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What Apple's new open stance means for iOS apps

Matt Kapko | June 15, 2016
At its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple this week empowered third-party developers to further integrate their apps with native iOS software. The changes should have significant impact behind the scenes of iOS and on iPhone users' screens.

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple plans to give developers new access to some of its most popular apps and features, an unprecedented deviation for the company that will markedly change the user experience of the platform. This week at the company's 27th annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple opened access to the "crown jewels" of iOS  through a series of new APIs for Siri, iMessage and Maps, according to Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy

It is notable any time Apple relinquishes even a little control of its operating system, and with the release of iOS 10, which is expected in the fall, Apple will shift away from its isolationist tendencies and put the future of its most widely used native iOS apps in the hands of third-party developers. The strategic shift is also in line with similar efforts underway at Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

"This signifies something of a shift at Apple from favoring its own first-party apps and services to trying to create the best possible experience in functions like Siri, Maps or iMessage," says Jan Dawson, chief analyst and founder of tech research firm Jackdaw. "Just as Apple had to make a strategic shift from the first iPhone to creating the App Store, it's now opening up the rest of the iPhone to third-parties, and that should prompt a flourishing of new forms of value creation around the iPhone." 

Apple breathes new life into already-thriving iOS ecosystem

The iPhone ecosystem will likely become stronger as a result of these changes according to Dawson. Apple has already moved toward openness in a number of ways recently, but the company will take a "big step further" down that path when it eases many controls that were previously untouchable for third-parties, Dawson says. Apple hopes the change will also attract more developers to its platform, though iOS is already very popular among developers. 

"[Apple's] developer community has never been more vibrant. We now have 13 million developers" who contributed two million apps to the App Store, said CEO Tim Cook during the WWDC keynote address. Those apps were downloaded 130 million times, and Apple paid almost $50 billion directly to developers during the last eight years, according to Cook. 

Apple wants many more developers (and would-be developers) to join the iOS ecosystem, so it's aiming to make its development tools easier to use. The company is trying to make coding less intimidating with the release of a new, free iPad app called "Swift Playgrounds" that teaches beginners how to code. The app includes real iOS APIs, step-by-step lessons and detailed coding sessions. Swift, the open-source programming language Apple released in 2014, has already been used to develop more than 100,000 apps, according to Apple, and the company hopes Swift Playgrounds will "profoundly impact the way kids learn to code," Cook said.


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