iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite will work together seamlessly; content can pass between (Apple) devices and their users in increasingly effortless ways; developers can use extensibility to tie third-party apps deeper into system-level functions. Although it lacked a standout hardware reveal (or even a wink) the two-hour presentation showed Apple’s software engineers more deeply engaged in integration between different products, services and partners than ever before.
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There was much for the 5,000 developers in attendance (and millions more by livestream or liveblog) to be happy about. A new programming language, Swift, that can work alongside the standard Objective-C that Apple developers have used for the last 20 years, promises to make apps faster to code and faster to run. Tim Cook highlighted improvements in App Store discoverability and the new ability to sell apps in discount “bundles.” Most importantly, not only are iOS and OS X becoming more unified, but Apple has an unprecedented share of its users on the latest versions of these operating systems compared (embarrassingly) to the more popular Android and Windows platforms. The users are unified with Apple. Apple’s devices are unified with each other. Apple’s goals are well-aligned with its many partners, with which it is making common cause against Google, in particular, and now Dropbox. Facebook and Microsoft are somewhat in the role of frenemies, but more on that another time…
What caught my eye as I watched the livestream of the keynote was how much attention has been paid to iMessage in iOS 8. It should come as no surprise that Apple is expending the effort on the “most frequently used app in iOS.” The other important piece of the puzzle is the skyrocketing value of messaging apps. Snapchat turned down $3 billion, WhatsApp is taking $19 billion from Facebook, Ratuken spent almost a $billion on Viber in Japan, WeChat, owned by Tencent in China, is considered to be worth more than $billion as well. Google’s Hangouts are supposed to be a form of messaging app, but most users associate it with the live video conference function to which its name relates. Mary Meeker, in her 2014 Internet Trends presentation at the Code Conference, pointed to the new crop of messaging apps and contrasted them to more “traditional” social media apps like Facebook. She concludes that sending many messages to a few contacts (like Snapchat, WhatsApp and WeChat) is potentially more valuable than broadcasting a few messages to many contacts (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) In her terms, the “edges” are more active than the “nodes.”
Against this backdrop, it makes sense that Apple would use all of the advantages at its disposal to compete against Facebook, Snapchat, Google and the leading players in its expanding Asian markets. Apple’s main advantage is, of course, unity. To the extent that it can tie compelling features to integration with its own hardware, Apple can provide itself with a head start. Given the promise to developers of increasing the “extensibility” of third-party apps, these capabilities will also be available to outside developers to the extent they understand what they are and how to use them. Apple is famous for undocumented features and private APIs that it uses on its own apps.
The primary hardware integration Apple is introducing in iOS 8 iMessages is the “tap to talk” feature. Intuitive thumb controls that pop up from the microphone icon let you now respond to a text message with a voice or even a video message.
Apple’s Greg Joswick gave a demo of the new features. Along with being able to share voice and video messages, iMessage gives you one tap access to the details of a thread and lets you edit your participation, share your location (temporarily or indefinitely) with the other members and see all attachments consolidated in one place. All of this increases the immediacy of the app by lowering the friction of to sharing the details of the present moment. And, by the way, those audio and video messages are set to self-destruct, Snapchat-style, unless you choose to save them. And speaking of Snapchat, Joswick showed how to send a selfie message too.
Most impressive to me was a simple feature demonstrated by Joswick where the gesture of raising your iPhone to your ear plays an audio message—just like answering the phone. And the same gesture can be used to reply to an audio message. This kind of intuitive gesture will make this a very catchy feature for users.
This catchiness is the catch. All of these audio and video messages (plus good-old selfies) use up cellular data even when you are on WiFi. Perhaps Apple has found a work-around, but at present you need to have cellular data on to receive any sort of multimedia message. If you have data turned off you will not receive these messages until you turn it back on. The solution is to just leave data on, but unless you are on a (rare) unlimited data plan, this will get expensive. And the more Snapchat style fun you (and particularly your kids) have, the bigger hit you’ll take. The integration of these messages (Android now supposedly included) on to all of your other devices was demonstrated by Apple SVP Craig Federighi. When your phone is in range of your Mac or iPad, iMessages and phone calls come through on these devices as well.
All of these ways for Apple’s devices to work with each other imply to the user that they should all be turned on and working together all the time. If you have a great data plan that you can afford, great, but many users are going to be squeezed between the expectations of the software and the economic realities of the data providers. Once upon a time, AT&T and the other carriers were concerned that iMessages were taking away their SMS revenues. It would seem that Apple is paying back with interest. null
Interestingly, two of the apps that test highest in data usage by KnowMy App.org are Snapchat and Beats Music. But a sample of Snapchat usage only busted a 300 MB data plan by 198% where as Beats racked up a bone-crunching 1077%! Perhaps that’s the topic Federighi should have discussed with Dr. Dre on their WWDC chat instead of how early to show up to work.
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