What iOS Version Should Developers Target?

 

Abstract

Here’s the punchline: iOS upgrades happen so damn fast that supporting the latest version shouldn’t be based on any complicated analysis of market share; just support the most recent version that you can safely develop on. Analysis done!

iOS 6 update stats

One of the reasons the Apple developer community is so awesome is that there are always fellow developers willing to share and help.

Statistics pages from David Smith and Game4Mob suggest that iOS 6 took less than a week to crack 50% share.

That’s right, the half-life of older iOS versions is a week.

Development Stability

As a general rule, I don’t like to develop for production using a beta SDK. (Things move so fast, though, that I may need to rethink this general rule.)

And I don’t like switching my development environment in the last “crunch time” of a project: keep the builds consistent is my opinion.

What this means, pragmatically, is that in the last month of development, I’m generally not going to update the SDK.

What this implies in turn is that it’s pretty much impossible for me to submit an app that requires a new iOS version until that iOS version has been publicly available for a month.

App Store Review Delays

Let’s not forget the week an app is likely to spend waiting for review. During this time, the rug is being pulled out (“forward”) from under the iOS version marketplace. If you submit an app on Day One of a new iOS version, then by the time it’s available over half of users will be able to run it!

Conclusion

This is amazing. I never collected my thoughts quite this way, but just looking at the raw reality, I have no idea why anyone would spend any time supporting an iOS version older than the current one. The only time it’s even worth a conversation is in the few days immediately following an iOS update, and then the time spent discussing it moves the window past the time where it’s worth caring about.

And although the data behind this post is derived from the first few weeks of iOS 6, each iOS version has penetrated the marketplace faster than earlier versions! This will become more compelling as time goes on.

Bob

ZibblerTrip: Speedometer & Trip Analysis

ZibblerTrip is one of our recently-revealed iOS apps. It was under wraps and in development for nearly a year before we released version 1.0.

ZibblerTrip, on its surface, is a perfectly capable GPS-based speedometer app. But the driving force behind its design is to be even more useful later, after your trip is finished.

Whether it’s a drive, a hike, or a bicycle ride, the data stored by ZibblerTrip can be analyzed after the fact. You can review your trips directly on the device, even replaying trips at 60 times the speed. (Think of it as a second in the replay equalling a minute during the actual trip.)

Mount St. Helens Hike

Mount St. Helens Hike Data

This gives you a very clear overview of what portions of the trip may have more stoplights, or maybe were surprisingly fast.

(I have surprised myself when reviewing trips to find that stretches of my commute route that felt slow were actually faster because they were not interrupted by traffic lights; and other parts that felt fast were an illusion because I was accelerating and stopping so often.)

So even the on-device post-trip analysis tools can be useful.

And ZibblerTrip 1.0 is a first cut. We will be building on this foundation for a long time yet. In the future, expect more trip analysis features on the device.

But even today, you can export trip data. You can email the raw data to yourself and import it into a spreadsheet. The GPS support offered by Apple’s iPhones (and some iPads) is really amazing in the amount of data it supplies. You can see very fine-grained speed data, elevation data, and more. A few minutes in Numbers.app or Excel and you can wring out fascinating meaning.

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile for Bike Ride

I’ve even used a spreadsheet to compare alternate routes, and I’ve found that my commute can be split into different legs that can be combined in interesting ways; I’ve also found that the optimal route to work can be different than the optimal route away from work.

Bob

ASCII Astro: an iPhone game with a retro twist

We’ve recently released a new iPhone app, and just for kicks this one is a game.

ASCII Astro

When I was younger, every time I got my hands on a new model of computer, I had to write a variant of this spaceshippy ASCII obstacle course. I think the very first iteration was on the TRS-80 Model 3 that was in my eighth-grade classroom. (I’m not sure how wise it is to be dating myself on the internet, but that’s how it went down, so there ya go.)

It was a BASIC program that printed out new lines to the bottom of the screen, while an ASCII spaceship on the top of the screen could be controlled by the arrow keys (or, for the especially ancient versions of this program, the comma and period keys). The program would PEEK the screen (ahh, PEEK and POKE, the hacker tools of the mid-80s) to see if a crash was imminent.

Variants of this program moved to my first Very Own Computer, a Commodore 64… and the Very First Computer That I Got Paid For Using, an Apple II. (I think it was actually an Apple ][.)

(Not to brag or anything, but I became familiar enough with the addresses that needed to be PEEKed and POKEd that I was able to sneak into department stores’ computer displays and enter a quick version of this program for the next customer to play. This was a favorite coming-of-age activity for those of a certain generation.)

This program never had a name, and honestly it never needed one. It was simple, fun, and if someone tripped over the power cord it was lost forever. (Unless a nerd like me wandered by again.)

Somehow I omitted a PC version, and I never got around to a Macintosh version either. But there were HP calculator versions for both the HP 42S and the HP 48 SX. (PEEK and POKE weren’t quite as exposed as they were in the olden days, though, so the program got more complicated.)

I’ve been using and developing for iOS devices for long enough that it is finally time to face the inevitable: the iPhone needs this app.

During a Clarkwood Retreat, ASCII Astro was a primary focus. The retro ASCII obstacles scrolling up were necessary, of course, but with a device as sophisticated as the iPhone, we could let the accelerometer control the spaceship.

That’s why the only instructions included in the game are these:

TILT TO AVOID OBSTACLES

That’s really all there is to it.

And that’s really a quick brain dump of how ASCII Astro finally made it to the iPhone, where I daresay it’s the most satisfying variant of this 2.5-decade-old chestnut yet.

Bob