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WWDC 2016 midpoint reactions: The good, the bad, and the unknown

Erik Sherman Journalist, Independent

Going into Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), many mobile software professionals were hoping for a number of things: more access to system-level capabilities, a significantly improved App Store, and improvement in basic development tools. Some things they got and some they didn't, according to some of the developers who have been attending or following the conference and whom TechBeacon has been speaking with. And there's a concern that some of Apple's new offerings are an attempt to effectively lock mobile developers into iOS, reducing their options for the future.

Good: VoIP and Apple Watch UI

There is a sense at WWDC that Apple is trying to pay more attention to developers, "seeing that we are the backbone of their app business," as Shuffle Ventures CEO Craig Collett said. "What really caught my interest, which relates to my business, is that they'll be allowing VoIP apps … to open up the native iOS ringer for incoming calls on the lock screen instead of having to use push notifications, which often leads to dropping incoming calls." That will increase VoIP app connection reliability. Collett called it a potential game-changer.

Part of the explanation for Apple's shift may be its shifting relationships with carriers. When there aren't heavy subsidies driving sales, the carriers don't have the leverage to insist that calls be funneled as much as possible through their networks.

Another change that made many attendees happy was the UI improvements in the Apple Watch. Independent app author Mike Smithwick thought that the changes to the Apple Watch interface were smart. "Dropping the bubble menu and the friend functionality was a smart move," he said. "I actually might start using my Watch more."

Bad: Semi-Siri support

But in some cases the enthusiasm was muted because of limitations on developers. James Hodge, co-founder of Australia-based HLS Vehicle Customisation, who is interested in hands-free control of phones while a vehicle is in motion, had been excited about Apple's opening of the Siri API, as had other developers who spoke with TechBeacon.

"Apple has defined a specific set of application types that can make use of the Siri API," Hodge said. "Essentially, if you want to write a clone of WhatsApp, Uber, Instagram, or MapMyRun, you’ll be able to use the Siri API to have users open your app and instantiate basic functions. Anyone else misses out." It's unclear what the rules are or even if some app developers might end up favored over their competitors because Siri has preferences as to which apps to call. However, Hodge was interested in a new speech-recognition API that might help work around Siri limitations.

Unknown: Xcode extensions

Wendell Adams of AB Mobile Apps noted that the Xcode integrated development environment now supports extensions. "It's going to have its own extension store," he said. Adams and other developers are wondering whether previously home-brewed extensions might no longer work. The details of distributing extensions and potentially charging for them are still unknown.

More generally, Adams saw a lot of announcements where details were hazy, with some things not likely to become clear until the new versions of the various operating systems ship. Overall, he saw a theme of Apple trying to make it easy for developers to create apps for iOS and more difficult to work with other platforms.

"All these tools are finally going to work and it will be easy and simple, but if you're going to do anything outside of the Apple ecosystem, it just got more complex for you," including cross-platform work, Adams said. That could mean more development stays single-platform as developers have the sense that they can make money more easily on iOS.

"If you're an individual developer selling some apps only on iOS, you're fine," Adams said. "If you're building an enterprise app or cross-platform app, you have more concerns."

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