WWDC 2015: you know the Apple news, but what does it mean?

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I watched the introductory keynote to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC 2015) with my colleague Ed. The overall take was one of ‘is that it?’. Though it is worthwhile acknowledging that even Apple can’t do miracles all the time.

I thought that it was worthwhile picking through the announcements at WWDC 2015 to see what they mean.

With OS X, it was like some of Apple’s earlier releases like 10.2 ‘Jaguar’ which was a discernible step up in performance and stability in comparison to 10.1 ‘Puma’ or 10.6 Snow Leopard in comparison to 10.5 Leopard. It gives Apple an opportunity bed in the flat design of Yosemite, make third party application development easier and improve performance across the OS. (As an agency person, the idea of more powerful integrated development tools that would provide a better performing user experience on iOS and OS X was interesting). The name El Capitan implies a a derivative relationship to Yosemite. (Yosemite is the national park and El Capitan is a granite monolith at the north end of the park).

There has been tightening up of the interface design, which Apple’s own news releases allude to:

Mission Control®, the quickest way to view all open windows, has a cleaner design so you can find the window you need even faster.

Apple has also looked at improving internationalisation of the operating system with new Japanese and Chinese system fonts and improved keyboards. Announcements at WWDC 2015 kept building on Apple’s increasing focus on markets outside the traditional western ones. This is a trend that I expect to see continue over time with additional focus on Korean, Indian and southeast Asian markets

Part of the improvements in services like Spotlight were part of the ongoing war of attrition with Google. Pinned sites and performance improvements in Safari where aimed at Google Chrome.

At each step of the announcements Apple was at pains to emphasise its efforts in providing users with privacy. Apple genuinely believes that privacy is a point of differentiation, not just amongst developers, but also amongst consumers living in a post-Snowden world.

Preparing for a programmable world

The services put into OS X (and across iOS) try to be smarter and anticipate the needs of a user. Natural language search in Spotlight has similar aspirations to the kind of experience Facebook aimed for when it launched its Graph Search functionality in 2013.

These are baby steps to position Apple products as the front door of a programmable world, ‘a web of no web’ where device intelligence behaves as if it understands user intent like a good valet.  In the improvements of iOS 9 Apple was much more explicit in describing its aims:

Siri features an all-new design in iOS 9, contextual reminders and new ways to search photos and videos. Proactive assistance presents the most relevant information without compromising users’ privacy and suggests actions at a particular moment — even before you start typing — automatically suggesting apps to launch or people to contact based on usage patterns, and notifying you when you need to leave for appointments, taking into account traffic conditions. iOS 9 can even learn what you typically listen to in a certain location or at a particular time of day, so when you plug in headphones at the gym or hop in the car before work, it can automatically display playback controls for your preferred app.

These baby steps at WWDC 2015 towards a programmable world are important, mainly because the Apple Watch is currently a solution looking for a problem and would make much more sense in the context of a programmable world. Looking at the Apple search interface on iOS 9, Foursquare’s area exploration app looks particularly vulnerable as search seeks to recommend coffee shops and the like in the immediate area surrounding the user.

If one looks at the things Apple is doing in home automation and wireless payments it is all about producing a frictionless process needed for a programmable world to happen. And iOS and OS X hint at the next stage of trying to build in intelligence (at least in small increments). There is a tension between the privacy positioning and being useful in a programmable world which requires interaction and real time data exchange with the world around you. WWDC 2015 only hints at how that might play out.

Apple Pay

Apple Pay is most interesting when one considers it as part of a wider play by Apple to reduce the processes that act as friction in a programmable world. Despite the high profile launch, it hasn’t taken off in the US as dramatically as anticipated by pundits. It’s expansion to the UK is likely to be a steady slow burn. It will be interesting to see if Samsung’s phone payment system due in the autumn (fall for our American readers), will do a better job of moving payment technology along. The feature of being able to use your iPhone as an Oystercard substitute in an emergency on Transport for London has a certain amount of appeal that would be balanced against the likelihood of being mugged for the phone depending on which tube station you are using. My home station of Mile End is likely to be a laggard for just that reason.

The News app

The News app on iOS take direct aim at Flipboard, which is hardly surprising given Flipboard’s previous overtures to the likes of Samsung in the past, offering media access as a differentiator on the Android platform. Apple’s News Format™ challenges responsive web design and provides publishers with alternative to full-scale app development. The curation engine behind News app could be as important in the future as Techmeme, Hacker News or Google News are today – which makes it important to communications professionals as a distribution channel for coverage and own brand content. It is only like to be power news junkies who are likely to stick withn RSS readers like feed.ly or Newsblur.

Apple Music

I won’t comment on the cringeworthy Dad dancing that happened on stage, or the cliched advertisement Apple showcased. Apple Music service was a clever mastery of marketing over technology. Whilst the keynote was going on my colleague James had been persuading his mobile carrier to raise his monthly data package up to 15GB in order to cover his streaming of music. It was with this in mind that I thought about Apple’s new mobile application. It was interesting that streaming was positioned as a mobile app only thing, in stark contrast to to the likes of Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud which provide desktop streaming (which is important for the millennials that I work with).

The interface reminded me initially of the Chinese app: Doumi which goes to show that this isn’t just about Apple versus Spotify and Pandora, but Apple against a range of services throughout the world. What the K-pop and Mando-pop playlists are like will be as important as whichever ‘hottest band in the world’ Zane Lowe latches on to this week. WWDC 2015 presented a very white liberal middle class view of what good music is with the launch of Beats 1 – a clone of BBC Radio 1 FM which is available around the world for free thanks to the British TV licence fee.

The curation feature felt a bit like back to the future for iTunes which used to have artists curate their favourite songs in a playlists of tracks that you could purchase, and users like you could share lists of tracks curated around genres or ‘special moments’ as Jimmy Iovine called it, like commuting, exercising or setting a mood in your home. In the office, this curated list will have to compete with Spotify, random play on my iPod and YouTube playlists depending on how the mood catches us.

The social aspects of Apple Connect were interesting as an assault on Bandcamp, Soundcloud and a plethora of services which allow musicians to build up social and email contact databases. I am not convinced Apple will give musicians the same ability to build a listener relationship programme in the same way.

A second part of Apple Connect is if it will allow labels or brands to build profiles? In certain genres of music where the artists may have several or shifting identities, have profiles build around labels that have a certain sound or producers and remixers would be more important. Brands such as Starbucks and Battersea Dogs Home have used music curation effectively in the past as part of their marketing campaigns, will Apple Music provide a similar opportunity?

More information
Apple Announces OS X El Capitan with Refined Experience & Improved Performance | Apple Press Info
Facebook Announces Its Third Pillar “Graph Search” That Gives You Answers, Not Links Like Google | TechCrunch
In the Programmable World, All Our Objects Will Act as One | Wired
Apple Previews iOS 9 | Apple Press Info
Apple Announces News App for iPhone & iPad | Apple Press Info
Introducing Apple Music — All The Ways You Love Music. All in One Place. | Apple Press Info