Mobile Developer Conferences Deliver Inspiration and Innovation

Both Google and Apple developer conferences affect every member of the BigCommerce Mobile Team, albeit to different levels.

Mobile Developer Conferences Deliver Inspiration and Innovation

With Google I/O in May, followed by Apple WWDC in June, the developer conference season is now in full swing. As in many other companies, this is an exciting period for the Mobile Team at BigCommerce, where Google and Apple’s roadmaps start to influence our own design and feature roadmaps over the next several months.

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Who Is the BigCommerce Mobile Team?

Because BigCommerce develops fully native mobile apps for the Android and iOS platforms, our Mobile Team is not quite a single, monolithic group. We’re actually a team of mobile design and development experts managing two native platforms. But we’re not two distinct platform teams within an overall team, either. We review each other’s code cross-platform, we have weekly cross-platform bug bashes, and we review and develop singular overall designs making platform-specific adjustments as necessary.

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We’re also a very technology-forward team, letting user adoption rates determine how quickly we develop using the latest platform features. Fortunately, our users think like us and often upgrade quickly, which allows us to keep our minimum operating system only about one version behind the state of the art on iOS. On Android, Google regularly makes new features backwards compatible with prior versions, and we lean into that and adopt new features where we can. Not only is this more interesting and exciting to work on, but it allows us to quickly adopt new platform innovations.

Both Google and Apple developer conferences affect every member of the team, albeit to different levels. As we watched the 2022 Google I/O keynotes together, we were excited to see the new features coming to the platform and development tools. We had high expectations for the 2022 Apple WWDC keynotes as well. With both conferences now complete, we thought it would be cool to talk about what these conferences mean for the team going into the fall, when millions of users install the latest and greatest updates to their mobile devices.

Our Thoughts on Google I/O

Some of the biggest advances we saw at Google I/O this year were around developer tooling and the continued improvement and impact of machine learning across Google’s platforms.

The biggest thing that stuck out to me about Google I/O this year was how much effort they've put into machine learning and how they're using a lot of that to build more inclusive products. It's no secret that tech has had a diversity problem, which has led to a lot of bias in hardware and software development, and it's great that a tech giant like Google is putting so much work into it.
- Danielle Cushing, Senior Engineer

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I’m really excited about the improvements to tooling coming out of I/O.  It used to require a fair amount of waiting to see what your code changes would look like on a device.  Last year, the introduction of Jetpack Compose brought us better support for previewing individual views inside the IDE.  Soon, we will be able to do so without rebuilding the app each time.
- Chris Ruddell, Lead Engineer
One of the coolest things I saw at I/O was the new Google Maps immersive view. The idea of being able to see real-time 3D images of a particular location is extremely useful and greatly improves user experience and day-to-day life.
- Kymarly Henry, Engineer I

Our Thoughts on Apple WWDC

At WWDC, Apple continued to push forward in areas of user privacy, security, and related technologies, as well as evolving user experience and interface design.

Apple Wallet is becoming more and more useful over time, including the ability to store driver licenses and track shipments. It'll be interesting to see if there's any way that we can incorporate elements from the BigCommerce app into Wallet as well.
- Tina Ho, Engineer I
It seems like Apple is trying to bridge the gap between Mac and iPad by putting a lot of the same hardware in both devices and making both OSes have a closer and closer user experience, such as making multi-platform apps easier to develop and use.
- Danielle Cushing, Senior Engineer
I’m really excited by the new charting functionality.  It’s unfortunate that it will take over a year before we can use it in our app.  But it really aligns well with our roadmap, and I’m hoping it can inspire and shape our designs and work in the meantime.
- Chris Ruddell, Lead Engineer

Mobile User Experience

Because a great user experience is one of the pillars of mobile software development, the team greatly appreciated the focus on user experience and design across both platforms.

As a designer, we need to optimize a complex experience on a smaller screen, while empowering merchants when they’re on the go and busy multitasking away from their desks. So how can we offer those opportunities to get work done while away from their desks, offering the functions they need, but in a way to get something done in a few short moments? I’m loving the recent trend to tuck actions and filters, or current selections and options, into a drawer at the bottom.
- Jenn Lindeman, Senior Product Designer
One of the things I appreciate about mobile design is the way simplification of design can lead to a more intentional user experience.  Because we are limited on how much can fit on a screen, we have to put a lot of effort into distilling the salient points to which we want to direct the user.  Oftentimes on a desktop application or website, you find features are given priority over design because there’s so much room to fit stuff.  Being forced to focus on design first means we can (and must) be opinionated about what the user is focused on.
- Chris Ruddell, Lead Engineer

Over the last few years, both platforms have moved the state-of-the-art user interface design significantly forward with the adoption of declarative UI standards with SwiftUI and Jetpack Compose. Not only are these new ways to build interfaces simpler and easier to lay out with much less boilerplate, they make prototyping extremely fast and efficient on multiple device sizes and shapes.

On both platforms our team started with the previous generation of user interface SDKs, but for more than a year, we have been creating new UI in SwiftUI and Jetpack Compose, and refactoring older screens as necessary.

I really like the shift towards declarative UI for mobile development over the recent years, to the point where all the major native and cross-platform frameworks now use it. Jetpack Compose has definitely improved the efficiency and quality of our work significantly.
- Vivek Vishwanath, Engineer II

Mobile Developer Community and Conferences

While we all miss the previous developer conference in-person format and hope to get back to something like that as early as next year, it has not been lost on the BigCommerce Mobile Team just how important the availability of these conferences as free resources have been for the community. Apple and Google (as well as other major platform companies like Microsoft and Amazon) have stepped up to the challenge of this COVID-era and made software development more accessible than ever before.

I think conferences like this can significantly impact the culture and direction of software development teams. For example, if the Android codebase hadn't yet adopted Jetpack Compose, we almost certainly would have after the recent Google I/O. That's why it's important to keep these conferences free and accessible to all developers.
- Vivek Vishwanath, Engineer II
I'm a huge fan of developer conferences being available for free and the recordings being available afterwards. Even before the difficulties posed by COVID, developer conferences that had high ticket prices and required people to be on-site excluded a lot of people who didn't have the time, funds, or ability to spend a week in San Francisco to attend. With Apple's WWDC presentations in particular, I like that it's easy to go back and watch presentations from previous years and get accompanying code samples for some of them - I've made use of plenty of their previous talks when trying to learn new technologies or develop new features, and I'm sure I'll continue to do so in the future.
- Danielle Cushing, Senior Engineer
It’s great that so much content is now available for free to anyone interested.  Google I/O and WWDC offer an amazing set of workshops and talks around various software engineering concepts.  It’s much broader than mobile and worth checking out regardless of your team.
- Chris Ruddell, Lead Engineer

Parting Thoughts

The BigCommerce Engineering team works with a broad range of cutting-edge technologies across all our domains, and the Mobile Team is no exception. In fact, because of how relentlessly the mobile platforms evolve year over year, the Mobile Team is one of the most forward-looking areas of BigCommerce Engineering. Fortunately, the team also knows every spring, like clockwork, there will be two high-quality tech conferences previewing the changes and brand new technologies coming to the mobile platforms in the fall.

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It’s wonderful that during the pandemic era, both Google I/O and Apple WWDC have developed in a way that makes their content more accessible to more developers than ever before, and we don’t expect that to change. We do look forward to when both conferences start featuring an in-person element again, and once that happens, the BigCommerce Mobile Team will be there. Come say hi!

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