iOS 13: Unpacking the most important new features for app developers

by: | Jun 18, 2019

As the buzz from Apple’s recent annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) starts to fade, the real work for developers begins. Given our heritage as a top app developer from the dawn of the App Store, we are especially eager each year to understand all that’s new with iOS,  from updated developer tools to all new platforms.

iOS 13, expected to be released in September, certainly doesn’t disappoint and includes a wide range of upgrades. Let’s take a look at the most important new iOS features for app developers and their companies.

iOS 13 Dark Mode

The trend toward dark screen mode has taken on a whole new level, as Apple is rolling out Dark Mode for iOS 13, following Google’s recent announcement about Android Q’s Dark theme. From a user perspective, some believe dark mode reduces eye strain. And the reduced light also reduces battery usage. But what does it mean for app developers?

Apple’s own apps (Maps, Calendar, Mail, Messages) will of course support the new mode. But external apps will also need to support it — Dark Mode doesn’t just work on all apps by default. Apps that don’t support Dark Mode won’t align with Apple’s UI guidelines. More importantly, users will likely expect their favorite apps to support it. We highly recommend any existing apps add support for Dark Mode before iOS 13 launches (September 2019) — or at a minimum, let your customers know when your app will support it.

The good news for developers: Xcode 11 includes tools that make supporting Dark Mode fairly straightforward:

  • There’s a new dynamic default “System Color.” All components using this system color will adjust dynamically when the user chooses Dark Mode.
  • If you are working with Storyboard and XIBs, Xcode 11 provides the Dark Mode preview, where you can easily check different screens in your app to see how they adjust. The simulators support Dark Mode as well.
  • Custom colors can be defined to include a Dark Mode version using the assets catalog in Xcode 11.
  • Apps using SF symbols, the new glyphs package from Apple, will include Dark Mode image versions without any additional development.

Sign In with Apple

One of the most hyped announcements from WWDC is Apple’s new single-sign-on (SSO) feature, named Sign In with Apple. Like similar features from Google and Facebook, Apple’s SSO will allow people to use their centralized Apple ID to sign in to third-party applications. It also allows users to create an anonymous email relay for a specific app for those reluctant to share personal email addresses. For apps that support it, users can also log in and sign up using their Apple ID via Touch ID or Face ID, making it a two-step authentication system. According to Apple, apps which support other third-party SSO services will be required to support Sign In with Apple as well.

As ArcTouch cofounder Adam Fingerman wrote, this is a win for user experience (UX) but it comes with a catch for app developers and businesses. App publishers that support Sign In with Apple won’t have first-party access to user’s contact information, which will limit their ability to communicate directly with their customer base.

Privacy and security

Apple has continued to prioritize user privacy, with related announcements that crossed several of its platforms and services. Among the most important privacy-related news for app developers includes:

  • App categories: In order for apps to qualify for the Kids Category, Apple made some changes to its guidelines. Among them, apps must not include links out of the app nor in-app purchasing features. Also, there can’t be in-app advertising or integrated analytics that track user behavior.
  • HomeKit Secure Video: Security apps and products that support the new HomeKit Secure Video can take advantage of on-device technology that will encrypt video before it’s sent to iCloud. For consumers, there’s an added benefit: Encrypted videos on iCloud don’t factor into any space limits and are stored for up to 10 days free.
  • Machine learning: Much of the machine learning Apple deploys in iOS 13 will be performed on the device to help keep user data private. Also, Apple is deploying “differential privacy” — meaning it adds noise in the ML model that makes it difficult for any external source to reconstruct sensitive data.
  • Location-based apps: Apps will no longer be allowed to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for location purposes without a user’s consent. For location information, users will have much more granular control over what the app can access, including a one-time location access. As in iOS 12, the system will present alerts to the user asking if a specific app can continue to use location information. However, Apple implemented a new feature where users will be able to see exactly where, on a map, your app requested your location.
  • CryptoKit: Apple introduced a new beta cryptography framework, offering a series of tools to help developers ensure app security by managing local data and server-side communication. CryptoKit is Apple’s first Swift-based cryptography framework, which means it’s a big step for developing new security modules.


Accessibility has always been an important topic, and iOS 13 is adding new features that will improve the ability of developers to deliver better mobile experiences for audiences with different disabilities.

  • Voice Control: Apps that support Voice Control will enable navigation features including zooming, swiping, typing, and text editing. Also, audio streams are encrypted so that user privacy is maintained. This feature comes in addition to all the other accessibility tools, like voice over, and should be easy for developers to integrate into their already accessible apps.
  • SwiftUI: Within SwiftUI, there’s a simplified interface that makes tapping into accessibility features straightforward. Most of the components don’t require much additional work to support — as there are assets for labels, controls, and images.
  • Accessibility Inspector app: Improvements to this tool make it easier for developers to audit their app and identify areas they need to improve in order for their apps to be truly accessible. The new Accessibility Inspector allows developers to simulate the voice-over and navigate through the app. It’ll drastically reduce the time needed to implement and meet voice-over requirements. If your app is labeled Accessible but does not conform, you’ll face the possibility of penalties and fines. (The two standards to follow: ADA Section 508, for apps built using web technologies; and WCAG 2.0 guidelines, for native apps.)

Location data

Apple has changed its requirements for how apps can gain permission to use location data from a user’s phone. All apps that require location will have to adapt to the new requirements for permission access. Users are given the choice to allow the app to use location data temporarily (“allow once”), only while in use, or not at all, as shown in this image, even if the app does require using location in the background. Apple is deferring this authorization to a later stage once users have engaged with the app more than once. In addition, even if the user provides full access, the OS will ask periodically if the app should keep using the same permission level and will include a mini-map containing all places that your app requested user location. This approach is more in line with GDPR app regulations.


Much to the delight of virtually all developers at WWDC, Apple introduced SwiftUI, a new declarative UI framework that supports all of Apple’s platforms (iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS). Like Google’s Flutter, the declarative nature of SwiftUI means that designers and developers can effectively tell the framework how they want their UI to look and it takes care of the dirty work, simplifying the code structure in the process.

SwiftUI is also the foundation for Apple’s Project Catalyst, which will enable developers to take iPad apps and publish them for macOS.

ARKit 3

Apple introduced an update to its augmented development platform ARKit — including a new framework called RealityKit and the Reality Composer app — that make it easier than ever for app developers to create AR-based experiences. Historically, developers needed 3D modeling experience and an understanding of game development technology to truly build AR experiences. But these new tools include assets and content that developers can easily plug into apps, lowering the barrier to entry for AR apps. Among the features:

  • Apple released the Motion Capture feature, which allows live capture of up to one person, enabling developers to create avatars that mimic the person on the screen.
  • RealityKit offers rendering, physics, shades, etc.
  • Reality Composer helps developers compose 3D content with a Mac or iOS with live previews.
  • People occlusion allows AR content to appear in front of and behind people, as shown (below) in the demo of Minecraft from the WWDC keynote.

Siri and Sirikit

As users are increasingly using their voices to engage with applications, app developers need to more strongly consider how to integrate Siri in iOS applications. Apple made some improvements to SiriKit in iOS 13, including:

  • The Siri Shortcuts app, from which enables apps to offer up small snippets of key information (provided the app supports SiriKit), will be built into iOS 13. Previously, users needed to download the app from the App Store.
  • Support for parameters on shortcuts is becoming more sophisticated. For example, previously a user might have been able to order an item, say “avocado toast.” But now, the user can specify the quantity of the order, e.g. “3 pieces of avocado toast.”
  • Apple introduced Neural TTS, a machine-learning text-to-speech feature that allows Siri to generate its own responses. It should lead to a more natural and friendly sounding Siri.
  • Siri Shortcuts now enables a graceful handoff between devices. For example, users could be listening to and controlling music on an iPhone but then start listening and engaging Siri on the Apple HomePod.

Is your app ready for iOS 13?

Hopefully, this post was a helpful summary of the important new features in iOS 13. We’ll be digging deeper into some of these topics in the weeks and months to come. So make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn — and subscribe to our newsletter.

And if you’re thinking about how to get your app ready for iOS 13, we’re happy to offer advice. Contact us for a free consultation.