The announcements that matter most to businesses at this year’s Apple WWDC
In addition to much needed improvements to Siri, the company’s vocal assistant, at its annual developer conference in San Jose, California Apple made an even bigger commitment to augmented reality (AR), and introduced a suite of new features that will help protect users from being tracked and targeted by advertisers and from becoming overly addicted to using their devices. This is a move very aligned with the company’s holistic approach to software and hardware.
In the next version of iOS, the operating system (OS) at the heart of the iPhone and the iPad, people can keep tabs on just how much time they’re spending staring at the screen.
“We’re offering our users detailed information and tools to help them better understand and control the time they spend with apps and websites, how often they pick up their iPhone or iPad during the day and how they receive notifications,” said Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi.
In May, Google pledged to add similar tools to its next version of Android. However, unlike with the Apple ecosystem where up to 75 percent of global users are running the latest OS in a matter of weeks, it can take up to two years for the majority of Android handset owners to get access to a new release of the OS. Therefore, by mid-September, when the latest version of iOS has rolled out, the majority of iPhones and iPads around the world will have these settings as standard.
“These new features are designed to give Apple device owners peace of mind and for Apple to demonstrate it takes health and wellbeing very seriously,” comments Geoffrey Boulakia, General Manager EMEA TSC, Sitel Group’s Digital CX agency. “However, the changes will not adversely affect how brands with well-conceived apps interact with their customers. In fact, there could be added value. Best-in-class companies that show they’re closely aligned with Apple’s philosophy are also showing their users that they care about screen time, too.”
But as well as protecting users from themselves, Apple is aiming to protect its customers from unwittingly being tracked by advertisers while online. As long as they’re using Apple’s own web browser, Safari, that is.
Apple’s browser already has the strongest protection when it comes to cookies, but now it will stop third parties using “fingerprinting” for tracking purposes.
“Just like you can be identified by a fingerprint, it turns out when you browse the web, your device can be identified by a unique set of characteristics,” said Federighi.
No two devices are exactly the same and this information is used to create a virtual picture of users as they navigate from site to site. Apple’s solution is to make all of its devices seem identical when online, potentially making fingerprinting practices redundant. Users will have more choice than ever when it comes to sharing information with third parties. If this feature becomes a hit with Apple product owners, it will signal that consumers really see privacy as an area where value can be added.
“Thanks to the GDPR and recent revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica, privacy has never been higher on the agenda and is now a firm obligation of customer experience (CX),” says Geoffrey Boulakia. “These changes will be embraced by consumers but will do nothing to dent the ability of companies with a differentiated CX from retaining existing customers or from winning new customers – especially as word of mouth and positive reviews are much more effective than traditional forms of advertising.”
Unfortunately for Apple, its focus on privacy and on not gathering and processing user data means that its personal voice-activated assistant, Siri, is not as advanced as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home Assistant, even though it’s just as popular.
With Shortcuts, Apple is hoping to bring Siri up to speed with the competition by letting users fine tune it to fit their routine. The new feature gives Siri access to potentially any app installed on an iOS device and the ability to cross reference them to respond to a request. During a demo, Craig Federighi said “Hey Siri, I lost my keys!” and the assistant knew to trigger the Tile Bluetooth tracking fob attached to his missing keys – and make it ring.
Now, Siri will also be able to remind you to call a relative on his or her birthday, autonomously alert friends that you’re running late and learn the key elements of your routine so that it can become as proactive as possible. For example, automatically placing your morning coffee order so that when you arrive at the café it’s waiting for you.
“Apple may have popularized the concept of a voice assistant but in recent years, it has lagged behind the competition – it doesn’t have the data sets to develop Siri’s capabilities at the rate of Google,” Boulakia points out. “These are much-needed improvements and will give innovative companies looking to capitalize on voice as an interface the confidence to move forward, knowing they can reach customers whether aligned with Microsoft, Apple’s Siri and HomePod, Amazon’s suite of Alexa-powered speakers or Google’s Home Assistant.”
Apple is yet to launch any form of virtual reality (VR) or AR headset, but it is very much at the cutting edge when it comes to harnessing the potential of AR and in attracting developers to its ecosystem. Moreover, with the new ARKit 2 platform there is much to be excited about. Apple CEO Tim Cook has made it abundantly clear he believes that AR is the future and that it has the potential to change every aspect of technology going forward. Before the end of 2018, iPhone owners will be able to use their device to measure real-world objects in three dimensions, play multiplayer AR games and share AR content across apps thanks to a new file format called USDZ, developed in partnership with world famous animation studio Pixar.
“AR is an exciting proposition for engaging customers and adding new layers of interaction, be it via advertising or qualitative content delivery,” Boulakia says. “Apple’s decision to push the technology and therefore its widespread adoption forward will ensure that as the technology develops, the user experience will be optimized. This is because the company can make certain that AR works well across all of its existing and future devices and that supporting apps are of the highest quality – thanks to the control it has over both its products and services.”