Apple punches holes in the walled garden with iOS 8

By John Leonard
03 Jun 2014 View Comments

Apple has showcased changes to its iOS mobile operating system at its 2014 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) that open up cracks in the company's "walled garden" approach to app development.

The forthcoming iOS 8, which is due for release in the autumn, has a new extensibility feature in the SDK that allows individual apps to communicate with each other rather than existing as isolated units.

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Developers will be able to add sharing options to their apps, enabling them to share files between their application and others of their choice, rather than being restricted to those native to the operating system.

There is a new programming language too. Until now iPhone app developers have been restricted to Objective-C, but the new Swift language is promised by Apple to be faster to code and easier to learn.

Apple is also opening up its Siri virtual assistant. Developers will be able to create apps to connect to smart devices such as home lighting and heating controls.

Other changes also bring iOS closer to more open systems like Android. For example, users will be able to choose their own third-party keyboard apps and widgets, rather than having to make do with the native iOS version.

At the same time the company has brought out a new version of its native keyboard, which features contextual word prediction, learning from previous messages the user has typed into his or her device.

Apple has also taken measures to improve compatibility between devices running iOS and those using OS X, introducing widgets and apps that run natively on both the mobile and desktop operating systems. This is facilitated by the improved iCloud Drive, which now has more flexible document sync and storage features. Currently, iDrive can only store files created with Apple apps or devices. In another change, Spotlight search now integrates Microsoft's Bing instead of Google.

By allowing more cross-fertilisation in this way Apple seems to be taking a leaf out of Android's book. Rival Google's operating system is much more flexible in the way that it allows apps to interact and in the file formats that can be exchanged. However, the garden wall certainly isn't being demolished. Apple will retain strict control over the way that apps interact and its strict vetting processes remain in place.

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