Every year, the latest iteration of iOS gets described as the most radical leap forward yet. iOS 7 was billed as “the most significant iOS update since the original iPhone”. Yesterday's iOS 8 update was, rather contradictorily, “the biggest release since the launch of the App Store” – but this time, it seems like Apple might really meant it.
There are plenty of major additions on their way this autumn – the Health app, the HomeKit SDK for connected home devices, cross-platform sharing with iCloud Drive, and many more – but the thing that stuck out most was the shift in Apple's attitude to third parties.
Compared to the fairly open ecosystem of Android, iOS has always been a walled garden, but that looks set to change, at least a little. iOS 8 will finally support third-party keyboards, something that the likes of Swype and SwiftKey have already capitalised on with the announcement of iOS apps, while iOS developers will be able to support virtual currencies in-app for the first time, potentially opening the door to the likes of Bitcoin.
“What struck me most was Apple's relentless focus on developers to help them target more mobile moments,” says Forrester analyst Ted Schadler. “A better development language and testing environment, a huge number of new APIs, opening up core capabilities such as Touch ID and predictive typing to developers' apps, and new baseline functionality to aid in health and sensor-driven applications.
“By focusing on developers, Apple is selling the message that the future has 10m apps, not just the million-plus that are in the App Store today.”
Aggregation and integration
HealthKit and HomeKit enable partners such as Nike, with its FuelBand activity tracker, and Philips, which offers Hue smart lighting, to plug their systems into the Apple ecosystem – and no doubt boost the adoption of those devices as a result.
“The problems with connected home technology so far have been around compatibility and understanding how it can all be enabled,” says Dana Tobak, managing director of Hyperoptic. “Using an iPhone as the remote control makes perfect sense and is a sensible extension of the Apple ecosystem.
“Apple has an excellent track record in bringing early adopter technology to the masses. Once connecting devices in the home becomes easy and intuitive, then home automation will quickly become the norm.”
Bringing a variety of wearable and connected home technologies under one roof (no pun intended) will help reduce the fragmentation that is already weighing down both markets. But it's worth remembering that Apple will own that roof – and presumably give it access to all the user data gathered within.
“Cars; health; home; billing details; music, film, TV and book preferences; plus potential shopping habits through iBeacon and Touch ID,” says James Chandler, global mobile director at Mindshare. “That makes for a very powerful ecosystem, all underpinned by a single Apple ID. Not many platforms will be able to rival it.”
It's not just Apple that stands to benefit from this, as Carat's head of innovation Matthew Knight points out:
"Yet again, marketers have an opportunity to leverage contextual data and discover opportunities to provide better experiences to consumers at more meaningful and relevant moments, not to be intrusive, but intelligent, subtle, useful and valuable. But we must resist the temptation to simply see ‘another advertising channel’.
"Consideration of where you can interact with consumers in a meaningful way to add value to their day, rather than spotting interruptive opportunities, is critical.”
From techies to grannies
In the space of a single announcement, Apple has moved into two brand new markets. Not only that, but by inviting a host of partners and third parties along too, the company has essentially matched all the legwork done by Google with the development of Glass and Android Wear and its acquisition of Nest Labs, a smart home company which was notably missing from the HomeKit partners announcement.
Apple's own comparison between yesterday's iOS 8 announcement and the 2008 launch of the App Store is an apt one. That was the first time the iPhone was opened to third-party developers, and it transformed the device into a digital Swiss army knife with an app for every situation, and a must-have for techies and grannies alike. With iOS 8, Apple seems to be making a similar play for users' health and homes.
Want more analysis? Check out what Mobile Marketing editor David Murphy has to say on the news in this week's Murphy's Law column.