impact on developers and users. Developers can access Touch ID, letting users sign in without having to type in password credentials. The convenience of Touch ID, extended throughout your favorite apps. If you own an iPhone 5s, Touch ID just became infinitely more useful with iOS 8. Stock apps like Photos can now hand-off photo editing to your favorite apps. You can apply your favorite photo filters directly in Camera Roll. This is a perfect example of how opening things up for developers results in a better experience for users. Everyone wins.
Apple’s iOS 8 isn’t open, in the true sense of an open platform. One could argue the same for Android, at least versions that ship with locked bootloaders. What Apple has done with iOS 8 is open up things enough within the garden so that developers can create functionality that will resonate with users. Widgets, keyboards and extensions are fantastic features, when coupled with expanded API access, it makes iOS 8 the most open iOS to date.