A handy guide to what the changes in iOS 11 mean for mobile developers

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A handy guide to what the changes in iOS 11 mean for mobile developers

Apple announced its upcoming iOS 11 at its most recent WWDC event, and there's a lot to take in.

From a huge overhaul to the App Store, to the unveiling of its ARKit development framework and all the behind-the-scenes ASO changes that developers need to be aware of, it's all a little overwhelming.

Break it down

Luckily, we've broken down the major updates and changes into an easily-digestible list that should give you a better understanding of what's new and what's being removed.

So if you're not sure what's happening with the Top Grossing charts, or you're wondering how the App Store redesign is going to affect app submissions going forward, hit the link below and get reading.

Click here to view the list »
  • A redesigned App Store

    One of the biggest and most obvious changes in iOS 11 is a new look for the App Store, which focuses much more on editorial content and curation by the Apple Editors.

    We've covered the changes extensively in a seperate article, but the key parts that developers will be interested in are the new Tabs that seperate the store, and changes to how games are featured.

    The front page of the App Store will now land on the Today tab, which features articles from the Editors providing behind-the-scenes look at different games and apps each day, as well as tips and tricks, lists, and more.

    Showing off

    There will also be a Game Of The Day highlighted every day of the week, giving a new game prime real estate on the App Store each day, rather than just as a weekly refresh. And there's a Games tab for users who just want to look through playable apps.

    The App Store's search feature will also make use of these new features, so users can find stories and lists relating to their searches, which can point them towards games they might not have otherwise been looking for in the first place.

    App pages will also be beefed up, with up to three videos allowed in previews, accolades and download ranks brought to the forefront, as well as IAPs purchaseable directly from the game's page.

    The new tabs of the App Store

  • Changes to App Store optimisation

    With the shift to editorialising and manually curating the App Store, Apple is also making a few changes to App Store optimisation.

    First of all, app titles can now only be 30 characters long, though a new "subtitle" field adds another 30 characters to play with, which will be indexed alongside the title. There is also a "promotional text" field which offers 170 characters, though this likely won't be indexed.

    Descriptions can now only be updated if the app is receiving an update as well, so developers can't change their text on the fly unless they upload a new version of the app too.

    The main feature

    The shift to editorial content also means that developers will have to work harder to get featured on the front page, as the list of Featured Games visible when the App Store is first opened has been dropped in favour of a much larger link to the day's main editorial content.

    This also means that Apple has had to improve its communication systems - there's now an online form to fill in for its Promotional Inquiries, and developers are expected to get in touch six to eight weeks ahead of launch.

    Reviews are easier to leave, with one-tap ratings available to users, so developers may now spend less time needing to ask players for reviews in future, given the ease with which players can quickly rate a game.

    A full breakdown is available from ASO Stack, which very clearly explains all the changes in a helpful presentation.

  • No more top grossing charts?

    As the aforementioned ASO Stack presentation shows, Apple also appears to have removed the Top Grossing ranks from the App Store.

    While the Top Download charts remain for Free and Premium games and apps, the third column has been stripped entirely out of the App Store, which could have an interesting effect on the market.

    On the consumer-side, not a lot will change - as Jon Jordan points out, the Top Grossing chart so rarely changes that it's not particularly useful for discovery, and people looking for games can just turn to Apple's own editorial curation now.

    It could also allow some developers to hide their failings if a game isn't performing as well as they would hope, since pesky journalists won't know how a game is doing unless they tell us.

    Going blind

    But it could shatter the market intelligence industry. The Top Grossing chart is a very useful tool for determining market trends and making estimates, and if it were to go entirely, analysts would have to scramble to find new methods of gathering that data.

    And while big name developers would be able to hide their performance better, some of the smaller devs out there would also lose access to a tool that helps them judge their performance against the competition.

    Apple hasn't officially stated that the Top Grossing chart will disappear entirely. It might be added back in before iOS 11 launches properly, or it might still be made available outside of the App Store.

    But until Apple provides some confirmation on its plans, it's a nerve-wracking time to be an app intelligence firm.

  • Changes to app submissions

    With a new App Store comes new App Store Guidelines, and Apple has made an enormous amount of changes to its review process.

    There's an incredibly detailed breakdown of the changes available on iClarified, comparing every new piece of text with what it's replaced, but we're going to look at some broader strokes that will affect all developers.

    First of all, developers must keep their app or game updated regularly to avoid being removed from the App Store. They have to run on the most recent OS and any features and frameworks not supported by that OS have to be phased out through updates.

    Get in touch

    Custom review prompts in apps are being removed, and developers now have to use Apple's own review API to ask users to leave a review or rating.

    There's also some additional guidelines on responding to reviews, which ask that developers are respectful when replying and don't use the opportunity to sell users something else within the review.

    Another interesting addition is a clause explicitly stating that "apps created from a commercialised template or app generation service will be rejected," which might go some way to reducing the number of clones available on the store.

    Beyond that, most of the changes are just rewordings of existing guidelines to make them easier to understand, but the key thrust is this: keep your app up-to-date or it's getting taken off the App Store.

  • 32-bit apps are no longer supported

    As well as making sure developers are keeping their current apps regularly up-to-date, Apple appears to be going ahead with its rumoured plans to drop support for 32-bit apps.

    MacRumours notes that trying to run a 32-bit app on iOS 11 brings up an error message explaining that "the developer of this app needs to update it to work with iOS 11", and refuses to load at all.

    Alongside the new app submission guidelines, this suggests Apple will start actively removing apps and games from the App Store that don't support 64-bit, since they fall under the "not updated" category.

    Time for an update

    What this also implies is that Apple is completely dropping support for all iPhones and devices released before the iPhone 5S, which was the first to support 64-bit apps.

    This shouldn't affect any current developers – Apple ruled in June 2015 that developers must release games and apps using 64-bit architecture – so all apps beyond that point are safe.

    But if you've got any games or apps on the App Store that date back to before June 2015 that haven't been updated, it's time to either jump in and make them 64-bit compatible, or you may see them removed from the store.

  • ARKit

    Despite a slightly clumsy name, Apple's ARKit development framework looks like a very interesting addition to the world of AR development.

    It uses a combination of "Visual Inertial Odometry" to track the world and CoreMotion data to detect how a device is moving in the environment without the need for any initial calibration.

    It can also detect horizontal planes and surfaces to place objects onto, such as tables and floors, and it can detect light levels and determine how to apply lighting to objects on the screen.

    Seeing things

    ARKit can be used in cojunction with other tools as well, such as Metal, SceneKit, Unity and Unreal, giving developers the chance to make the images even sharper and more interactive.

    The caveat is that only devices running an A9 processor or better can run ARKit, meaning that devices below the iPhone 6S won't be supported if developers choose to use Apple's new AR tech.

    If you're particularly interested in making use of ARKit, there's more information, including documentation and a developer forum, available on Apple's website.

    ARKit in use

  • ...And the rest

    It would be remiss of us to not mention all the other improvements coming to iOS 11, even if they don't directly impact game developers as much as the previously mentioned changes.

    Most of the new features seem to be focused on the iPad, which makes sense given that Apple is refreshing its iPad Pro range this time around.

    Users will now have access to the Dock, a toolbar that can be called up at any time at the bottom of the screen to switch apps on the fly. Apps loaded from the Dock can also be loaded in split-screen, so users don't lose any data on the initial app.

    There's also a Drag-and-Drop feature, allowing users to move text and pictures between apps and simply drop them in, much like a home computer.

    Touch me

    The Apple Pencil is also seeing a raft of updates, including the ability to instantly write notes from the Lock Screen, markup a PDF or image and draw pictures within a block of text.

    Across iPhone and iPad, the Camera app will also see an upgrade with a new Loops feature, improved filters and the ability to take long exposure shots.

    Siri is getting beefed up with a more expressive voice, better translation functionality, improved machine learning so it can work out what you want to do before even you can, and more.

    A full list of improvements and changes is available on Apple's website.

    The iPad's split-screen function in use


Ric is the Editor of PocketGamer.biz, having started out as a Staff Writer on the site back in 2015. He received an honourable mention in both the MCV and Develop 30 Under 30 lists in 2016 and refuses to let anyone forget about it.