Apple’s Developer Update Delivers Small But Useful Touches

No Giant Leap, But Lots of Improvements

Once again the Apple faithful attended or watched the company’s annual developer conference to see what it had in store. Apple’s momentum with developers is staggering. It claims to have over 13 million developers and to have shared nearly $50 billion of revenue with app makers since it launched the iPhone. It remains the preferred platform if you’re a developer who wants to make money.

Rather than any giant leaps, what we witnessed at the event in San Francisco were incremental improvements, but I’m sure they’ll prove attractive to the hundreds of millions of people that own Apple devices. There were definitely some nice enhancements to the user experience on all Apple devices, but the ones that will matter most were on the iPhone.

Apple delivered what it called “its biggest update ever” (aren’t they always?) as it previewed iOS 10. The preview covered several areas with updates to all the key applications including Maps, Music, News, Photos and even the keyboard. There were plenty of “I’d definitely use that” moments for me and it looked like a great set of updates. Little touches like improving the way notifications are delivered on the lock screen of an iPhone are a great example of this.

Importantly, Apple also continued to open up access to services like Maps, iMessage and Siri, allowing developers to integrate their own apps with these services. This is essential as Apple responds to growing competition and the requirement for deeper developer access to its apps and services. An important example is messaging: opening up iMessage to developers and lighting up new features will be a major part of holding users’ attention in the face of fearsome competition in the messaging space.

Another area where we were given a glimpse of Apple’s plans was in artificial intelligence. This, together with natural voice interfaces, is going to represent a huge area of investment and disruption in coming years and Apple needs to be in the game. However, the company is taking a very different approach to deep learning and artificial intelligence compared with its rivals. Most analysis is done on a user’s device rather than in the cloud, in line with Apple’s commitment to respect user privacy. Whether this can scale as the amount of data to be analysed grows remains to be seen, but it will be an important differentiator for some people.

Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, was an area where announcements were expected. The rumours proved correct and Siri was highlighted at several points during the conference. Personally I’m excited to see how Siri is implemented on the Mac as this could provide a whole new dimension to day-to-day work. Of course, Apple is not alone in its efforts and rival Microsoft is also investing huge amounts in integrating its voice assistant, Cortana, within Windows-powered PCs.

Another impressive demo was the ability to cut and paste information across devices. For example, you’ll be able to cut some text or a photo on your iPhone and then paste it into an e-mail on a Mac or iPad. This is a perfect example of Apple continuing to benefit from the tight control is has across all its products. It means new services and features that work across devices can easily be implemented where rivals would struggle.

Apple delivered a huge amount of information during its two-hour-long keynote session and it will probably be weeks or months before we fully understand exactly how these developments will shape Apple’s future devices and platforms. Ironically though, for most consumers it will be small touches like enhanced messaging and interactive emojis that will have the biggest impact. If they ensure people remain in love with their iPhones, Apple will be happy.

A version of this blog first appeared in City AM.