11 Considerations to Update Your App for iOS 11

iOS Analysis Industry

Another WWDC keynote has come and gone. 2017 saw Apple focus on six particular areas, including announcements for the Apple TV, Apple Watch, Mac, iPad, the new HomePod, and of course, iOS 11. All of these impact the work we do at Savvy Apps, but the most significant of all is iOS 11.

As we've covered in the past, Apple gives special attention to apps that will be ready for iOS 11 by launch day. When you update your app to the latest SDK or add features from the newest version of their operating systems, you'll have a better chance of being featured in the App Store. Whether you're building a new app that can more immediately take advantage of what was announced at WWDC, you see a new feature that can help your existing app, or you simply want to do a compatibility update, here are 11 considerations for updating your app for iOS 11.

Core ML in iOS 11 Provides Machine Learning Models

Apple introduced machine learning in iOS 10 and has extended that functionality with Core ML in iOS 11. The power of Apple's approach with Core ML is that you really get to take advantage of the device's CPU and GPU. Comparatively, Google's TensorFlow was designed to run in the cloud. TensorFlow Lite, announced at Google I/O recently, runs on devices as an alternative solution. Since Apple from the start has focused on having CoreML run specifically on their devices with products like Siri, Camera, and QuickType, there may be a near-term advantage. It's all still early in the machine learning age, especially when it comes to apps.

Apple points to two main uses initially: computer vision machine learning and natural language for text analysis. The iOS 11 Vision framework uses can range from text, barcode, face, and landmark detection to object tracking and image registration. Check out additional details on integrating a Core ML model into your iOS 11 app and the NSLinguisticTagger.

ARKit in iOS 11 Offers Native Augmented Reality

The second of the two largest, new frameworks announced in iOS 11 is ARKit. ARKit will transform apps like Pokémon Go, the rage of 2016, by giving them a native augmented reality (AR) framework. Don't tune out though if you're not building an augmented reality-driven app.

AR has been found in apps long before it was more widely popularized for entertainment purposes in recent years. Yelp popularized AR with its Monocle feature way back in 2009. Monocle, which has since been refined, allows users to see restaurant review ratings overlaid directly on what is seen through a camera view. Similarly, real estate, sightseeing, or any apps that have a "real world" component can benefit from AR.

That doesn't mean that some of the more exciting uses for ARKit won't focus on games, fun, or amusement. Apple will likely discuss uses in their ARKit introductory session.

iOS 11 Further Refines iOS Visual Design Language

The least explicit of all updates at WWDC 2017 relates to the iOS visual design language. It may be one of the more important ones though and hints at what will come in future versions of iOS.

Going back to 2013, iOS 7 completely changed the interface of iOS. Generally described as being "flatter," iOS 7 focused on removing skeuomorphic attributes while adding rounded corners, a grid system, and thinner typefaces. A complaint of iOS 7 though was that it was not as accessible overall, especially for those with visual impairments or aging eyes.

With the redesign of Apple Music in iOS 10, Apple introduced a number of changes. They included larger font sizes, thicker typefaces, and more contrast. One of the largest additions for iOS 11, the all new App Store, appears to very closely follow Apple Music's styles. Apple will also release a redesigned podcast app in iOS 11 that seems to follow the same styles. Third-party apps should take note of these new design cues and ensure they understand what great app design looks like.

New iOS 11 Product Page in App Store

Apple has a useful rundown of the all-new iOS 11 App Store and completely redesigned app product page.

The product page is getting new attributes such as a subtitle that Apple says can be tested. It's not clear at this point if that testing could be done with a tool Apple would offer or just a suggestion. It's also not clear how a subtitle may or may not impact App Store Optimization, and that likely won't be known for some time.

Previously, Apple offered a single app preview, which is a clip users can watch before downloading your app. That will now increase to up to three previews. Apple must have some data that shows that app previews drive downloads. So if you haven't done app previews in the past, definitely consider adding them and check out Apple's app preview tips. On a quick related note, screenshot images remain unchanged. Remember though that the first two screenshots show in search results.

Start In-App Purchases From the App Store

Although it's related to the product page, it's worth breaking out the following change: users can now start in-app purchases from the App Store in iOS 11. In-app purchases will get their own promotional image and description. They also can be returned specifically in search results or in the new "Today," "Games," and "Apps" tabs.

Apple notes that the SKPaymentTransactionObserver method must be used for enabling in-app purchases from the App Store itself. Should a user not have your app yet, they will be prompted to download or purchase it. Don't forget about using auto-renewable subscriptions as they can better help sustain your app over time.

Use iOS 11 Business Chat to Better Engage Users

There are a number of great solutions to ensure users can immediately get answers from you. That includes knowledge bases like HelpScout or messaging platforms from Drift and Intercom. Apple is getting into this space with its "Business Chat" tool, which wasn't covered specifically during the keynote itself.

We've actually tried this feature from within Apple's own apps. This approach makes a ton of sense for Apple and follows their move to allow developers to respond to reviews earlier in 2017. What will be interesting is if Business Chat can really compete with others in the space, especially since they integrate across platforms, or if it's a more lightweight solution. At first glance it appears to support apps and the web.

One of the largest complaints with Apple's ecosystem, even today, is that businesses and developers get very little customer access. Business Chat might start to change that, but the question will be by how much. Check out Apple's WWDC session on Business Chat to learn more.

Take Another Look at iMessage Apps in iOS 11

We were excited for the new Messages framework launched in iOS 10. It had two major problems though: discoverability and usability. Apple is attempting to address both with some user experience changes in iOS 11.

The revamped "App Drawer" in the Messages app will now allow iMessage apps to be quickly accessed. With the more prominent position, it should also be easier to discover and install new iMessage apps themselves.

We're not sure if this particular change could allow sustainable standalone iMessage apps. Both iMessage apps and stickers though could definitely help with increasing user engagement for your app, so they might warrant another look. Apple has a session on what's new in iMessage apps for iOS 11 that could be worth reviewing.

iOS 11 Phased Releases for App Store Updates

A nice addition for App Store updates will be what Apple calls "phased releases." While available on other platforms, Apple has required an app update to hit all users at the same time up until now.

This change can be useful in a few ways. First, if your app has a backend, it will help ensure your server infrastructure is not impacted all at once. Second, it may help from a testing standpoint if you want to see how a feature takes with a wider audience before it is available to all users. And finally, it may be able to help from a marketing standpoint. For example, you may want to release an update to specific regions or avoid certain times. Of course that all depends on how Apple implements the feature.

Drag and Drop, Browse Files, and App Password Autofill

We previously outlined how important Size Classes are, especially for Slide Over and Split View. iOS 11 furthers this importance with support for drag and drop within UIKit, including across apps on the iPad.

iOS 11 also adds view controllers for browsing documents locally and remotely. Although there's an emphasis on iCloud documents, this appears to be able to extend support to third-party services such as Dropbox and Google Drive. See more information on adding document browsing to your iOS 11 app from Apple.

A final, nice addition worth highlighting is the extension of password autofill to apps themselves. Presumably though, you'd have to be using iCloud keychain and not third-party apps.

Concluding Note

Now that Apple's big announcements are done, it's time to really dive into the details. If Apple does its typical September release, the next several months are all you have before ensuring your app is updated for iOS 11.

At a bare minimum, ensure your app runs smoothly and does not have any compatibility issues. Push yourself though to implement one or more of these items within your iOS 11 release. If there's something you think is worth considering in this list or any more information you'd like to see added, we're listening here and on Twitter.

Ken Yarmosh is the Founder & CEO of Savvy Apps. He's the creator of more than 20 featured apps, including an Editor's Choice selection and Starbucks Pick of the Week. An O'Reilly author, Ken regularly speaks about application design & development, as well as the future of technology at outlets ranging from Bloomberg TV to Google.

You made it this far so...