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Bitter Medicine

Like many others, I’ve spent the past three days reading and thinking about Apple’s announcements at WWDC. OS X Yosemite. iOS 8. Swift. HealthKit and HomeKit. Improvements to the App Store and iTunes Connect. Continuity and Handoff. Extensibility. There are so many massive, far-reaching changes ahead, digesting the news out of WWDC 2014 will take time.

A lot has been written about Apple’s newfound confidence and Craig Federighi’s presentation skills. Some say the new Apple’s got swagger. After watching the keynote twice (the live stream, which was surprisingly stable, and then in HD), I can only agree with this sentiment. Tim Cook and Craig Federighi walked on stage knowing their teams had been up to great stuff. The response from the audience speaks for itself.

In thinking about WWDC 2014 and especially iOS, I’ve realized that iOS 7 now feels like a bitter medicine – tough to swallow, but ultimately necessary. A new design with a new set of visual problems and technical bugs put a lot of stress on third-party developers, who had to drop plans they had for new apps or feature additions to focus on learning an in-flux design language and work around the SDK’s issues in just three months.

After the public launch of iOS 7, the same developers had to listen to users and refine app designs and interactions based on feedback and usage. We’ve seen third-party developers overdo iOS 7 facelifts and gradually tone them down as they became familiar with iOS 7 principles over time; as a user, I witnessed a strange combination of apps that simply exaggerated iOS 7 design ideas, apps that tried to flatten iOS 6 interfaces with poor results, and app updates that were delayed or that haven’t shipped yet. And in all this, many developers needed to justify deep rewrites and redesigns of their apps by making them paid upgrades that users didn’t fully understand. I think it’s safe to say it’s been a bumpy transition for developers. We really should give them a massive hug.

WWDC 2014 feels like relief. With the redesign out of the way, enthusiasm and excitement for new user features and major SDK changes are palpable, even without actually being at WWDC. All developers I’ve talked to over the past few days share a common thought: this year’s announcements are creating new possibilities. New technologies can empower users in new and better ways. We can’t wait to start coding.

At the peak of criticism last year, many thought that iOS 7’s redesign was a fashionable excuse – a facade – to cover the fact that Apple was running out of ideas. Instead, I now see many of Apple’s decisions with iOS 7 as functional and directly related to this year’s deep changes in iOS 8. Just to name a few: improved background refresh and a more consistent visual style will allow App Extensions to be more versatile and consistent than they would have been without iOS 7; the Today view – useful but limited – can now become an area for interactive widgets; Near Me, tested for over a year, will be integrated in a much more useful Explore section on the App Store.

The new foundation of iOS 7 was necessary to elevate iOS 8 to new levels of efficiency. iOS is moving forward, and I can’t wait to see what developers make.

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