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360iDev Denver: Matt Drance on the past and future of iOS development


This week's 360iDev conference in Denver, CO kicked off today with a keynote from former Apple employee Matt Drance, who offered a summary of what's changed (and what hasn't) since the last time he spoke to this conference two years ago. He also discussed the attitudes developers need to take this platform on successfully.

Drance started out by saying that, quite obviously, "it's been a hell of a couple years" for both Apple and the iOS platform. Back in the early days of the iPhone, Steve Jobs said Apple hoped to sell 10 million devices, and to date, Apple has actually put 220 million devices out there (as of July of this past year). Drance was very enthusiastic about the platform -- he says that back when John Doerr said that the iOS platform was "bigger than the personal computer," even he, as an Apple employee thought, "I don't know, John. I'm paid to pump this stuff, and even I think that's a bit much." But Doerr was right, said Drance. The portability and power of iOS and the devices Apple has made transcends even what the personal computer was able to achieve, and it's only going to get even more influential from here on out.

Drance also made the point, however, that some things haven't changed in the past few years. While the app landscape and individual app quality are both very different, the general system of making and releasing apps hasn't changed that much. And that's pretty amazing, said Drance, because not only is Apple supporting developers, it's still putting them front and center in commercials for iOS devices. This is one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world, said Drance, and Apple is using developers' work (by showing third-party apps its TV commercials) to sell their extremely popular devices. "Apple never puts its reputation in other people's hands," said Drance. "But they're still doing it" by showing off developers' apps, a tablet, and a pair of hands in the official commercials.

Finally, Drance walked through a series of entreaties for the developers in attendance, which he said were designed to help them get in the right mindset of the conference. He walked through the general needs of an app (appearance, interaction, stability, performance), and then said while designers tend to work on an app's appearance and interaction, and developers tend to deal with stability and performance, in actuality, everyone working on an app or any piece of software should be concerned with quality across the board. Drance encouraged teams to share concerns with each other whenever questions of quality came up. "It's not about winning the argument," he said, "it's about having one."

Drance also suggested developers start out with a plan and stick to it, and remain organized to do so. He shared a quick story of a sprinkler system issue in his yard, and showed pictures he took after digging up the pipes and finding a mess of criss-crossing and tangled PVC. "There are no comments here," he joked, nabbing a big laugh from a roomful of developers. But Drance said the lesson was to go for quality in everything, on every level of development.

Finally, Drance asked the devs in attendance to keep moving forward, both in terms of the apps they're working on ("Ship" was one of his directives) and in their own skillsets. "Learn the language," he said, pointing out that being well-versed in Objective-C was the same as having a solid grasp on French or even English. Apple's own code doesn't use methods like "ApplicationLaunched" -- iOS uses a method called "ApplicationDidFinishLaunching," which Drance said reflected how even Apple approaches its own language.

Drance's talk was an excellent start to the week. TUAW will be here in Denver all week long covering the conference and the developers attending it -- stay tuned for more.

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