The two leading mobile smartphone operating systems, iOS and Android, have just been revised to allow developers to create new kinds of apps. Apple released iOS 5 Oct. 12 in conjunction with the debut of its iPhone 4S. Google introduced Android 4.0, otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich, Oct. 19, along with a phone that will ship with the operating system, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
Each mobile OS offers its own set of worthwhile improvements. Android 4.0 is arguably a more significant update in terms the degree to which it improves the platform, but iOS 5 has plenty to offer as well.
Both updates include a long list of changes and additions. Apple claims iOS 5 has over 200 new user features and over 1,500 new APIs. Google doesn't provide an ingredient count for its Ice Cream Sandwich but its latest version of Android is ambitious and compelling.
[Compare user features in these two new mobile platforms in Android 4.0 Vs. iOS 5 Faceoff.]
Following are a few highlights on the features that developers will want to look at immediately.
Apple iOS 5
Cloud API -- Apple now allows third-party developers to create applications that store data and backup data in iCloud. This makes using the same app on different iOS devices more convenient--application files don't have to be transferred from one's iPhone to one's iPad, for example. It also reduces the risk of losing data if a device is lost.
Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) -- ARC is a new capability that makes it easier to manage memory in an application. Users don't notice good memory management. But they notice when it's bad and an application crashes. If ARC can reduce crashes, then it's going to be widely welcomed by developers.
Storyboards -- Storyboards is a new iOS 5 feature that simplifies the process of creating apps with multiple menu screens. Users won't notice the presence of this feature, but iOS developers will if they're making an app with a lot of screens. The Storyboard feature looks like it will make development faster in some cases.
Newsstand Support -- Publishers that want to sell content through Apple's Newsstand app will welcome the fact that developers can now write Newsstand-enabled apps. It remains to be seen how many publishers relish the idea of surrendering 30% of their revenue to have their content offered through Newsstand, particularly in light of the HTML5 apps developed by the likes of the Financial Times to circumvent Apple's toll booth.
Better AirPlay -- AirPlay allows iOS devices to stream audio and video content to AirPlay-compatible TV and audio equipment. iOS 5 adds the ability to allow apps to mirror iPad 2 content on a nearby Apple TV device. This makes purchasing or renting iTunes video content using an iPad 2 far more appealing.
Core Image Framework -- This set of APIs gives app developers a set of non-destructive filters that can be used to manipulate video and still images. The framework supports various filter effects like color changes, gradients, and transformations, as well as face and feature detection. These filters use both CPU and CPU processing power, so they're fast.
GLKit -- GLKit is a set of APIs designed to make OpenGL ES 2.0 apps--apps with accelerated graphics--easier to build. Suffice to say that faster is better as far as graphics are concerned.
Twitter Framework -- This framework handles Twitter user authentication and makes it easy to integrate Twitter messaging into apps.
Message UI Framework -- This framework has been updated to add support for iMessages, text messaging that can be sent between iOS devices without incurring carrier text messaging charges.