How we converted our mobile app to iOS 7 in 7-days

ios-7-big-logo

I stumbled on it quite by accident. I was aware that the 2013 Apple WW Developer Conference was happening but I really had no intention of checking it out.  However on Monday, June 10th, I was having trouble focusing, so I decided to go ahead and join the streaming session where I caught the Jony Ive video about iOS 7 and the subsequent demo given by Apple’s VP of Engineering, Craig Federighi.

We had just released our first mobile app a few months ago in the Apple App Store.  We are preparing the Android version of our app for release and now after watching the sleek new “flattened” departure from skeuomorphism, my thought was crap, we now have yet another platform to build for.

We develop our mobile apps from a web framework.  We painstakingly create what we call “pixel perfect replicas” of the native mobile UI using HTML5, CSS3 (using LESS) and Javascript (Coffeescript actually).  We then wrap our apps in Phonegap for distribution in the App Store and Google Play.  By taking great care to optimize performance for every touch and swipe event, we create apps that truly perform and would challenge even the most hardened native-app aficionado to determine whether it’s derived from native Objective-C or HTML5.

We have both iOS and Android, smartphones and tablets, not to mention all of the different form factors found in the Android world that we are already responsible for supporting.  Now we have iOS 7, the “new look” from Apple.  We aren’t just talking about flattened icons either.  iOS 7 sports borderless buttons, translucent bars, and a full-screen layout for view controllers, as well as multitasking and Airdrop to share things with people nearby.  As per the iOS 7 UI Transition Guide: 

As you interact with the built-in apps, it becomes clear that the changes in iOS 7 are both subtle and profound. Familiar UI elements are easily recognizable but look very different. Visual touches of physicality and realism are muted and refined, while realism in motion is enhanced.

On Friday, June 14th, I was having an end of week review call with our dev team in Munich, Germany at ExcellentEasy.  They are building the mobile apps for Exuma and I am an advisor to this young mobile startup that has great promise.  I went through some agenda items on marketing and operations.  Then with almost giddy anticipation they said, “We have something to show you. We’ve mocked up your LaunchTracker app in iOS 7.” What?  iOS 7 just went beta on Monday.  Most people haven’t even had time to download Xcode 5 Beta and the new iOS 7 SDK.  

But we use a mobile framework.  We can build apps at the speed of the web.  As a matter of fact, 48-hours after the release of the iOS 7 UI Guidelines, our team built these:

iOS 7 Scroll Feature

Once they proved they could rapidly prototype the basic iOS 7 UI elements work began in earnest to create a minimum viable version of LaunchTracker with an iOS 7 look and feel.  On Monday, July 17th I was told by the team at ExcellentEasy that a build was ready for submission in the App Store.  They had converted the icons to adhere to the new iOS 7 standards whereby most have gone borderless and the icons are resizable for different screen sizes.

 iOS7 Icons

Once the team at ExcellentEasy created the new logos and finished up the build, all I needed to do was pull the latest changes to my machine and build a distribution release in Xcode 4.  Note that I did not have to use Xcode 5 or the iOS 7 SDK.  Our iOS 7 version of LaunchTracker works on iOS 6 and iOS 5 for that matter.  I tested the app running on my iPhone 5 (running iOS 6) and my original iPad (running iOS 5).  I then uploaded the app to the App Store and waiting for them to review it. 

iOS7 and iOS6 Customer Screens
iOS7 and iOS6 Ticket Screens

 

If you have ever considered building a mobile app and wondered “should I develop a native app or an HTML-based app”, the introduction of iOS 7 has just made life for native developers that much more complicated.  Our prototype iOS 7 release is far from perfect.  More iterations will be required to not only support some of what’s in the beta version of iOS 7 today but what will inevitably be released as iOS 7 in the Sept/Oct timeframe.

For a minimally viable product (MVP) the fact that our team could turn around an iOS 7 app in 7-days is pretty remarkable.  If you are interested in seeing more of what ExcellentEasy is up to check-out their blog.  Have comments or initial reactions to iOS 7 and mobile apps in general?  Please comment below.  

 

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