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Fit iOS development tools into your app dev approach

There are pros and cons to going full bore into iOS development tools. Find out if developing natively in iOS is worth the extra cost and effort.

Apple products are now commonplace in the enterprise, especially iPhones and iPads, both of which operate on iOS. Furthermore, Apple's extended line of products -- Apple Watches, Apple TVs and Apple computers -- has made inroads into the workplace.

To fuel the fires even more, Microsoft now offers a complete line of Office apps for iOS, along with a number of other productivity tools, such as Skype for Business, Yammer, Stream and Microsoft Teams. IPhone and iPad devices also support Exchange ActiveSync for syncing email, contacts, calendars, reminders and notes.

In addition, Apple devices have access to thousands of productivity apps through the company's app store. Even though Android maintains the majority market share in consumer devices -- with its mobile OS ranging from 83% to 88% while Apple's is only 12% to 15% -- Apple's continued focus on high-quality consumer products has caused iOS to remain the predominant mobile platform in the enterprise.

A number of app development platforms help teams build both iOS and Android apps for both types of devices. Some of these platforms, such as low-code development platforms, can greatly simplify app development. Appery and GoodBarber, for example, include drag-and-drop features for quickly building mobile apps with little to no coding. That said, many of these tools come with limitations and might not fit an organization's needs.

Apple iOS development tools companies should use

To support iOS development, Apple offers a mature integrated development environment called Xcode. The latest Xcode release, 10.2, includes an SDK for iOS 12.2, along with SDKs for the other Apple OSes.

In the early days, iOS app development in Xcode was similar to traditional Mac app development -- for example, having to use XIB files to create screens. With the release of iOS 7, Xcode incorporated the storyboard, which provides a graphical interface for laying out app screens and the connections between them, helping to simplify and speed up development.

To streamline development even more, Apple introduced the Swift programming language in 2014. Before that, the only way to develop iOS and Mac apps was with Apple's implementation of Objective-C, a stable development language with roots back to 1986.

Since its release, Apple has steadily enhanced Swift, now at version 5. However, Swift still supports Objective-C interoperability, making it possible for Swift code to exist alongside existing Objective-C files in the same project. In this way, applications have access to the Objective-C API and libraries, which makes it easier for Objective-C developers to transition to Swift.

Another plus for Apple is its success in pushing out iOS updates. As of May 2019, 85% of all iOS devices were running iOS 12 within eight months of its release, while Android's Pie 9.0 OS had only 10.4% adoption in the nine months following its release. The swift iOS adoption among Apple consumers gives developers the opportunity to build new features and security patches quickly.

As with Android, companies need reliable platforms for testing iOS applications on all supported devices. Unlike the Android market, which sees hundreds of new phones every year, Apple offers only a finite number of devices, which makes them easier to test.

Publishing iOS apps for the enterprise

Apple supports two programs for distributing apps to iOS devices: Apple Developer Program and Apple Developer Enterprise Program. The Apple Developer Program costs $99 per year and provides an infrastructure for iOS app distribution through Apple's App Store. The program offers organizations software and tools to help them develop, test and distribute their apps. The program also provides them with access to OS beta releases and code-level technical support. Through this program, organizations can distribute any of their apps to the worldwide Apple customer base.

The Apple Developer Program also gives organizations access to Apple Business Manager, a tool for distributing their custom business apps privately to specific clients, partners or other targeted users. With this tool, you can offer your custom apps for free or at any appropriate price tier, as well as offer apps in volume to specific businesses and educational institutions.

The organizations you target for distribution can see and purchase your apps through the Apps and Books section of Apple Business Manager. In addition, they can use their own mobile device management (MDM) tools to distribute and manage the apps, or they can provide users with redemption codes to download the apps directly from the store.

Apple Business Manager -- and, by extension, the Apple Developer Program -- also makes it possible for you to distribute proprietary apps to your internal employees. However, if this is the only type of app distribution you plan to carry out, you might instead consider the Apple Developer Enterprise Program, with which you can distribute proprietary apps to internal employees without going through the App Store. The program costs $299 per year.

With the Apple Developer Enterprise Program, you can securely host and deploy your proprietary apps entirely in-house. The program gives you access to beta versions of iOS and the other Apple OSes, as well as to resources to help you build, test and deploy your apps, including code-level support. Throughout the deployment process, you always own and maintain your own code, and you control app distribution and maintenance, using an MDM platform.

What to watch out for

Although Apple is widely known for its consumer focus, the company has a vested interest in supporting the enterprise. Since CEO Tim Cook took over leadership of Apple, the company has increased support for enterprise tools. Still, enterprises should take into account several considerations:

  • Unlike Windows and Android, iOS does not support multiple profiles, which makes it difficult to share devices among multiple users.
  • Apple iOS developers are generally more expensive than Android developers. For this reason, organizations might consider cross-platform tools, such as Xamarin or PhoneGap, for their mobile development needs.

While Apple is the incumbent mobile device OS, Android has made important inroads into business settings. Apple must continue to innovate with a focus on the enterprise to stay in this position.

Robert Sheldon contributed to this report.

Next Steps

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