About the iOS Technologies

iOS is the operating system that runs on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch devices. The operating system manages the device hardware and provides the technologies required to implement native apps. The operating system also ships with various system apps, such as Phone, Mail, and Safari, that provide standard system services to the user.

The iOS Software Development Kit (SDK) contains the tools and interfaces needed to develop, install, run, and test native apps that appear on an iOS device’s Home screen. Native apps are built using the iOS system frameworks and Objective-C language and run directly on iOS. Unlike web apps, native apps are installed physically on a device and are therefore always available to the user, even when the device is in Airplane mode. They reside next to other system apps, and both the app and any user data is synced to the user’s computer through iTunes.

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At a Glance

The iOS SDK provides the resources you need to develop native iOS apps. Understanding a little about the technologies and tools contained in the SDK can help you make better choices about how to design and implement your apps.

The iOS Architecture Is Layered

At the highest level, iOS acts as an intermediary between the underlying hardware and the apps you create. Apps do not talk to the underlying hardware directly. Instead, they communicate with the hardware through a set of well-defined system interfaces. These interfaces make it easy to write apps that work consistently on devices having different hardware capabilities.

The implementation of iOS technologies can be viewed as a set of layers, which are shown in Figure I-1. Lower layers contain fundamental services and technologies. Higher-level layers build upon the lower layers and provide more sophisticated services and technologies.

Figure I-1  Layers of iOS
Layers of iOS

As you write your code, it is recommended that you prefer the use of higher-level frameworks over lower-level frameworks whenever possible. The higher-level frameworks are there to provide object-oriented abstractions for lower-level constructs. These abstractions generally make it much easier to write code because they reduce the amount of code you have to write and encapsulate potentially complex features, such as sockets and threads. You may use lower-level frameworks and technologies, too, if they contain features not exposed by the higher-level frameworks.

The iOS Technologies Are Packaged as Frameworks

Apple delivers most of its system interfaces in special packages called frameworks. A framework is a directory that contains a dynamic shared library and the resources (such as header files, images, and helper apps) needed to support that library. To use frameworks, you add them to your app project from Xcode.

iOS and OS X Share Many of the Same Frameworks

If you’re an existing Cocoa developer, writing iOS apps should feel familiar. Many of the technologies found in OS X can also be found in iOS. The biggest differences between the two platforms occur at the user interface level but even then there are similarities in how you present and manage your app’s interface. As a result, porting apps from OS X to iOS is possible with a little bit of work.

You Use Xcode to Develop Apps

Xcode is the development environment you use to create, test, debug, and tune your apps. Xcode consists of the Xcode app, which is a wrapper for all of the other tools you need to build your apps, including Instruments and iOS Simulator. You use Xcode to write and debug your code. You run apps in iOS Simulator or directly on an attached iOS device. To measure your app’s performance, use Xcode to launch Instruments.

To develop on a device, you sign up for Apple’s paid iOS Developer program and then configure a device for development purposes. After you sign up, obtain a copy of Xcode and the iOS SDK at the iOS Dev Center

The Developer Library Is There to Help You

The iOS Developer Library is an important resource for you to use during development. The library contains API reference, programming guides, release notes, tech notes, sample code, and many other resources offering tips and guidance about the best way to create your apps.

You can access the iOS Developer Library from the Apple Developer website or from Xcode. In Xcode, choose Help > Documentation and API Reference to display the Xcode documentation window, which is the central resource for accessing information about iOS development. Use the documentation window to browse, search, and bookmark documents.

How to Use This Document

iOS Technology Overview is an introductory guide for anyone who is new to the iOS platform. It provides an overview of the technologies and tools that have an impact on the development process and provides links to relevant documents and other sources of information. You should use this document to:

This document does not provide information about user-level features that have no impact on the software development process, nor does it list the hardware capabilities of specific iOS devices. New developers should find this document useful for getting familiar with iOS. Experienced developers can use it as a road map for exploring specific technologies and development techniques.

See Also

If you’re new to iOS development, this book provides only an overview of the system. To learn more about how to develop iOS apps, you should read the following documents: