WWDC 2014: Keynote Thoughts and Mobile Leadership

Apple-logoIf you had a chance to watch Apple’s keynote at WWDC 2014 earlier this week, you may have noticed a couple of pretty significant announcements sprinkled among the Apple-flavored comedy comfort food. Between the hair jokes, Dr Dre’s new employee orientation phone call, “messages from mom” moments, and chuckle-worthy jabs at Google’s expense, iOS developers got 4,000+ new APIs, a new programming language (Swift) and a bunch of other tools and resources to keep them cranking out apps and working across a more seamless ecosystem of Apple products and services. Here are several themes that I found interesting in the keynote.

Updating. It is hard to ignore iOS version adoption and the way that Apple has been able to purposefully move people to the latest technology. Currently, 89 percent of Apple’s mobile users have upgraded to iOS 7, while only 9 percent of Android users are on the platform’s latest OS release, KitKat. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, makes a great point when lowers his voice and remarks that one-third of Android owners are using an OS version from four years ago, noting the associated perils and missed opportunities. The swifter technology adoption among Apple consumers allows iOS developers to use the latest tools Cupertino offers and support a much smaller number of operating system versions (generally recommended as the current OS minus one). Developers get efficiency and power. Users get performance and enhanced experiences. I think Apple’s consumer paternalism in moving people along the OS update continuum is a contributing factor to significantly higher profitability for iOS developers compared with Android. And if most of  your users are not experiencing the latest you have to offer (even if you lead in gross number of users), where are you leading?

Business. The day when you could easily dismiss Apple as the quirky, cute, little art house tech company has long passed. You have to acknowledge their place as a HUGE player in the consumer market and their broad influence and impact on design and culture. But there are still a lot of smirks and knowing looks when the brand comes up in business and enterprise conversations. We are a major Microsoft partner–you can imagine the discussion at the water cooler and across Yammer. But Apple and the larger developer community are altering the business technology landscape profoundly on the mobile front. And mobile is arguably the main driver of business transformation today.

During the keynote, Cook noted that 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using iOS devices (I’m under no illusions that the companies are exclusively iOS, BTW, but penetration alone is impressive). The company has worked to be more enterprise-friendly for mobile stakeholders, and enhancements such as out-of-the-box device enrollment (new with iOS 8 this fall) will undoubtedly extend their corporate reach. I also think their lead in building and encouraging better app experiences has helped inspire a more responsive IT culture than may have been common even a few years ago. People readily understand the difference between a good and bad mobile experience and increasingly demand more from the software they use for work. Building something people don’t, won’t or can’t use is one of the worst investments a business can make. I have had several conversations recently with IT stakeholders who are looking out for their customers on the business side by advocating for native iOS apps that are well-designed and deliver great user experiences. Apple’s connection to the education community is another place where they are investing and seeing great returns, with the iPad claiming a 94 percent share of tablets in schools last year. The business of business and education are still ripe for mobile evolution and Apple is delivering an increasingly powerful platform for these customers.  

Continuity. When discussing mobile user behavior with clients, strategy teams are derelict if they don’t mention the fact that people increasingly use multiple devices, even to complete what may be considered a single activity such as shopping or watching a video (I used three separate screens to watch the keynote). Apple, with its “continuity” initiative, demonstrates an understanding of this common user reality and the pain that transitioning between screens and environments often causes. Composing emails, editing and viewing photos, making telephone calls and a whole host of other activities are now essentially device-agnostic. It’s never been easier for users to access what they want, when and where they want it, with near instantaneous editing across all of their device touchpoints (even the desktop). Apple’s drive toward more complete or total integration will doubtlessly improve a healthy share of their customers’ lives. And rolling out more economical iCloud plans will probably  entice more people to leverage Apple’s storage services, further enhancing cross-device data accessibility. This initiative aligns well with RBA’s seamless ethos–it’s not about handing off or merely filling gaps, it’s a fluid, continuous and intelligent presence.

Extensions. Finally, the keynote’s brief foray into extensibility and discussion of app extensions seems like a really big deal from an impact standpoint. If the promise lives up to the demonstration, the ability for apps to “project UI” and support their services in other apps is very compelling. The demo included the ability to bring other photo editing services into the iOS Photos app–bringing additional functionality and power to an existing app in a buttery smooth experience. Taking investments you have made in functionality and features and being able to scale those outside of your app could be a meaningful way for teams to extend their brand’s footprint. I am excited to see what independent developers and startups will do with this service and looking forward to exploring this with our clients.

There are plenty of things to be excited about with iOS 8 (HealthKit and HomeKit, among others) and we’ll discuss some of those in the coming weeks. But here are a couple of closing thoughts. iOS 7 will probably be remembered most for changing Apple’s mobile design paradigm. It was a dramatic break from the company’s past and was somewhat polarizing among consumers. iOS 8 seems more focused on tying together the loose ends and ephemera or our cross-platform, multi-device, stand-alone app reality. More convenience and utility. Fewer hassles and sloppy handoffs. It is less of a revolution and more of a smart, thoughtful evolution. Exactly how mobile works best.