Apple

Apple put the Developer back in WWDC, and it's fantastic news for the rest of us

During its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote this year, Apple executives did something not seen in years -- focused on developers.

Apple WWDC 2014

With leak after leak related to this year's upcoming iPhone release coming out of the Far East, there's one place where Apple can still "double down on secrecy" -- software that's designed and coded in Cupertino.

Sure, there were some software leaks ahead of the keynote, but the vast majority of the announcements on Monday were surprises, including the entire third section when software head Craig Federighi laid out a number of new products and APIs aimed specifically at helping developers make better apps for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

The list is staggering.

In iOS 8, Apple has launched a number of "kits," which are sets of APIs that developers can include in their apps to take advantage of new OS features or to otherwise improve their apps. Among other things, developers will be able to build Touch ID authentication into their apps, edit photos directly within the iOS camera roll without tedious importing and management with a new service called PhotoKit, access and store health-related data via HealthKit, communicate and control connected home-based devices like thermostats and lights with HomeKit, and store and retrieve app data assets and databases with a new service called CloudKit, which aims to take the burden off server-reliant apps that can run into growing pains if they explode in popularity.

Apple has also introduced SceneKit, a high-level 3D graphics framework that includes a physics engine and particle generator, plus geometry, light, and camera controls to help animate games with realistic physics like gravity and body collisions. Additionally, the new SpriteKit framework helps create better 2D games that are more battery efficient and of higher quality than what came before.

Then there's Metal, which Apple says increases performance of high-end games by as much as 10x, depending on the task, and that could bring console-quality games to the iPhone and iPad.

Finally, Apple launched Swift, a new programming language specifically built to make the task of coding iOS and Mac apps easier. A MIT professor told the Technology Review that the barriers to entry for computer science students looking to learn how to code for iOS are gone with Swift, with more complex features like memory management and bracket notation greatly simplified.

Aside from all that, there are new extensions that allow apps to work with each other, something that's been verboten with iOS apps up until now. For example, Bing Translate can seamlessly translate web pages within Safari, or app-based photo filters can be accessed right from within the built-in Photos app. Previously, apps have been restricted to their own sandboxes -- that's great for security, but it prevents apps from working together like they do on Android.

Now, apps can share files and enable custom functionality between different apps without sacrificing security, which is something that's been sorely missing since the App Store launched in 2008.

All this might as well be a different language for the average user -- and for the journalists covering the keynote who were silent for much of the developer-focused portion. For the developers though, the people who Craig Federighi was speaking to, it was like Christmas morning.

For the rest of us, Christmas comes later this year when iOS 8 is launched to the masses and we get to see what the thousands of developers in attendance can come up with. Apple CEO Tim Cook said it was the biggest revamp to the iOS software development kit (SDK) since the launch of the App Store. That sure looks to be the case, and -- even with 75 billion apps downloaded from the App Store so far -- we're just getting started.

What announcement at WWDC 2014 were you most excited about? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

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About

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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