Three Critical Things We Learnt About Apple’s Future From The WWDC 2014 Keynote

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Significance

In many ways, Apple’s WWDC keynote yesterday was their most important one in years. They improved on just about every single feature imaginable on OS X and iOS, in addition to adding more features – some of which weren’t expecting. But true to its namesake, WWDC is a conference for developers… not the regular people.

Which clearly explains why Apple’s shares dropped by $7 yesterday. Here’s what Wall Street doesn’t get: WWDC isn’t for them. Press releases for new products are. WWDC is for developers.

More significantly than any other announcement yesterday, Apple also rewrote their entire development language (one they’ve been using for the last two decades, mind you). Apple took something all developers were comfortable with but were limited by and completed scrapped it, replacing it with Swift – a language that’s faster, and more simpler (case in point: someone has rebuilt the entire Flappy Birds game in Swift within 24 hours of the announcement of the new programming language!).

But from the keynote yesterday, I noticed three important themes emerging – and these are the themes that, I believe, Apple will continue to push forward in their future agendas.

(This post is over 2800 words. It will take the average person around four minutes to read it. If you’d like to save it to Pocket, there’s a convenient button on the bottom of this post which will allow you to do so easily.)   


1. If you’re a developer, don’t build your entire company on the premise of a single cool feature. Apple probably likes that feature too, and they will steal it. 

Yesterday, Apple unveiled a whole bunch of improvements to their existing features across OS X and iOS. Some of them includes an improved Spotlight search for the Mac, a Mail Drop service, improvements to the iMessage app, an iCloud Drive (it does everything you probably would expect it to when you hear the name…) and the ability to sign documents in Mail without leaving the app, among many others.

Going by that list above, here are the companies that are screwed (mainly because they’re banking the entire company on just one product… and now that Apple has replicated their product and integrated it perfectly into their systems – remember, often times with new features, only Apple’s stock features will have system-wide integration across the devices – they no longer have anything special to sell unless they come up with something new, fast):

1) Alfred: the Alfred app’s main reason of existence is to improve the much-criticized Spotlight search on the Mac. However, with Yosemite (the next release of OS X, which Apple debuted today), the Spotlight is very much improved. It has the ability to cull information from Wikipedia, Bing, Maps and other resources almost instantly – something which the Alfred app has been known to do for years. Almost as a dig to the Alfred app, the new Spotlight search bar in Yosemite is no longer relegated to the top right hand corner – instead, it now takes up the middle of the screen, taking after the Alfred app’s iconic look.

2) Hightail: Hightail specializes (in fact, it’s at the very core of their service, but the service also includes fringe features like document signing, file synchronization) in one thing: sending large files over email. However, with the release of Yosemite, Apple has included a helpful feature called Mail Drop.

Here’s how Mail Drop works: you want to send a massive file to your friend over email, but you can’t: most mail services only include a pesky 25MB attachment file limit. So with Mail Drop, you would still send your email normally… except this time around, you get to send a file of up to 5GB – with that massive file being re-routed through Apple’s secure servers.

And yes, even people with Windows can receive files routed through Mail Drop.

3) Snapchat/WhatsApp: With the release of Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple has refreshed the text message/iMessage app to include the ability to, in very few gestures, send a voice recording or video, all of which will be displayed inline within the conversation thread. Now this threatens both WhatsApp and Snapchat is a very significant way.

Let’s talk about WhatsApp first. Now long after the demo of the new messaging features, WhatsApp’s CEO and current-billionaire-after-Facebook-acquihire Jan Koum took to Twitter to whine about Apple stealing his features, tweeting “very flattering to see Apple “borrow” numerous WhatsApp features into iMessage in iOS 8 #innovation”. It is currently difficult to predict how the release of the new iOS 8 messaging features will affect WhatsApp’s market share.

On one hand, WhatsApp’s biggest advantage is their cross-platform user base, whereas iMessage still remains exclusive to the OS X/iOS user base. In other words, people using Blackberry, Android, iPhone, Windows Phone (is that still a thing?) can send messages to each other perfectly, without a hitch. But that’s not the case with iMessage, where only users with Apple products supporting iMessage can use the new features.

Counterbalancing that downside for Apple, however, is the fact that there’s a desktop app for iMessage – and there isn’t one for WhatsApp. WhatsApp’s team have been saying that building a desktop app is on the top of their list of priorities, but after several months, it’s still not here. And increasingly, I’ve been seeing more and more people send messages through the desktop iMessage app rather than from their iPhone, given how convenient it is to do so while working simultaneously on the desktop. So until we can get some hard data post-iOS 8 release, I think it would be difficult to predict the effects of Apple’s new iMessage on WhatsApp.

Snapchat wants to be the center of all your communications – and they’re not shy about pushing out features that suggests just that. Snapchat started out with just the ability to send ephemeral  pictures from one user’s device to another. And then they added video. Then text and voice, in their latest update. In their ideal world, the only app you need to open when communicating with others is the Snapchat app – because it can do everything!

But now… the tides have turned against Snapchat.

The only difference right now between Snapchat and the updated iOS 8 iMessage is the ephemeral aspect of Snapchat. And if that’s not what people need (especially those above 25 years-old, I’d imagine), then there’s really no point for them to keep the Snapchat apps on their phones.

As it stands right now, I’d wager that WhatsApp is at a greater risk of being obliterated by the updated iMessage app than Snapchat is – if only because Snapchat’s user base (which has got to do with their young demographic) is more loyal to them than WhatsApp’s.

4) Google Drive and Dropbox: iCloud Drive (which still surprises me that Apple’s execs would name it so, given how closely it resembles Google’s Drive in terms of features) will most probably be a bigger threat to Dropbox than Google (so what if Drive fails for Google? Most of their money is still coming from search… Dropbox on the other hand, will have nowhere to turn to if iCloud Drive succeeds and cannibalizes them). Apple’s iCloud Drive will do everything Dropbox currently do – at a much,much lower price point (we’re talking about $3.99 for 200GB of storage per month – no kidding). Now compare Apple’s $3.99 for 200GB with Dropbox’s price for the same amount of storage: $19.99.

At the Code Conference just a couple days ago, Dropbox’s CEO Drew Huston said, “We’re not cutting prices right now” and instead, is betting that customers will stick with him if he kept introducing new features. But that’s not going to work. Dropbox is not going to be known for whatever new features they’re introducing in the future. They’re known for great cloud storage and syncing.

But as it stands right now, Apple is about to cannibalize their only market with iCloud Drive.

Dropbox executives might take comfort in the fact that iCloud Drive is currently only available to OS X/iOS users… although that may very well change in the future, given Apple’s recent behavior.

(This is something interesting: Apple doesn’t seem to care about exclusivity as much as before – they’re letting Beats Music run on Android – which wouldn’t have happened with Steve Jobs – and many of the features they announced in the keynote is also surprisingly compatible with the PC.)

5) DocuSign: DocuSign is a product sold by a company with the same name that allows users to sign a document “anytime, anywhere, on any device”. However, with the newly-revamped Mail app, Apple is now offering users to sign, markup or annotate documents and PDFs straight from their trackpads. For many Apple users, there would be no need for DocuSign anymore.

The only thing most developers can take comfort in right now is the fact that they have their apps across multiple platforms… while Apple is only focused on one – so even if Apple cannibalizes their market within the OS X/iOS user base, they can still sustain with revenue from other platforms’ users (although I’d bet it’s less than what they would earn with the untouched OS X/iOS user base available to them).


2. OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 is all about refining the basics.

If you were watching the keynote at home and thinking to yourself by the time it ended that maybe Apple didn’t actually release a lot of new features, you’re most probably right.

Almost everything Apple showed off today was a great, massive improvement to the features already existing. More often than not, these aren’t features that Apple innovated in the recent years (how to make calls, text, etc.), but rather, they’ve decided to innovate on the ideas of how these features are/can be used.

There’s something truly beautiful about a company that does not only focus on constantly adding new features, but one that occasionally steps back to take a look at how they can make the fundamental features of the device genuinely better. To me, that shows a company that still cares about how their users use their devices, and not just on how many devices they can sell.

With the release of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple reinvented how messages work for all iPhone and Macs. Sure, none of the features they demoed during the keynote were innovative. But they still didn’t force the users to download those apps themselves. They’ve selected the best apps out there that they know will fundamentally make iPhone/Mac a better device and incorporated it in the most seamless manner.

Look at how the new editing features they previewed for the Photos app on iOS 8. They could’ve gone out and asked people to download VSCO, Instagram or some of the other photo-editing apps. But instead, Apple carefully selects the best features from those apps and bakes it directly into their softwares.

Say what you will about how Apple is destroying developers by doing that, but here’s my counter-argument: 1) why would you build a company based off a single product that can be ripped off that easily, and 2) at the end of the day, Apple only cares about the end-user experience. And if they have to steal features from your app to do that, they most probably will.

For Apple, it’s all about making the iPhone/Mac as great as they can for the end-user.

Apple also refined the Notification Center – and took heat for doing so, too. With the new Notification Center on OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, users can now insert custom widgets from different apps and websites to view everything they want to in a single glance. This feature has been in Android for years now. And Apple, for a long time, refused to copy it despite calls from the developer community. Now that they’ve made the feature available, many are criticizing Apple for “copying” Android.

But guess what?

Apple doesn’t care. Because they only thing they care about is making the end-user experience as great as it can be for the individual users.

(Also, let’s face it: most of the criticisms are coming from journalists who are bored by Apple after scrutinizing everything they can about the company… something the average Joe wouldn’t do.)

On the Phone.app, Apple has also rethought the way we do something so routine and mundane that we tend to forget about it until it annoys us again and again: picking up calls.

With OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, users can now pick up calls to their iPhone directly from their Macs, without having to wake the iPhone up. The Mac’s microphone now acts as a speakerphone for the call.

As someone who likes to work in a distraction-free environment, this is incredibly handy. And the thing is, I never thought I would ever want that feature… until I saw it.

People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

– Steve Jobs

These are just some examples of how Apple has really focused on what’s important and tried to make it better from the top of my head – and I don’t doubt that there are lots more to be discovered as OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 becomes more widely available.

If anything, this shows that Apple hasn’t lost its focus. They’re still focusing on the things that actually matter.


3. Asked and answered: How is Apple going to make OS X more like iOS? They’re not.

Ever since OS X Lion was released two summers ago, people have been constantly asking one question: when will OS X and iOS finally blend together into one, single, uniform operating system?

And the answer, as evident in yesterday’s keynote, the answer is simple and clear: never.

Apple wants us to experience how special each standalone operating system is on its own: which is why they introduced features such as Continuity.

(If you’ve noticed, this WWDC keynote, more so than any other in recent history, is spread evenly between the two operating systems.)

Each OS will be different in its very own unique way. But if suppose you own devices using the two different operating systems, then Apple wants to make sure that your experience is as seamless as possible.

Started a document on the Mac but have to leave the house all of a sudden? Finish it on the subway.

Began editing a picture on the iPad but have no battery left? Finish it on the Mac.

Features such as proximity sensor and instant hotspot also shows that Apple want the two operating systems to work together… and not have you just work with one because the experience on the other will be the exact same.

It’s all about using the best device for the task.

By now, Apple has figured out that there can never be one uniform operating system for as long as people are still using the desktop/laptop. It would be too (unnecessarily) limiting and restricting and it’s just not Apple.

Maybe Apple will transition to an mobile-only company in the future – but when that happens, all their users will be prepared for that transition because everything has been so integrated all along… everything feels like one.


Other thoughts and observations:

  • Really surprised that Apple didn’t release a single hardware today. I guess we’ll have to continue waiting for “the best product line up in 25 years,” as Eddy Cue said recently in the Code Conference.
  • Judging by the front page of Apple.com, Yosemite seems to be the biggest thing Apple is parading out.
  • The entire presentation feels lighthearted: ranging from the Tinder reference in the video to Craig Federighi’s hair crisis.
  • In the opening video, someone said something along the lines of “intersection of technology and art” when referencing an app. That doesn’t sound like something an ordinary person would say, which makes me question: are those people in the video coached? Or is whatever they’re saying from the heart?
  • The number of times Tim Cook mentioned Windows and Android was not an accident. And the effect worked.
  • Referencing the trashcan icon in OS X Yosemite, Federighi said, “You wouldn’t believe how much time we spent crafting a trashcan.” After seeing it, I do: it’s the most beautiful trashcan I’ve ever seen. Once again, attention to details.
  • The call Federighi placed to Dr. Dre onstage seemed very awkward and scripted, unlike the rest of the presentation.
  • Federighi spent a remarkably little amount of time (less than a minute, I’m guessing) talking about the new Health apps and kits. I was expecting them to talk about it way more.
  • Wow: 98% of the Fortune 500 companies are using iOS.
  • Many within Apple (maybe it’s because of the NSA/Edward Snowden leaks) seem to be answering the question “what would I want from Apple, as a user myself” themselves, which was why they proactively implemented and talked about the privacy features that comes with predictive typing – to reassure you that no one is reading what you’re typing.
  • Now that we’ve got software out of the way, it’s time for the hardware. And to say I’m excited is a huge understatement.

Along the way, while Apple was transitioning between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, I lost a little faith in the company. But after seeing what they’re releasing yesterday, I’ll go on the record to say this: it’s going to be the biggest year for Apple just yet.

And definitely bigger than 2001 and 2007.