Today at WWDC, Apple announced upgrades to the software on every device they sell – from Watch to TV. You can find good summaries of the facts all over the web (e.g., here), but I find myself thinking about what the announcements tell us about what’s going on inside Apple. Here’s what I read between the lines:
Apple really wants you to keep using their first party apps and services. Apple is now in an interesting position where they must fear user engagement wandering away from their properties. There’s a real danger of losing control over key experiences. You can especially see this in iMessage (keep up with Whatsapp and others), photos (keep up with Facebook and Google Photos), Music (keep up with Spotify) and Maps (keep up with Google).
They are opening up all over in response to competition. Under Steve Jobs, Apple avoided letting 3rd parties into the platform wherever possible. Now 3rd parties can extend/modify/mess with many core experiences, from the keyboard to Siri to iCloud to the lock screen. While this has lots of opportunity, it also enables 3rd parties to screw up the experience as with the many lousy keyboards I can install. I think they are doing this under developer competitive pressures from Android and Amazon.
Apple knows they must continue to keep up with Android. It’s not quite fair to say they stole features, but in many cases they imitated android, in others Google and Apple stole from the same source (e.g. Whatsapp). Some years back, it was always Android imitating Apple features, but now there’s a lot of give-and-take in different areas.
Apple is waking up to their vulnerability in machine learning. You can see this in the new photos features, but also in the renewed attention they are paying to Siri after years of neglect. They should be worried. Google is both ahead and is vastly more potent here both in terms of technology and data. It’s unclear if Apple can keep up.
Apple hasn’t given up on the Mac. Even as they beef up iPad productivity, the Mac OS team keeps innovating. I was surprised to see they’ve even invented a new file system, and I’ve done some clever iCloud work. They also continue to invest in reasons for iPhone users to buy a Mac with continuity features.
They keep driving to tie all the devices and services together. While their devices all run different operating systems, they are working with features like universal clipboard and continuity to bring scenarios and developers together across them. This work has shown limited payoff so far, but they keep trying.
They’ll keep plugging on TV and watch. But none of the announcements are really breakthrough or will drive additional demand for these devices.
They’re driving to keep users current. The iOS and macOS upgrades are incremental, but will probably drive existing users to upgrade as they have just enough sizzle to be interesting.
It’s an interesting time to watch Apple (and other tech companies) as they enter a new era where growth is harder to come by, Mobile is saturating, and new categories aren’t driving a revolution yet. Yesterday showed how Apple is working to tend their garden, retain users, and fend off increasingly tough competitive pressures.