iOS 11 is coming, and bringing machine learning with it

For developers, the time is now to focus on the high-stakes changes with iOS 11 that will have the most dramatic impact on consumers

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The iOS 11 launch is less than a month away. As iPhone users anxiously await Apple’s latest improvements, the pressure is on for developers to live up to the hype. What’s crucial in these final weeks is drilling down on the iOS updates that mark a fundamental shift in how consumers interact with mobile apps. As organizations aim to make a splash in the iOS market this September, the time is now to focus on the high-stakes changes that will have the most dramatic impact on consumers.

With new machine learning capabilities around language, location, visuals, and gaming embedded into the iOS 11 platform, AI-driven apps are on the horizon. Apple is teeing up developers to bring iOS innovation to the next level, and users will be on the lookout for these changes from the moment they update their iPhones.

With the potential for mobile apps rising, quality expectations will climb along with it. As a result, the way developers define success is evolving, and teams will have new hurdles to clear before crossing the finish line.

New criteria for success

With iOS 11’s new machine learning capabilities, developers are put in a strategic position to deliver contextual and impactful user experiences. But as usual, big rewards come with big risks.

One of iOS 11’s updates is an intelligent language capability. Typing in a different language will prompt a suggestion to update the language settings within the app, or throughout the UI entirely. If this process is flawed, the app could turn an intended convenience into a frustration.

Similarly, iOS apps will be equipped with location tracking to offer personalized recommendations and relevant search results. But this comes with risks too: if you’re looking for the nearest bank, and the app fails to recognize your location, the effort to personalize the customer experience will be met with criticism rather than praise.

To make matters even more complex, the iPhone camera is being tapped by AI. Apple’s new SmartCam feature will automatically adjust camera settings based on the situation. Whether you’re photographing a beach day, a campfire, or a snowstorm, the camera will be prepared to capture whatever scene is in front of you. In addition, Apple is embedding a barcode scanner into the camera as well, allowing users to point their phone at an object to get additional information about what it is and where it came from. Aiming the camera at an avocado in the grocery store could pull up nutrition facts and details about how far it traveled before hitting the shelves. But this new capability comes with added uncertainty about whether objects will be recognized appropriately, and whether the information shared will provide real value to the user.  

To make an impact on the gaming realm, Apple’s new GameplayKit API enables developers to use machine learning to make iOS games more sophisticated. Rather than a linear progression through levels 1, 2, 3, etc, the game will become more advanced based on the player’s unique skill level—adding a personal twist to popular smartphone games. This will undoubtedly be a crowd pleaser if developers can pull it off, but could strike a chord with gamers if the system goes awry.

Crossing the finish line

What stands between developers and delivering game-changing iOS apps comes back to one thing: testing. Quickly taking advantage of these highly anticipated capabilities means performance and security tests should be addressed sooner rather than later. To put pressure on even further, Apple is requiring developers to use the Apple API for user reviews, which limits the number of rating requests to one. In the past, apps have had free rein to solicit feedback on an ongoing basis, and this cap makes it all the more important for that lone user rating to be five stars.

Ultimately, getting that glowing app store review requires testing each new feature throughout the development cycle, across phones, tablets and environments. As always, this requires a test lab equipped with the proper devices—which have shifted since iOS 10. As I noted in my June column, the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPad Pro 10.5 will push the iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, and iPad Mini off the list of iOS 11-supported devices. Staying on top of these device changes is a crucial first step to bringing both efficiency and quality into the development process.  

Luckily, all of the new iOS 11 capabilities are in beta and available for developers to tinker with as we speak. Getting hold of the developer preview, and testing every step of the way, will validate that each new app makes a lasting impact, and will help consumers see value the moment iOS 11 hits the market.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.