As a independent developer of a small app targeting a niche audience, a new version of iOS is a mixed blessing. It is always accompanied by some fantastic new features which will inevitably make my app work better – but at the same time, there are costs associated with upgrading to make use of them. Finding the time to redesign an app from scratch to work nicely with iOS7 is no mean feat when you have a full time job as well. And then there’s that age old dilemma: do I drop support for older iOS versions and devices in order to make the most of the new features? Apple has a way of always making this decision more urgent than it would otherwise be: when the iPhone 5 came out with it’s 4″ screen, you could only target that if you were running a version of XCode that no longer supported the older armv6 devices like the original iPods and iPhones; likewise, you can’t compile arm64 code for the new iPhone 5S if your app still targets iOS5, like mine does.
But according to The Next Web, Apple has made a small but significant change to the App Store which would significantly reduce the stress involved in these decisions: users of outdated iOS versions will apparently now get the option to download older versions of an app which still supports their hardware. This has the potential to be HUGE, and we could well see a surge in developers targeting the latest features since they no longer have to worry about all of the users who will no longer be able to download their app as a result.
Well played Apple.
Update: Simon Maddox has pointed out that this can also prove to be a support nightmare, since out-of-date versions that don’t play nicely with your current APIs are now hanging around forever. But to some extent, this would have been the case anyway – I still have plenty of out-of-date apps running on my iOS5 iPad.