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Hit the road, jack

It’s official. I’ve just returned from watching Apple announce the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. And yes, the headphone jack is gone. This is a family-friendly blog, so, I won’t say what I’m really thinking about that change. There is news for developers, however. And that news is good.

While the talk was about the new Apple Watch, and the vast improvements to the camera and audio aspects of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, applications developers did get recognized: APIs were mentioned twice. Granted, this was a product launch, not a developer seminar, but any mention of APIs in a mainstream discussion is darn good.

The first major change of note to developers is with the iPhone’s Home button. It has been completely redesigned to make it, in Apple’s words, “customizable and more responsive.” Beginning with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the Home button is now force sensitive and works with a new taptic engine to provide feedback. To accomplish that, the button is no longer the push-down/pop-up mechanical affair we’ve dealt with for the past several years. It’s all solid state. Fewer mechanical parts means fewer things to break and fewer places where water can infiltrate, helping Apple achieve an overall design goal of dust and water resistance that complies with the IP67 protection standard.

Developers can leverage the new Home button’s taptic capability through the Apple Taptic Engine API. That means, according to Apple, that third-party developers can “create new feelings and experiences,” whatever those might be. I’m not imaginative enough to conjure up how an app might use this new Home button capability, but, it’s there if you can find a use for it.

The second mention of APIs came during the presentation of several amazing new camera capabilities. In addition to supporting a wider color gamut than before, the iPhone 7 models (at last) support RAW and DNG (digital negative) formats.

JPEG is no good for serious photographic work because it is an 8-bit file format that uses the small sRGB color space and compresses the image every time it’s saved, throwing out data. RAW, on the other hand, is simply an unprocessed, uncompressed pass-through of what the camera sensor sees, essential for high-quality work. It’s usually in 16-bit format that contains 14 bits of data. And RAW doesn’t compress the vast range of colors the sensor sees into the miserably small sRGB color space. On top of that, DNG is Adobe’s attempt to place a standardized wrapper around the many hundreds of proprietary RAW formats that exist industrywide for various camera models.

That Apple is supporting RAW and DNG is thrilling to serious photographers. Even better, if you’re a developer of a photo-editing, post-processing, or special-effects app (and there are many, many hundreds of them), this is a golden opportunity to recast your application as something that’s on the leading edge of smartphone photography. Yes, indeed, Apple is opening up a whole new vista for app developers.

Curiously, not one word was said during Apple’s event about how the new iPhones function as telephones. That function seems to have been forgotten as smartphones evolve into communicators, controllers, music players, and game platforms. Yes, lots of games were demonstrated, including the arrival of Super Mario and Pokemon Go to the iPhone platform for the first time ever. If you are a game developer, the new, powerful graphics engine is right up your alley.

As for elimination of the headphone jack, I don’t like it one bit, even though there will be an audio-jack-to-Lightning adapter bundled with each phone to support legacy analog earpods and headphones. That doesn’t solve my desire to keep the device plugged into a charger and into my stereo system simultaneously. It’s partially a push to sell Apple’s new $169 wireless earpods. No one has explained to me how you’ll protect against loss if one (or both) pop out while you’re jogging.

What do you see as the app development opportunities in the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus? Have you been working with the iOS 10 SDK? Share your opinions; we’d like to hear from you.