Apple today announced a series of enhancements to its key platforms – iOS, OS X, and the Apple Watch – as well as to its key services. The comment below may be attributed to Jan Dawson, Chief Analyst, Jackdaw Research. Jan can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 744-6244, and is on site at WWDC for in-person comment and interviews.
A major theme at today’s WWDC was increased intelligence, which is an interesting response to Google’s I/O two weeks ago. Siri, Spotlight, and other aspects of Apple’s operating systems and services are getting smarter, and better at understanding natural language queries. Though Google is arguably the leader in machine learning and artificial intelligence, Apple is showing that it’s perfectly capable of innovating in these areas too. But it’s doing it in a way that’s in keeping with its privacy stance, by keeping personal information on devices and not sharing it with third parties. The tension between getting better at showing users relevant information while preserving their privacy will be a major battleground between Apple and Google over the coming years.
For the most part, iOS and OS X are getting incremental upgrades, focusing on improvements in intelligence and proactivity. Following a big-bang release of OS X last year, the naming of this year’s OS X release as El Capitan, a mountain in Yosemite, seems symbolically appropriate. This is a stronger, better version of Yosemite rather than something entirely new. The biggest change in iOS only affects the iPad, and that’s split-screen multitasking. Apple has largely updated the iPhone and iPad versions of iOS in sync, so this is a sign that the two are starting to diverge. It’s also an important way to add real value to the iPad as a business device, as this has been a major limitation for getting certain types of work done on the iPad. Paired with a larger iPad, which might come in the next few months, this could finally be the shot in the arm the iPad needs.
The update to the Watch software will be a huge boost for third party apps on the Watch. App developers have been very limited so far in what they’ve been able to do on the Watch, and the apps available have been largely poor until now as a result. With native watch apps able to tap into the hardware features on the Watch, we should get much better and more innovative third party apps going forward. The Watch’s own software is getting better too in some significant ways, which is a rapid iteration cycle on what’s still an almost brand new device.
Apple’s Music service is Apple’s attempt to save the music industry from itself once again, just as it did in 2003 with the iTunes Store. Then, the threat was piracy, but today the threat is free music streaming services. In both cases, Apple wanted to use its muscle and skills to convince people that music was still worth paying for. That’s an uphill battle in a world where people have become accustomed not to pay for music and lots of services cater to those who want music for free. But Apple has a base of over four hundred million iPhone users, and these are also likely to be the users most likely to pay for music. Apple is also in a unique position to combine the music people already own and have on their phones with the new music they’ll discover through streaming services, and the new Music service will do this. But Apple’s new service feels like it’s targeted as much at SoundCloud and YouTube as Spotify, with its focus on allowing even undiscovered artists to connect with fans.
Overall, today’s keynote reinforced Apple’s position as the only company in consumer technology that is able to bring together all the crucial elements – hardware, software, content and communications – that people care about, in a way that’s tightly integrated and designed to work together. There was definitely some borrowing from other companies, but there was also much that was new, not least in Music and with the Watch. And much of what was announced today will be available in some way to at least some people this month.