OS X Weed and a live phone call with Dr. Dre? No, Apple isn’t supporting the second coming of The Chronic, the debut solo album of the rapper and co-founder of Apple-acquired Beats Electronics. Rather, these are just a few of the buzzed-about happenings from Monday’s keynote address at Apple’s 2014 Worldwide Developer Conference. The two-hour live streamed presentation was big on exciting offerings for software developers (the guests of honor), but it didn’t produce any new iPhones, iPads, iWatches, or Apple TVs—so perhaps the average consumer may feel a bit underwhelmed by what went down. However, if you’re a brand or marketer with digitally driven interests (that is, any brand or marketer), or you’re a creative shop or marketing firm that teams up with these companies, here are three themes that deserve a second (and third look).
The lowly push notification—the pop-up window or banner alert that apps use to interact with users outside of the app itself—has long been a source of frustration for Apple consumers because of its intrusive and incessant nature. Good news: iOS 8, Apple’s latest OS iteration, will offer the opportunity for apps to connect in more thoughtful ways.
For starters, banner alerts that appear at the top of an iPhone or iPad when in use now have the ability to be "actionable notifications," allowing a user to complete small tasks or get app benefits without actually launching the app. A Facebook friend mentions you in a post? You can "like" it within the notification, without ever having to launch the Facebook app. And brands can get in on the game, too. If the balance is getting low on a user’s Starbucks app, a single tap within the notification banner could add $20 without switching from that email they were in the middle of writing.
Also new to both iOS 8 and the OS X Yosemite (the new desktop OS X), is the ability for third-party app makers to develop widgets that will appear in the Notification Center. Developers can now offer users the ability to interact with a small, timely part of their apps—say, the latest sports scores or nearby store locations—as part of otherwise mainstream interactions with their Apple device. Engaged in an eBay auction? You can get auction alerts and up your bid within the Notification Center. Love shopping at J.Crew? The Notification Center could potentially show off the latest on-sale items, piquing your interest and sparking a stop at the store. With app usage drop-off rates a constant concern for marketers, this is just another way to offer additional utility and nudge users to come back to your main app offering.
Lastly, Apple is finally offering "extensibility"—the ability for third-party iOS apps to offer service to other apps. Without getting too technical, apps are currently housed in their own isolated sandboxes with no way to communicate with other apps on a user’s device. With iOS 8, developers can create extensions that allow an app to offer new features or services to other apps. For example, after taking a photo, a simple tap of this new feature can open a style sheet that lets a user choose from all of her photo filter apps—all without leaving the iOS native Photo app. So, building your app with native iOS or other apps in mind can be a huge boost to usability.
With over 1.2 million apps available in Apple’s App Store, it can be difficult to stand apart from the crowd. Apple is sympathetic to its own success, and has rolled out new ways for app creators to market their offerings to the 300 million store visitors each week.
First up is the ability to offer video demos of an app within its store page. Previously, app creators have relied on a set number of preview images or microsite-hosted demos in order to give users a compelling reason to download the app. This new feature brings the two together—and with a highly compelling demo video, that could make all the difference in downloads.
Also boosting interest is a new app-bundling feature. If you have created several apps with the same topic or user base, you now have the option to group them together and offer promotional pricing. If you’re a brand that just released a new gaming app but don’t want anyone to forget about the other separate but great apps that came before it, then extend the shelf life of all your apps and bundle them together for user convenience, utility, and savings.
Another seemingly small offering with much larger implications is Apple’s free offering of TestFlight, a public beta testing service. TestFlight, acquired by Apple earlier this year, offers developers the ability to open their apps up to early adopters to get feedback on bugs and user experiences. While user testing is a non-negotiable best practice for app development, this free service will open up another avenue for getting the best possible product to the people.
Two of the biggest software rumors going into WWDC turned out to be a reality: the introduction of home automation and health data collection to your Apple devices. Developers will have access to a software platform that will enable them to integrate their own "smart home" technology products and services into iOS functionality. Lights can be turned on and doors can be locked through Siri and entire action sets can be commanded at once ("Leave for work" means turn off the lights, lock the door, and open the garage).
Similarly, Apple’s Health offering is a one-stop shop for all of your curated health information—both from third-party hardware and other health apps. The hope is that the user will have all health information in one unified place but the individual apps will also be able to share data with one another and offer thoughtful interactions—a running route suggestion based on the amount of sleep you got last night, and so on.
Home and health technology companies should already have integration ideas logged on their conference room whiteboards, but the rest of us need to take a look at our business models and our target audiences to understand if there are opportunities to integrate within these two new functions in every Apple user’s wallet.
WWDC's attending software developers are headed home with developer kits in hand ready to start learning, testing, and creating in time for the fall 2014 release of both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. In the meantime, you should beta test Yosemite and get a meeting on your company’s calendar to create a strategy for your involvement with these three themes.