Apple’s foray into fragmentation

Two weeks ago, the 9th September brought us Apple’s much-anticipated Special Event, and to no-one’s surprise both the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch were announced. Alongside the iPhone 6 was the also-rumoured iPhone 6 Plus, and it’s here that Apple has stepped away from its norm in adding a third and fourth iPhone display size for iOS developers and mobile designers to worry about, and that’s without taking into account the two extra iPad screen sizes.

Why four, you ask? According to Localytics, 43% of iPhones in the US (the stats for the UK are difficult to track down, so we’ll assume a rough parity with our North Atlantic neighbours) are either an iPhone 4 or a 4S. With less than half of those planning to upgrade (according to Forbes), that still leaves a sizeable slice of Apple’s market on the older, 3.5” display.

While the screen sizes diverge, Apple continues in its strength of making sure that as many users as possible are on the latest version of iOS. This almost exacerbates the mixture of displays, as the 3.5″ 4S will be getting the upgrade to iOS 8, along with its larger namesakes. So one cannot just target the latest version of iOS and cut out the smaller display. Interestingly though, a little bit of divergence has also crept into iOS, with the iPhone 6 Plus able to use the home screens in landscape. Nothing major I’m sure you’ll agree, but it’s again a slight departure from Apple’s standard way of working.

Completely at the opposite end of the change scale however, is Swift. A brand-new programming language built specifically for iOS and OS X development. Not only is it a new language – which always comes with a learning curve – it’s a world apart from Objective-C, which makes the transition a little less than smooth. Add in the fact that the language changed a lot through its beta stages – and is likely to look quite different again in version 2.0 – it’s likely there will be a whole spectrum of projects using various levels of integration between Swift and Objective-C.

It would be remiss to discuss any level of fragmentation in the mobile space without referring to Android – the undisputed king of fragmentation. Given the Android device with the largest market share is the Samsung Galaxy SIII – with 6.3% of the Android market – and the sheer number of different manufacturers making Android-powered phones (and the customisations they put on the OS), Apple doesn’t even register on the fragmentation scale. Even having two sizes of the Apple Watch seems insignificant compared to the variations of smartwatches in the Android space.

Speaking of Android – and Apple executives have certainly made comments about its fragmentation in the past – it shouldn’t be said that what Apple has done is necessarily a bad thing. Allowing the use of both Swift and Objective-C in the same project means a developer can choose the best fit for a given problem. Having multiple screen sizes really makes you think both as a designer and a developer, and you build more intelligent and more architecturally interesting layouts as a result. Such things can definitely help you hone your software engineering skills.

Whatever happens next, I would say it’s an exciting time to be an iOS developer.