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WWDC 2016: an amazing experience for app developers

Jul 11, 2016

Winning the WWDC lottery was a surreal experience in late April. Without much notice from Apple, I had to plan an entire trip with flights, hotels and more in less than 40 days. Being my first time at WWDC, it was quite a daunting experience, but in the end it was worth every penny.

The headline event was the Keynote; I met up with a friend from Twitter and began queueing at 4am outside Bill Graham Auditorium to see what Tim Cook, Craig Federighi and the rest of the team had to present this year.

 

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Those who are aware of Apple know that this is the biggest event of the year for mobile app developers and fans. The line moved slowly throughout the morning until 8:30, when the doors opened and 5,000 developers poured into the auditorium. With seats close to the front and the stage in clear view, everyone was ready and waiting.

Following the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Tim Cook made an incredibly humble speech and asked that everyone participate in a one-minute silence. It was very moving to be in the room and the sentiment was genuine.

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The keynote continued with a walkthrough of watchOS 3, tvOS and macOS, leading up to iOS 10. All four platforms were a key focus for Apple; throughout the event app developers were reminded of how the platforms link together.

The releases have been covered in detail elsewhere at this point, but it was great to see how presenters came across to the room instead of watching them on a screen, as well as seeing some newer faces on stage.

For me the most exciting announcement of the keynote was watchOS 3 - a huge release for Apple Watch with increased speeds, new apps, enhanced features and developer APIs, such as the digital crown and speaker access. Having attended many watchOS 3 sessions throughout the week, it was clear that Apple wants more app developer support here.

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With the keynote over, it was time to move onto the sessions. All of these sessions were streamed live to mobile app developers around the world and are available to re-watch on Apple’s developer website.

I attended a number of sessions throughout the week, but due to the availability of these outside the conference, it didn’t feel that attending every session was an effective use of my time, especially with so many other activities going on during the week.

Let's quickly review some of the highlights of the sessions and new APIs available: 

  • SFSpeechRecognizer - This allows for on-device speech recognition, a new API with huge potential for developers.
  • 3D Touch - Peek and Pop can now have custom UI
  • iMessage Stickers - These are incredibly easy to set up; almost anyone with a set of assets can build an iMessage sticker set
  • Extensions to Notifications - Notifications can now be intercepted before display to add custom UI, such as showing live video
  • Unified local/remote notification in UserNotifications.framework
  • NSUserActivity - Can now be used for locations within Maps.app
  • UICollectionView - Prefetching cells and improvements to cell scrolling

 

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Apple arranged eye-opening lunchtime talks with influencers in the industry. One such talk was around Marvel, presented by Creative Director of Marvel Games, Bill Rosemann.

As a big Marvel fan, it was fascinating to see and hear about Bill’s comic book heroes. One particular story from Bill was a boy who couldn’t find a super hero with a hearing aid; Marvel went to great lengths to find one and ultimately created a special Marvel comic just for him. Whilst this wasn’t about apps in particular, it was hugely interesting nonetheless.

 

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The highlight talk of the week was with Haben Girma, who is an acclaimed accessibility and inclusion advocate. She is the first deaf blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School.

In her talk she spoke at length about how accessibility within apps has helped
her through a Bluetooth braille machine. Small features like VoiceOver can really improve the accessibility of an app. For the first time, Apple has uploaded lunchtime talks onto their website and this talk is a must watch.

Accessibility was a strong theme of the entire week and I think has inspired many developers to make sure that they are at least focusing on basic accessibility, like offering alternative labels to imagery. It was noted how hard it is to find accessibility apps in the App Store and that Apple actively seeks out those that go above and beyond to feature.

A new accessibility inspector in Xcode 8 allows developers to run audits on their app to find problems initially; they can tap different areas to see what users with VoiceOver will hear, which should improve the scope and quality of testing.

 

Summing up

One of the main reasons to visit WWDC is that Apple has thousands of engineers on site to answer questions. Attending labs with the engineers allows you to pinpoint any existing problems, ask questions and meet the team in person. I was able to speak to the HealthKit team about features for diabetic users, the iTunes Connect team about app review and TestFlight and the watchOS team around data loss. It was interesting to see how close the teams were - no question was too big or too small. I gained so much knowledge from the engineers, which you really can’t put a price on.

 

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As you can tell, I thought WWDC and San Francisco were incredible. It was fantastic to meet exciting new people, find out about all the new API’s, attend parties and more. I’ll be applying next year and fingers crossed I win the WWDC 2017 lottery!


Did you know that you can interact with some gym equipment using your Apple Watch?

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Learn what was revealed at WWDC 2017

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