GitHub is the largest repository of open source software in the world. Everyone from Microsoft, which acquired the company last year, to Google to Walmart use it to host their open source projects. But GitHub is also the place where users report bugs, request features, and submit their own contributions to open source projects. It has wikis that developers can use to publish documentation. It has a web hosting service called Pages for content that doesn’t quite fit into the wiki mold. It even released a software framework called Electron for turning web applications into desktop applications that can run on Windows, MacOS, or Linux.
But the one thing GitHub has never had is an official mobile app. That changes today. At the GitHub Universe event in San Francisco, the company announced that it will release official Android and iOS apps that will enable developers to reply to questions from users, read bug reports, and assign issues to other developers from their phones.
The lack of official GitHub apps until now is a little surprising given that GitHub’s rise paralleled that of smartphones. Then again, a mobile app isn’t essential for its main purpose. It’s possible to write code from your phone or tablet, but for the most part software development is a job that’s still best done on a desktop or laptop. GitHub has long relied on a mobile-friendly website or third-party apps to enable developers to handle the basic tasks its new apps will now handle.
So why release mobile apps after all these years? “What changed is that we had the resources to do this the right way,” says Kelly Stirman, GitHub VP of strategy and product marketing.
GitHub didn’t just shoehorn its website into an app. The team created native applications for both Android and iOS that feature a new interface designed for touchscreens. For example, you can dismiss or interact with notifications by swiping left or right.
The mobile apps are part of a slew of new features GitHub launched since Microsoft acquired it. GitHub isn’t a project management tool per se, but developers rely on it heavily to organize their work. In the past year and a half, the company has taken several steps to make it easier to manage code on the platform.
Some are fairly small. Separate from its apps, GitHub today announced a revamped notification system that will make it possible for developers to prioritize what sorts of messages will land in the inbox or push notifications, and system that will let developers schedule “reminders” in the chat app Slack. Other new features are more ambitious, like “GitHub Actions,” a system announced last year that enables developers to actually run, not just host, certain types of code on GitHub.
GitHub CEO Nat Friedman told WIRED earlier this year that these new features don’t have much to do with Microsoft. Some, like GitHub Actions, began development before the acquisition was even announced. But having a large parent company does give GitHub more room to experiment with projects like GitHub Sponsors, a Patreon-like feature that enables you to donate money to your favorite open source projects.
Not everything has been copacetic since the acquisition, however. Last month employees learned that GitHub renewed a $200,000 contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leading to protests and the resignation of at least one GitHub employee. In a blog post responding to controversy, Friedman didn’t blame Microsoft for the decision to renew the contract. But he did write that GitHub uses “the same overarching policy framework as Microsoft” when considering the topic of government purchases. Microsoft, like many other tech companies, has also faced employee protest over its continued work with ICE and other government agencies.
New mobile apps won’t quell the ICE controversy. But, for now, the open source world still revolves around GitHub, and those apps just might make life a little easier for the developers who rely on it.
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