360|iDev 2016: It's Not Just iPhones Anymore

August 29, 2016 / Ben DiFrancesco

Last week marked my second time attending 360|iDev and my first time speaking. It was an absolute pleasure to do both, and as usual I feel like my head is still spinning from all the cool stuff I learned and awesome people I met. As such, it's worth taking a minute to reflect on the week and what I took from it.

Side Note: if you’re interested in my talk, it was about building a_compiler_ in Swift for a simple language called Bitsy!

Last year, there was a clear theme that stuck out at the conference: that the Cocoa community was wrestling with the introduction of Swift. While the evolution and adoption of Swift continues to impact our community, this year it felt less central. In fact, as many changes as Swift has undergone, it feels like only one drop in a sea of new, shiny things contending for Cocoa developers’ attention.

Take a second and think about all the changes our community has seen since the last 360|iDev. From the introduction of a new platform (tvOS), to the rethinking of an older one...twice (watchOS). From new device capabilities (force touch) to new devices themselves (the iPad Pro). From big community milestones (CocoaPods 1.0) to big community shocks (the shuttering of Parse). It's been a busy year, and that’s before you mention the open sourcing of Swift, or the myriad of new APIs in iOS 10 or, well….you get the picture.

The sheer volume of stuff an “iOS” developer is exposed to today is staggering. This was reflected in the conference itself. There were talks about an incredible range of technologies that went well beyond making simple apps: simulations, compilers, ray tracers, neural nets, drones, and scientific computing- to name just a handful. There were “soft” talks focused on indies, sure, but also about development in big teams and for big businesses, and everything in between.

All of this can seem overwhelming and sometimes leave us nostalgic for “simpler times,” but at an event like 360|iDev, it becomes clear these are just the signs of a healthy ecosystem. I met developers working at every size company, including scrappy startups, tech behemoths, traditional Fortune 500 companies, and huge enterprise consulting firms. Of course, my fellow indies and small dev shops were also well represented.

For all the signs it’s harder than ever to make a living in the App Store, it’s certainly a good time to be making a living as an app developer, and that’s precisely because our platform has grown far beyond simple, consumer facing phone apps.

This year, my one big takeaway is that there isn’t one big takeaway, and that’s ok. It means as Cocoa developers we have a myriad of opportunities, interesting problems, and fascinating technologies to explore. This platform has opened far more doors than I would have guessed when I started tinkering with the iPhone SDK a few short years ago.

So, in the coming weeks, as we’re weeping over build errors left by the Swift 3 migrator, or scrambling to get the latest iOS 10 features into our next release, we should remember to take a breath, put things in perspective, and be grateful we have such “problems” to deal with at all!