NO IWATCH. NO IPHONE 6. NO NEW MACS ... FAIL ? As I was filing out of Moscone West's Presidio together with 5000-something other Apple devs I must admit to feeling a certain amount of dread because there were no new hardware announcements. The press & Wall Street sure expected new products today. But all Apple gave was a big nope.
Right now two questions are going through my head: Is Apple still relevant & cutting-edge for users? For developers?
Let's start with the consumer-side. Is Apple still leading here? All of the consumer-facing changes we saw today can be described as evolutionary, not revolutionary. iCloud drive is a reponse to Dropbox. Extensions & inter-app communication are responses to features Android's had for ages. Others address annoyances that should have been solved ages ago, e.g. Family Sharing. Even the new Messages app is just catching up to WeChat/Whatsapp with the voice responses.
So what's new? In one word: integration or what Apple calls "Continuity". Apple's idea of a multi-device world is distinctly NOT "Compile once, run everywhere". Continuity is about using the right device at the right moment. It's about being able to start something like writing an email on one device and finishing it on the other.
A big part of continuity is integration with third-party apps & services. A great example of this Spotlight. It is now front & center on your Mac's screen & offers deep integration with web services like Yelp, OpenTable, Apple's iTunes store & more. The problem with integration of third-party web services is that it's a finnicky problem to solve: lots of edge cases & failure modes. Apple has a pretty poor track record with web services so I'm taking a wait-and-see approach on this one. But it sure is ambitious.
Where I do believe Apple can absolutely shine is continuity within their own ecosystem. Lots of good signs here: Handoff, Airdrop, the iCloud drive. A few years ago when Apple removed "Computer" from its company name people assumed it was because Apple suddenly was going to be all about mobile. Today Apple is more than mobile or desktop. Apple truly is a platform ecosystem: Hardware, Software & Services. And as Apple likes to point out: only they can do this.
Raising your phone to your ear to respond to a voice message is a neat trick of hardware & software integration. But Apple's platform ecosystem is about more than these kinds of neat usability tricks: it's about trust.
Can consumers trust Microsoft to deliver apps that won't infest their computer with malware? Would you trust Facebook with your fingerprint data? What about health data? Would you trust Google to run something like HealthKit?
Apple has already built up a good reputation with their strongly curated AppStore & today Apple pointed out again and again how seriously they take security & privacy. TouchID fingerprints don't leave the chip in the device. The new smart keyboard word predictions are done on the device, not in the cloud. And since Apple is not in the advertising business there's no inherent conflict of interest the likes of Facebook and Google are suffering from. Given Apple's ambition to tackle extremely sensitive areas like health (Healthkit), home security (HomeKit) & Authentication (TouchID API) I sure hope this trust is not misplaced.
Can Apple still deliver in the consumer space? They surely paint a wonderful picture with this beautifully integrated ecosystem. Now let's see if they can actually deliver on their continuity promises. I kinda fear they're biting off more than they can chew.
So what about the developer? Is Apple still leading the way for developers? Hell yeah! A new programming language, a REPL, closures, 4000 new APIs, TestFlight integration, a better AppStore & most importantly a solid userbase of people willing to pay for your apps.
OSX Mavericks has 40 million users & more importantly over 50% of users tend to upgrade to the latest system within a year. To contrast this: less than 14% of Windows users have upgraded to Win8 years after the initial release.
Similarly reassuring words on the IOS side: 75 Billion apps, that's about 10 apps per human on this planet. 130 Million users & some users are coming back to Apple from Android: in China 50% of users are switching to IOS after being first exposed to Android.
Tim Cook's keynote quip "I do read your emails" pretty much sums up this year's announcements for devs. A lot of "finally" reactions in the audience as they roll out long-needed updates (Testflight, a better AppStore, iCloud Drive, 3rd-party keyboards). Sometimes it takes a while but eventually our suggestions do make it into the products.
The new Swift language brings long-needed modern programming language mechanisms found in "scripting" languages like JS, Ruby or Python to apps for iPad, iPhone & OSX. By taking out the Objective-C requirement Apple just opened up development to a lot more people. No more brackets.
So what about them APIs? Apple is clearly betting on the ecosystem strategy, so lots of annoucements here. HomeKit, CloudKit, HealthKit, the TouchID API : they're all about integration. Lots of Sherlocking here: I'm sure anyone providing development services in the PaaS, app analytics & single-sign-on space will have some sleepless nights. These are some of the services I use for app development that I probably won't be using anymore pretty soon: App Distribution (TestFlight, HockeyApp), Analytics (Flurry), Debugging (Crashlytics), PaaS (Parse.com).
It has never been easier to develop apps for Apple's ecosystem: Apple takes care of everything from account management to backend services. But there's a catch: you're tying yourself to the Apple ecosystem. Obviously no talk about making services like iCloud compatible with Android.
Apple announced a lot of juicy news for developers today, reflected by the fact that they split up the keynote in three main topics: OSX, IOS & DEV. If they wanted to convince developers that being part of the Apple ecosystem is a good idea then they sure succeeded. No iWatch? No iPhone 6? No new Macs? Who cares, we have plenty of interesting things in the ecosystem we can target right now.
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