App DevelopmentStrategy and Innovation

WWDC: The executive's guide to Apple's biggest announcements

Here at WillowTree, our developers and Apple fans alike have been on the edge of our seats waiting to see what new things would come our way during the 2018 Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose, California.

With expectations high and speculation rampant, WWDC had to walk a fine line in its opening keynote, led by Apple CEO Tim Cook. Instead of a few major revelations, Apple touted iterative improvements to their flagship iPhone and Mac software, along with some cool new features for their watchOS and tvOS platforms.

Here are our top five takeaways from the WWDC keynote, and what your business should be considering.

1. iOS 12: all about performance improvements

Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, took to the stage to give us our first glimpse of iOS 12. There, he made clear Apple’s commitment to improving performance across the board for all currently supported iOS hardware. He claimed that through processor throttling improvements, they have achieved major performance gains on not just newer iOS devices but on older ones as well. He touted 40% faster app launches, 50% faster keyboard display, and 70% faster camera display on the nearly 4 year old iPhone 6 Plus.

What you need to do

With iOS 12 continuing to support devices as old as the iPhone 5s, app makers will need to take increased care on delivering backwards compatibility to these older devices, making sure customer experiences of your app are as great on the iPhone 5s as on the iPhone X.

2. Siri Shortcuts

At WillowTree, we firmly believe voice is a crucial and largely untapped channel for engaging our users. Unfortunately, the ability for third party apps to integrate with Siri, Apple’s flagship voice product, has been fairly limited… until now. At WWDC, Apple introduced Siri Shortcuts, which lets apps integrate functionality directly with Siri using a custom phrase. When the user speaks the phrase to Siri, Siri lets the user access the app’s functionality right in the Siri interface. Federighi demonstrated this capability with the Tile app, which he used to create a “Find my keys” Siri Shortcut. This is a great extension of Siri’s capabilities and one brands should take advantage of in their apps right away. Food delivery apps could use Siri Shortcuts to let users set up custom orders. Video apps could use it to resume playback of a user’s watchlist. Movie theater apps could use it to let users check their tickets.

What you need to do

We believe every app can and should open up voice functionality to its users. App makers who are hoping for an easy way to get in on voice should jump at this chance to integrate directly with Siri; early adopters will have an advantage over competitors who are slower to integrate with Shortcuts.

3. Partners are getting on board with AR

At WWDC 2017, Apple introduced us to ARKit, their framework for developing augmented reality software for iOS. This year, Apple introduced some of their AR partners, who showed off their AR tooling and software experiences. Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis talked about adding support for Apple’s new portable AR file format. Then, Lego executive Martin Sanders showed off an amazing mixed reality Lego neighborhood. He and Federighi demonstrated how two users could actually play in the same AR world using ARKit’s new shared experience features. It’s tempting to dismiss augmented reality as gimmicky or impractical, but there are a lot of opportunities for AR to create delightful brand experiences.

What you need to do

We strongly believe companies and app makers should be proactive in exploring the use cases in which AR could benefit their users, but as Steve Jobs famously said, it’s important to “start with the user experience and work backwards to the technology.” AR is certainly exciting, but there won’t be clear use cases for every brand. It’s important to understand whether AR can provide actual lasting value to your customers before investing here. Still, it’s exciting to see progress and wider adoption of AR across the industry.

4. New tools for managing attention and distraction

In iOS 12, Apple is introducing some new tools that give power back to the user to protect themselves from distraction. People who want a little help managing their (or their children’s) app usage will soon have Screen Time, an app that can provide weekly app activity summaries, app time check notifications, and even app time allowances. Perhaps the most intrusive way our mobile phones distract us, however, is notifications. Fortunately for users, Apple is introducing a feature called instant notification tuning. By pressing into an app’s notification from the lock screen, a user will be able to silence or even disable notifications for that app. While this is good news for users hoping to protect their attention, it has consequences for us as app makers. We use notifications to inform users and drive engagement.

What you need to do

Brands will need to be mindful of why and how often we notify users, because soon it will be even easier for them to choose to disable an app’s notifications. Useful, meaningful notifications will outperform (and outlive) a barrage of meaningless ones.

5. watchOS keeps getting better

Apple announced a slew of new features for watchOS 5 during the keynote. While many of these center around the Apple Watch’s role as a fitness device, quite a few should be useful to a variety of watch app types. First among these features is interactive notifications. Users will be able to select custom actions right from the notification on the watch.

Another new feature that watch apps will get access to is custom shortcuts on the Siri watch face. Watch apps will also be able to play audio in the background, which is a much desired feature for any audio streaming or podcast app. Finally, watchOS apps will get access to WebKit, allowing them to render web content on the watch. It remains to be seen if web content can be useful on such a small screen, but now we’ll have the freedom to experiment.

What you need to do

In an age where our digital lives increasingly span multiple screens and devices, it’s worth investing in evaluating these new features to see if your apps could benefit from them. For developers who have yet to add Watch apps to their iOS apps, it’s worth taking note that Watch is getting more powerful. The more Apple Watch can do, the more opportunities there are for your brand to engage users there, so keep an eye on this as you revamp your digital strategy.

Stay Tuned

The WWDC 2018 Keynote was full of interesting announcements and previews of great software coming down the pike. We recommend checking out the video if you have a chance. However, this is just beginning of our conference coverage. Apple has dozens more talks scheduled this week, so we’ll have plenty of updates as WWDC 2018 rolls on.

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