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WWDC 2016 developer takeaways: Apple just opened up more apps in iOS 10

Erik Sherman Journalist, Independent

Coming into WWDC, one of the main points developers made to TechBeacon was that they needed to get more access to services on the iPhone and iPad. Although Apple didn't suddenly turn itself into an open-source company, it did take some serious steps to let developers have greater access to services and to more fully integrate its various platforms: iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and macOS (the new name for OS X).

New versions—iOS 10, macOS Sierra, watchOS 3, and tvOS 9.2 (actually announced in March)—will add a lot of features that developers will find interesting and even compelling. "It sounded like they were relinquishing a lot of control over things," said Wendell Adams, owner of independent development company AB Mobile Apps.

Popular services become available

For example, a new iMessage API will let developers add capabilities and features to Messages, although it doesn't embed messaging capabilities into a third-party app. Although that could mean a stickier app, it could also create new capabilities such as using Square Pay to send money to a friend through a message.

The details are not available yet, but Apple is also opening an API for Siri as well as introducing it to MacOS. "Apple will do the hard AI part; that is, speech-to-intent conversion," said Dickey Singh, CEO of Redwood City, California-based Pyze.

"Siri API is ideal for us, as expected, though the details of exactly what we can control via Siri are a little unclear until the tech sessions start," said James Hodge, co-founder of Australia-based HLS Vehicle Customisation, who is interested in hands-off control of phones while a vehicle is in motion.

Developers will also have access to Apple Maps, though through extensions, not an API. "They just gave developers a reason to use Apple Maps [instead of Google Maps]," Adams said. "If you're using the mapping system on Android, you're not going to have as good access. On top of that, if you're using the [Google] Places API for businesses, after you exceed x amount of calls, they'll charge you for it."

More integration across platforms

The other major theme was increased interoperability between various Apple platforms. Web purchases on a Mac can be authorized by the security features on an iPhone. Users can copy text from an iPhone to a Mac. The HomeKit API turns the iPhone and iPad into a home automation remote control. And a single sign-on feature on Apple TV lets you log into all apps that support it when you log onto the box. Apple Watch gets a major improvement in speed to make it more attractive to iPhone owners.

"Tying devices together is great for consumers, especially if you are an all-Apple family, and an extension of Handoff they introduced last year," Singh said. "They can sell more watches and Apple TVs this way." And the added convenience might reduce temptation to look at other products.

Code on a touchscreen

More off the beaten path but something that many developers will enjoy is being able to work directly on an iPad. "You're not going to write an entire application, but if you want to spend an afternoon out and about, instead of bringing your MacBook, [you can bring your iPad]," Adams said. "Before the only platform you could compile or write code on period was a Mac. Now you have another platform that you can run an emulator on and test code. It helps you so you're not sitting in front of your computer all day long typing on a keyboard."

"Generally, it is more proof that platforms are alive and well," said Glen Coates, founder and CEO of B2B commerce platform Handshake, "and that Apple is doing a lot to make itself even more developer-friendly. That will only continue to secure it position."

Keep an eye out for more coverage as the week continues.

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