Chapter 9: The future of the iPhone operating system and future mobile computing devices – iPhone Application Development

9

The future of the iPhone operating system and future mobile computing devices

In January 2010 Apple announced the release of a new mobile computing product, the much anticipated Apple iPad. This new mobile computing device is an interesting case study in possible future directions for mobile computing. The iPad as an artifact of the possibilities for future technology is essentially a closer melding in the fabrication of devices like desktop PCs but also offer similar features in portability and quick and easy access to information. The iPad has capabilities similar to the laptop computer and the mobile phone, i.e. it is portable (242.8 mm tall and 189.7 mm wide, weighing less than 1 kg) with a large screen (9.7-inch diagonal display)1 and can be carried easily.

Devices like this are sometimes referred to as tablet computers, which have been around for some time. The integration of a variety of streamlined components from the Apple platform within a tablet computer makes for a compelling new form of media. The keynote presentation of the iPad hailed the device as ‘revolutionary’, and alternatively ‘magical’.2 Attributes of the iPad include in its array of offerings the ability to provision productivity level applications that previously had not been seen on any kind of mobile computing tool. We see the different productivity apps that had once been the domain of Apple’s laptops and desktop systems streamlined for the iPad. The productivity apps include: Pages, Apple’s word processing application for the iPad, as well as the spreadsheet software Numbers and Keynote, the presentation software for the iPad.

From the Apple Special Event video, we witness Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, seated in a leisurely recline at a couch, browsing the web with a touch-screen tablet computer. The tablet computer is running the iPhone operating system; this means that many of the functions of the iPhone (multi-touch screen, flicking through images, etc.) also are functions of the iPad device. The screen rotates as the device is moved 180 degrees much in the way that the iPhone also detects device orientation; there are interesting orientation and wayfinding affordances of this device as a result of the larger screen size; more information about the user’s position in an environment can be provisioned.

What does the iPad mean for the apps you have developed? Apple has anticipated the unease developers of iPhone apps might have if they thought that their work may somehow not be extensible to future Apple products. Your apps for the iPhone will most definitely be compatible with the iPad. When a user chooses to download any iPhone application to their iPad, the user is presented with the option either to run the application in the full iPad screen or to view the application as it would be viewed on the iPhone and iPod touch, i.e. at smaller dimension.

If you are going to start from scratch and decide to build iPad-specific apps, there are a few attributes we’ve discussed about mobile computing that will broaden your thinking and can help to sharpen the impact of the apps you develop for library use. As with other attributes of mobile computing we’ve discussed here, consider the hardware and software, and then before you develop the application consider the user tasks that will be best served by this application while at the same time attending to how your users make use of these devices in your library. It would be a sensible development strategy to have ongoing focus groups with your library users as well as observational studies that inquire into the ways they might actually want to use emerging technology in your library. There may be increased demands for WiFi access in your library if you have a library that has a user population that makes use of the iPad’s WiFi functionality. Lending iPads from your library may be something to investigate with the creation of pilot test studies. By piloting a lending program, you can decide on specific apps to load the devices with and then also think about the actual loan-ability of the device: because devices are paired with a iTunes account it may not be amenable to library lending, unless certain components of enterprise deployment are made available for your library. By enterprise deployment, I mean integration of the iPad within business-like processes – the need for login scripts, authentication tools and also integration with Microsoft Exchange services. Although these are suited to business practices, the business of the library is inclusive also of the special responsibility for maintaining a level of privacy and security of individual information. What barriers to actual loaning of personal computing tools remain will have to be ironed out by practice-oriented studies in libraries that adopt them early on.

Software

As has been the case for the past three summers (2007–2010) there will be advances in operating systems for the iPhone. The developer kit used throughout this book is the iPhone SDK 3.1 and everything you learn on this development kit will prepare you for upcoming releases of the next version. The anticipated next version, the iPhone SDK for the iPhone OS 4, will include modules for the iPad.

As we’ve seen throughout this book, the work Apple does in creating templates for developers means a great deal has already been completed for us. We don’t have to design a way to use the iPad’s larger screen. Early indications from the Xcode module allow designers to make use of iPad-only templates that effectively allow you to ‘chunk up’ the screen – what Apple designers are terming the ‘Split View Based Application’. The new releases for the Xcode module will also allow you to simulate iPad apps with an iPad simulator, much in the same way as you were able to simulate iPod touch and iPhone apps with an iPhone simulator. This should be comforting for the developer to realize that their conceptual framework for development will serve them well into future advances of the developer environment.

There are other features of significance with the iPhone OS 4: certain parts will help the device to do more, the capability for multi-tasking of apps for example. This is an attribute of the device having increasing processor speed. Not all Apple products will be able to leverage every part of the new operating system.

Another important development for the iPad in libraries is the iBooks app. This may change the world of e-book access and purchasing for libraries. The relevant licensing deals will have to be worked out, but if publishers, Apple and lending institutions can work out a system that is profitable, we may yet see the day when iBooks apps become a part of the library workflow. If the experimentation with Kindles in libraries is any indication, there will be early adopter libraries that will go forward with lending out tablet computers. We will see only slow and partial adoption if an adequate lending model is not worked out. Because the iBooks app is free and devices for mobile computing are so inherently personal computers, it remains to be seen how popular or useful the uptake of the iBooks app may be in an institutional setting like a library. It will be good for librarians to at least study the layout and use of e-book content on this device, as the interface does model shelf-like browsability – and integration with library shelf lists may be a worthwhile research experiment. It appears also that the iBook app will also find its way into the iPod touch and the iPhone – so the ubiquity of this book providing tool on Apple devices is assured.

For developers of the iPhone OS 4, it also appears that Apple is poised to offer you the ability to serve ads from within your applications. The iAd application will be included in the Developer Kit for the iPhone SDK version 4. Mobile revenue generation has been a considerable source of news since mobile technology became a popular way to access information and developers and many mobile users are still struggling with ways that make mobile advertising useful (for users) and profitable (for advertisers).

Other features of the iPad make the software for the device seem more like desktop-based computing: there are folders on the desktop of the device, allowing users a way to manage the multiple apps they might have downloaded to their device, and to download many more apps than previously possible. The move toward even more of a desktop-like experience with the iPhone operating systems also includes a ‘dock’ where apps that have been paused or are in use can be referenced quickly.

Access to software: iTunes App Store integration and the iPad

The iPad will have its own section of the iTunes App Store; an area specifically for iPad apps. Your library may want to provision apps specifically for the iPad if you can find a compelling use to deliver content specifically for the capabilities of the iPad: attributes such as screen size paired with portability and sharing. It is also useful to think about what types of library services an iPad may be able to support that an iPhone or iPod touch could not. There is a larger screen, so you might have a wish list of tools you would develop if there had been more space available on the screen to support that kind of information access. The Apple website claims that the iPad is the best way for viewing online content. In a sense you have a tablet computer with no mouse or keyboard – so if using multi-touch is the best way to engage with online content, the iPad will be one of the only devices on the market that supports engagement of this kind. Are there attributes of searching for information that especially lend themselves to touch-screen searching? Perhaps the ability to flick through information piles is a compelling use for the iPad; libraries could develop apps in which the search results were actually presented as ‘piles’ in the iPad sense, and in which users flicked through those results as a part of the iPad user experience. You can certainly build a website for the iPad, but what is it about the iPad that would make it an especially interesting experience? The use of immersive digital technologies will pair well with the iPad: features such as video and multimedia content. With regard to spaces of the library and the iPad as an object of use in the space, if there are parts of your library that are for more leisurely reading or seem to recreate a sort of home, comfy or relaxing environment, then the iPad may also be suited for that kind of space – if the use that Steve Jobs models is any indication of the relaxing, leisurely way users might want to make use of the iPad.

Hardware of the future

The iPad will feature a more broadly spaced keyboard. One of the barriers I’ve seen as I watch people use an iPod touch or an iPhone for the first time is their ability to type on a keyboard screen that they have not previously made use of. This is likely to be less of an issue for the iPad, as the iPad’s keyboard is going to look a lot more like the one we are typically accustomed to using. The iPad also resembles a giant iPhone in that there exists a home button just below the main screen. Some reviewers were not pleased with the lack of hardware such as a front facing camera, and other peripherals that are the type of hardware which Apple users have grown accustomed to.

The larger screen size means that different types of apps might now be possible – the apps that could be designed for library navigation include multiple types of presentation of maps; for example, a map of the stacks could be the main portion of the screen, while in another portion of the screen an overhead perspective of the user could be displayed. With more screen space to display library information, it makes sense to give users additional information that might help them locate collections and service points. A sort of picture within a picture screen is possible with the iPad. The use of facets to display search results could be further explored in research on information seeking with iPad devices. Facets are those tabs in our next-generation catalog systems which help library catalog users navigate into catalog search results based on topical filters.

The iPad includes WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities. Usually Bluetooth is used for device-to-device communication – you might use these for library-type games or for students to share different articles with other devices that they have come across. On the one hand, the iPad could help to make otherwise unengaged students take a greater interest in the availability of library resources. Using Bluetooth capabilities of the iPad it could be feasible to develop library positioning systems to create a library experience in which information is delivered to the iPad based on the user’s location in the stacks. The book stacks of a physical library are an area of intellectual organization which could be leveraged for other mobile apps; as an example, users could create certain filters for desired types of information they would want to receive, such as relevant digital content based upon their location. It should be mentioned that locating the user’s mobile device in the library building should always be an opt-in service for the library user and data on individuals should never be collected as a part of such a system.

What is next for mobile computing?

It is not possible to offer any sort of definitive sense of what will happen with mobile computing in the future. I had often believed that once any operating system was adopted by all devices and carriers, this may necessarily lower all barriers to greater sharing of data across computing systems and usher in easier use of mobile technologies among different computing systems. Although homogeneity across devices would make it easier to develop services for a broader range of users, there seem always to be ingenious ways that corporations find as they go about maximizing their profits in creating closed environments that ultimately stifle sharing among disparate systems. It appeared that open source or openly available operating systems could have provided more traction for widespread availability of mobile computing use, as the Android operating system seemed to indicate a move toward operating systems that were open. Although this operating system seems to be largely adaptable by other mobile phone companies, library developers remain saddled with the current dilemma of a multiplicity of existing mobile operating systems.

It may be that as mobile computers begin to resemble desktop-based systems, the latter will become more amenable to integration with mobile systems. Future computing may see users able to share data across their desktop systems and tablet systems while sharing that same information with their phone. It is the integration of mobile computing devices with the everyday computing tasks which will make for an interesting future for computing and information systems.

As an outcome of mobile design, computing systems in libraries will be left more efficient. The design for mobile can make librarians re-evaluate system extensibility, and in this way, the essential strategies of mobile app design, such as the use of extensible markup as in our XML-based apps and utilizing relational models, like the JSON arrays used in our video tour app, ensures efficiency for any kind of future computing technology. Extending abstract data across a range of devices and platforms is ultimately the underlying strategy for efficient mobile design and delivery.

Consulted

Apple iPad, http://www.apple.com/ipad/