Apple’s Surprise iOS Release Caused Developer Headaches

Dan CagenDan Cagen
minute read

iOS 14 released just one day after everyone received the “golden master” copy — what will you do if this happens again?

If you’re one of the many iOS developers out there, then September 15, 2020, is a date you won’t soon forget. It started off pretty exciting: Apple announced its next major iOS update, iOS 14. But excitement quickly turned to panic when Apple announced that iOS 14 would be released the next day.

App developers were left to question: What would this mean for our apps nearing production? How could we possibly test our apps on time to ensure compatibility with the new iOS? Was there any hope to release by the next day?

Needless to say, this surprise release date caused chaos and disruption for many app developers, who are often the ones to bear the brunt of the blame if an app fails. Developers who chose to delay their app release to support iOS 14 were hit especially hard.

How It Usually Works

Normally, there’s a notification of a new public iOS release about a week in advance. A "golden master" (GM) copy of the new iOS and XCode developer tool is released so that developers can make sure the apps they’ve built for the beta release of the new iOS actually work on the final version.

Sometimes, changes from the beta to the final version cause critical bugs to appear in the app. You can only discover and fix these issues during this point in the process.

Once the developers iron out all the issues, the app’s release date can coincide with the launch of the new iOS. This gives the app a chance to appear on review sites, blog posts and tech news articles reporting the newest iOS features and the apps that take advantage of them.

The Consequences

Many developers would agree that the tight deadline imposed by the unexpected release date was impossible to meet.

For an app to work in iOS 14, it must be built with Apple’s XCode 12 GM build, which had just then been released. This meant developers were forced to download XCode 12 right away and rebuild their app using it, hoping everything would work the same as it did in the XCode beta versions.

Many developers would agree that the tight deadline imposed by the unexpected release date was impossible to meet.

If all went well there, the app still needed to make it through the submission process. App Review can take anywhere from a few hours to a day — or longer.

That leaves little margin for error. As a developer, you could do everything right and the app still might not release on time. Alternatively, if the app has unexpected bugs due to changes in the final iOS 14 release, it likely will receive negative reviews. In either scenario, your app won’t make it to any “Best of...” lists that publish around a new iOS release.

In addition, some developers were at a disadvantage time-wise as they scrambled to submit their apps, especially those in Europe and on the East Coast of the United States. The announcement happened around 2 p.m. ET/11:00 a.m. PST on Sept. 15. Developers on the West Coast of the United States had roughly half a working day to accomplish everything before iOS 14 went live, whereas developers on the East Coast had a couple hours, and developers anywhere east of the United States had no chance at all.

What’s Next?

It would be nice to think the iOS 14 release was an anomaly. But what if it’s not? It may very well be Apple’s template for future iOS announcements. While it isn’t great news, we’re not powerless. We can prepare for it by flexing up our testing processes, including for regression testing.

It would be nice to think the iOS 14 release was an anomaly. But what if it’s not?

One way to do this is to increase the flexibility and around-the-clock nature of your testing. Applause offers real-world testing with 24/7 availability to enable a company to get overnight testing results using testers sourced from a global community.

With Applause, your build is assigned to a dedicated team of vetted testers on an as-needed basis in real time. The testers on your team will be based on attributes such as devices owned, location, demographics and so on. Using the Applause interface, you can see bug reports in real time and take action right away.

So if Apple were to announce on a Tuesday in next September that iOS 15 is going to be released a day later, your Applause team could test your app as soon as you’re ready to test, and give you an opportunity to confidently release your app close to the launch of the new iOS. You might not be happy with the quick turnaround, but it’d be a less stressful night at least.

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