What iOS 6 changes for app developers

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By Kathleen De Vere Comment

The iPhone 5 reveal might have dominated coverage of Apple’s Sept. 12 press event, but for the app community, the most important news was the software. The launch of Apple’s Unique Device Identifier (UDID) replacement identifierForAdvertising (IFA) and iO6‘s deep integration of Facebook are likely to have far more impact on the iOS ecosystem.

Goodbye UDID headaches… sort of

The biggest change coming with iOS 6 is the long awaited, Apple-supplied alternative to UDIDs. The recent leak of 1 million UDIDs by hacker group AntiSec reiterated again how problematic it is for third-parties to have access to a tracking mechanism that can be easily linked back to personal information — especially if users don’t have any way to erase their data, opt out the system or block tracking.

Apple’s new alternative to the UDID is the IFA. Like UDIDs, third party analytics and advertising companies can use IFAs to follow users as they move between apps, tracking conversions and installs. However, IFAs aren’t tied directly to a user’s phone, instead they reside in the user settings menu. This means a user can reset their data and choose to opt-out of IFA tracking if they wish.

IFAs are great news for app developers since they answer to many of the privacy issues surrounding UDIDs, while keeping a universal, Apple-provided standard in place. The only issue is that IFAs only come with iOS 6, meaning older devices unable to run iOS 6 and users than don’t upgrade their iOS operating system will still be tracked via UDIDs, meaning the problematic tracking method won’t be phased out for some time to come. Developers should still be cautious.

Facebook… Facebook everywhere!

Facebook is everywhere in iO6. The social network has been entwined into the operating system in both minor ways — giving Game Center and Siri the ability to post directly to a user’s timeline for example — and major ones. Some of the most significant Facebook integrations transfer functionality from Facebook’s native app directly to iOS 6. Users can now check in to a location on Facebook from Apple’s new in-house Maps app and automatically sync Facebook information with their contact list. Even Facebook’s own camera app has been dealt a major blow by iOS 6, thanks to the ability to share photos to the social network directly from the default Camera and Photos apps.

However, what’s probably most exciting for app developers is the integration of the Like button in the App Store. The ability to like an app without leaving the App Store not only improves recommendations (stealing some of the thunder of personalized recommendation services provided by Tapjoy, Livestar and Facebook’s own App Center in the process) it integrates one of the most effective app marketing systems — word of mouth — directly into the iTunes App Store.

Apple is clearly looking to address discovery issues with iOS 6. While opening up a new viral channel likely won’t change the behavior of the large, well funded players in the industry, it will be a boon to the majority of app developers — small outfits that rely on word-of-mouth to be their primary “advertising” channel.

We asked David Edery, the CEO of fiercely independent Spry Fox what he thought of the Facebook integration in the App Store. According to Edery, Spry Fox is “psyched.” For his company, the move means their fans will have an easy way to publicly recommend their titles, bringing in new players.

“It certainly has the potential to help our business, assuming we can capitalize on it by releasing games that inspire the same sort of devotion that Triple Town does,” he says.

For companies like GREE and DeNA — the Japanese heavyweights looking to consolidate the app market into their own fiefdoms — any improvement that democratizes app discovery also takes away from the strength of their platforms. After all, if users can easily advertise an app to their Facebook friends, it means developers have one fewer reason to sign up with a third-party network that takes a portion of revenues in exchange for exposure to a third-party social network. GREE and DeNA still offer other benefits to developers, but the news is probably less welcome in their camps.