Apple’s 2014 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) and Google I/O, the yearly conference for Android developers, both occurred within a month of each other. These two conferences have recently defined the latest trends in the mobile world. As usual, there were many announcements. The three biggest were Android L, Swift and iOS 8.
When Apple introduced iOS 7, the developer and review communities focused on the flat design. There were numerous discussions about how to implement flat design and its implications. In keeping with the fashion, Android L also features a flat design. What is most noteworthy is that previously Google considered the UI design something that phone manufactures would own while Google contented itself with providing suggestions. But with Android L, Google is taking more ownership of the user experience. In the long run, this should make it easier for users to upgrade their devices to the latest Android version, eliminating the fragmentation that has been a significant issue for Android developers.
Apple introducing Swift was framed as a way to bring iOS (and MacOS) programming into the 21st century. Objective-C–the language used for MacOS since the introduction of MacOS X and for iOS programming since the first public API was released–is showing its age. Apple has been adding modern features to Objective-C, such as dot notation, for several years to lower the learning curve. The changes have helped, but there is still a supply/demand imbalance for iOS programmers. I believe Apple’s thought is that Swift, being more like Java and Python, will have a lower learning curve, leading to a greater number of programmers using it.
Both Apple and Google announced APIs to allow their systems to work with cars–Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto. Automotive industry observers have noted that both APIs are very similar; if a car supports one interface, adding the second is minor effort. So, cars will certainly support both CarPlay and Android Auto.
Both Apple and Google also announced fitness/health APIs–Apple’s HealthKit and Google Fit. They offer similar features. Google also announced a significant push into the wearable market with Android Wear.
A major strength of Google has been its making available documents, photos, etc., across multiple devices. Yes, Apple has its iCloud, but Google has remained significantly ahead. At WWDC, Apple announced CloudKit and several other technologies, such as Continuity and AirDrop, to allow users to access their data seamlessly from multiple devices. Mac computers will soon also support phone calls, and soon users may even start a call on one device and continue it on another.
There were several other Apple announcements: Finally allowing customizable keyboards, something Android has supported for many versions; pushing dynamic type to allow the user to customize their screen display; family sharing to allow the joint use of purchased mobile applications; and HomeKit, an API for home automation.
Meanwhile, BlackBerry has decided to focus on the enterprise but is losing market share even in this niche as Apple and Google make their systems more enterprise friendly. Adding to its difficulty is the agreement between IBM and Apple to create and market enterprise apps for the iPad. It will be seen if IBM can craft effective mobile apps.
While Apple and Google are duking it out in phones, Microsoft is trying to generate interest in its Surface tablet by positioning it as a laptop replacement and offering a significant discount to trade in a MacBook Air. This announcement was received with bewilderment.
The IBM-Apple agreement could help push iOS further into the enterprise area. This will make life significantly more difficult for both Blackberry and Microsoft. I am seeing a reluctance to use Android devices in Enterprise environments due to concerns about security. Google will certainly be addressing this in the future.