May 28, 2024


Technology and Computer

Apple developers are scrambling over accelerated iOS 14 release

Apple angered many in the iPhone and iPad developer community yesterday when it announced that iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 would be available to consumers today. A single day’s notice is a big departure from the company’s usual approach, where developers are given about a week’s notice to put the finishing touches on their apps ahead of the major operating system release.

The surprise comes as some iOS developers are already exasperated with the way Apple is exerting control over its App Store. Ben Thompson, Kara Swisher, and John Gruber all reported earlier this year that many are terrified about speaking up about policies they think are unfair.

Nevertheless, Apple developers have sure been vocal about the sudden iOS 14 launch.

On the face of it, the launch of iOS 14 just a day after Apple’s event is a great piece of news. Today’s release will be the first chance for most people to try iOS 14’s new bells and whistles, which include new home screen widgets, a picture-in-picture mode, and a new Translation app, to name just a few. But it wasn’t great news for iOS developers, who were left with a tight deadline to compile, test, and submit their apps in time for iOS 14’s launch day. It’s unwelcome stress for many developers, summed up so eloquently by Halide camera’s co-founder and designer Sebastiaan de With:

“I think a lot of developers won’t be sleeping tonight, or instead just give up and opt to release as and when they want to instead of alongside the new OS,” iOS developer Shihab Mehboob told me after Apple’s event. Or as another developer, Jesse Squires, put it less charitably in a blog post, “Why is Apple acting like an Asshole?

“I get how whiny this sounds, but I think this is the most negative I’ve felt after an Apple event,” Dark Noise developer Charlie Chapman tweeted. “I don’t push myself that hard, but I did do a lot of work to prepare to hit the “day one” release for iOS 14.”

“Legit probbaabbblyyy not gonna do any of that “sleeping” stuff tonight,” Christian Selig, the developer behind the Apollo Reddit app tweeted.

“A big WTF at Apple dropping iOS 14 tomorrow without giving developers any notice, or final tools to submit their apps,” developer Steve Troughton-Smith said.

To be clear, yesterday wasn’t the first time developers heard about iOS 14. Apple announced the new software back at its developer conference in June, and its first developer beta was released on the same day. Most developers will have spent the months since adding new iOS 14 features and making sure their apps are compatible with the new software.

Apple’s September iPhone event has traditionally been a crucial day for developers because it’s the day the company releases the so-called “Golden Master” (GM) versions of iOS and the Xcode developer tools. This is the same build Apple will usually release to the public “99 percent of the time,” iOS developer Rhys Morgan tells me. It’s a key milestone, and it’s the moment developers can get started on the final version of their software without worrying that something might change before its release. Apple put out the GM versions after yesterday’s event, just a day before the release of iOS 14.

iOS betas change frequently on the way to the GM release. Sometimes these changes are minor, but other times, there will be new features that get cut or others rejigged in response to bugs. One such example was posted on Twitter by developer Peter Steinberger, who noted that Apple has removed support for a new API with iOS 14’s GM release, after it appeared in the beta releases.

“So if your app had been using [the new API] or you were releasing a framework using that, all of a sudden… you can’t. That’s it, it’s gone, you’ve got to replace it,” Morgan says. The week that developers normally get between the GM release and the official release of a new version of iOS is useful for ironing out these kinds of issues.

As if the deadline looming over developers wasn’t bad enough, even once a developer has downloaded the latest development tools and recompiled their app, they have to go through Apple’s App Store approval process to make their wares available for download. This is a process that developers sometimes set aside a whole week for to allow time to address any concerns that the review process might raise. Over the past day, some developers have reported that their apps have been approved by Apple in as little as one to two hours, Morgan says, which is much faster than normal, leading to some speculation that Apple is expediting iOS 14 app approvals. However, others, like Chapman, say they’re still waiting for their apps to be approved hours later.

At least one high-profile app has warned its users not to upgrade to the latest version of iOS if they want to continue using its software. Yesterday, the official Animal Crossing Pocket Camp Twitter account confirmed that its app cannot open on devices running iOS 14. “We do not recommend you to update your device to iOS 14 until we have fixed this issue,” its tweet read.

However, the developers I spoke to said that it was unlikely we’d see piles of broken apps as iPhone owners start updating to iOS 14. They said that newer versions of iOS are generally good at running older software designed for its previous versions, and that having had access to iOS 14’s beta versions will have given developers time to prepare for any big changes that are on the way.

New iOS 14 features include support for widgets on the home screen.
Image: Apple

“I mean, we’ve had iOS 14 since WWDC. I don’t think this is going to have this mass effect where everything’s just broken on the App Store,” Halide’s de With explains. “If by now your app is in an extremely broken state on iOS 14 it would have been broken on release. I don’t think it would have been that big of an issue.”

Chapman agrees that it’s unlikely many older apps will be broken by iOS 14. “It’s frustrating, but I really don’t think that the customer experience is actually going to be that bad,” he says.

But the developers I spoke to also suggested that the tight turnaround may mean that some of iOS 14’s new features might not be widely supported on launch day. De With says that the Halide team would have “loved to” have supported iOS 14’s new home screen widgets feature on launch day, for example.

Supporting these major new features can result in big publicity boosts for smaller developers. Chapman tells me that he’d been planning for his app to support Apple’s new home screen widgets feature in the hope it would lead to press coverage on day one of iOS 14’s release, as publications round up the best apps with support for the operating system’s latest features.

For some developers, however, the changes to this year’s release schedule are more of a relief. For an app like Halide, which prides itself on supporting both the latest and greatest hardware and software features of each iPhone, this year’s delayed iPhone release makes things easier than previous years, de With tells me. The team can focus on making sure Halide works seamlessly on existing iPhones running iOS 14 for now (they expect to push a small compatibility update next week), and then build in support for whatever new camera hardware arrives with the iPhone 12 when that’s released next month.

The big question is why Apple chose to release iOS 14 today in the first place since it doesn’t have any new iPhone hardware in urgent need of a new operating system.

Morgan and Chapman tell me that Apple needed iOS 14 to be available to coincide with the release of the new Apple Watch Series 6, which runs the new watchOS 7 out of the box. Apple says the new version of watchOS requires iOS 14 for setup. However, that doesn’t explain why Apple chose to release iOS 14 today, rather than waiting until the smartwatch’s release on Friday.

In any other year, giving iOS developers a day’s notice that a new version of iOS is about to arrive might have been written off as an annoyance. But in 2020, when Apple’s App Store policies are facing an unprecedented amount of regulatory and legal scrutiny, it starts to look like an unforced error. Apple needs allies now more than ever, and policies like a new appeals process are clearly designed to address developer concerns. But its hurried iOS 14 release has done it no favors.

Apple did not return The Verge’s request for comment.