What does the iPhone 5 mean for developers?

By James Frost, iOS developer, Mubaloo

Yesterday in San Francisco, Apple unveiled its latest member of the iPhone family, the iPhone 5. Many have complained the latest update “lacks wow”, that there’s not much to it, nothing groundbreaking, but actually I think this is to do with our expectations and the hype surrounding Apple.

The actual technology used in the iPhone 5 is arguably the best on the market but because our expectations are set so high, we expect more.

What are the new features?

The iPhone 5 has a shiny, new A6 processor making it run twice as fast as the iPhone 4/S and also has a bigger 4-inch Retina display. Its ultra-slim body is now 18% thinner than the iPhone 4, as well the new device being 20% lighter than its predecessor. The iPhone 5 supports faster wireless and includes an LTE antenna ready for the launch of 4G connections in the UK.

The camera has improved low light capabilities, a panoramic mode and can now take photos while shooting video. Contrary to some of the rumours circulating technology blogs, the new iPhone is not NFC-enabled. But as Apple explains this is not without reason. In a statement to AllThingsD, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller, admitted to having doubts about NFC, questioning whether it is the solution to any of today’s problems.

According to Mr Schiller, Passbook on the other hand “does the kinds of things customers need today.” Passbook stores everything you’d usually carry in your bag, purse or wallet. Boarding passes, film tickets and loyalty cards can all be stored in Passbook, which is universally accepted, unlike NFC (contactless) payments.

What does this mean for app developers?

The iPhone 5's new display

The main change that will affect iPhone app developers and designers is the new 4-inch display. The good news is that any existing apps will continue to look and work the way they always have. Apps built for the 3.5 inch display will be “letterboxed” into the 4-inch display, in other words, the app will appear the same size with black borders each side of the app depending on its orientation. This will give developers time to work out what to do with the extra space they have to work with.

How easy it is to update an existing app to the new screen size will vary depending on the complexity of the app. For example, an app with a scrolling interface will work just as well and will display more content across the larger screen size. Other apps that have custom interfaces and are designed to specifically fit the screen of the iPhone 4 & 4S may require extra UI work. Moving forward, app designers will need to ensure user interfaces work well on both screen sizes.

Apple increased the size of the display but kept the phone the same width so it can still fit into the user’s hand. The larger screen with better contrast will now display another row of app icons and will give app designers & developers extra space to play with. Apple has already done this with some of their native apps on the iPhone 5. The new calendar app takes advantage of the 4-inch display by showing a new full week view, the mail app shows more content and users can now watch widescreen video on their iPhone 5.

Although the iPhone’s hardware updates are important for developers to consider, the iOS 6 update will bring with it an influx of new features - all of which can be used across a number of iOS devices.

Connect with James Frost on Twitter - @Frosty

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