With the modern workplace evolving, how are mobile app developers dealing with the shift to a more flexible work situation?

With states currently reopening in light of increasing numbers of vaccinated people, companies are already turning the concept of the hybrid workplace – staggered hours in person, but most would still work remotely – into a reality. In which case, even the software we run on our phones needs to evolve.

iOS updates

Last June 9th, Apple announced the next hybrid workplace-ready iteration of its iOS for iPhones: iOS 15. Unlike previous releases, this one enables device owners to draw boundaries when it comes to working remotely. iOS 15’s features include a status message that advises people that the individual is busy, thus warning them off before they can attempt contact. 

These new features are mostly included in a productivity app suite called Focus. Focus is composed of several apps which can help those working from home to minimize distractions. A scheduling app enables users to break their day up into work time, personal time, and rest periods. Focus also allows users to decide which apps or listed contacts can send notifications to one’s phone or other mobile device and during what time of the day. For example, you can set your phone to display messages from your employer or colleagues during business hours only, while those from family and friends can be shown during periods denoted as personal time.

Users can also set their devices to Do Not Disturb mode or be more specific with their status messages. They have options like On Deadline available to warn off those who might want to send messages, essentially advising them that, if their messages can wait, the user can be contacted at a later time.

Then there’s Live Text, a new app that lets you do more with your camera: specifically, to use it as a document scanner. With Live Text users can easily tap on any phone numbers in the image and make a call, simplifying the contact process.

But the game-changer here for Apple is the first ever expansion for its proprietary video conferencing app Facetime which has been around for over a decade. 

For the first time, Facetime will also be available for non-Apple devices, particularly for Android phones. Adjustments have also been made for media output so that users can expect improved visual and sound quality in their calls.

Google Steps It Up

Apple isn’t the only company that is rethinking its apps for the new normal. Last May, Google introduced Android 12, the latest edition of its proprietary mobile operating system. 

Unlike its precedents which many users complained about because of invasive digital tracking, Android 12 gives users more transparency with regard to any data collected by installed apps. Also, it comes with new controls to restrict these apps’ access to the user’s personal information.

One particular tool that has caught the attention of industry watchers is Google’s new privacy dashboard. Here, a timeline of which apps accessed different parts of one’s device is displayed. For example, it can show if a social media app like Facebook or Instagram accessed the camera at 10 am or if an installed weather app accesses location data as it updates throughout the day.

Another new feature is a “kill” function that keeps apps from accessing the phone’s microphone and camera. This function is seen as a boon in terms of individual privacy. It can be used in sensitive situations such as a medical or legal consultation to prevent apps from “listening in” on discussions.

All things considered, both Apple and Google are helping their customers cope with the changing times through improved functionality that helps them work remotely and set the necessary barriers to protect their privacy and personal lives.