While I was on annual leave (cocktail in hand, and what of it?), Apple had one of the 3 big events in their year: Worldwide Developer’s Conference 2017, or WWDC17. This is the forum where they announce (some) news in hardware (everything new that isn’t an iPhone, which gets its own event because it’s, well, the iPhone) and more prominently, software. Hardware and software. I know, I know, it sounds wonderfully dry. But there are some stunning implications for the advertising industry if we dig a little deeper.
Having tried furiously to download the entire 2.5hr-long keynote announcement over some very mediocre airport WiFi on the way home from paradise, and failed, I watched it on the weekend as I started to pore through emails, laundry, and everything in between.
Apple announced some really cool new upgrades to their staples like the iPad and the iMac, but unless you’re an uber-nerd, this won’t touch you in your work day. So I’m skipping. (If you are in fact an uber-nerd, well, you’ll have read about it all by now anyway. But if you are in the market for a peruse of the news, I recommend MacRumours and 9to5Mac as good starting points.)
The one thing I want to tell you all about in the hardware department is the announcement of their new-spangled device called the HomePod.
WHAT THE HELL IS A HOMEPOD?
It’s Apple’s smart-speaker-slash-connected-home device. It’s Apple’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa. And Sonos speakers. And the rest. It looks fancy, and retails at a price ($399) that makes it feasible for many households. It has insane sound quality (making it a competitive choice to Sonos) and houses Siri (sorry, Alexa, and Lord knows you have a special place in my heart) so you can ask it anything and everything. Weather. Your calendar obligations. Directions. Ordering an Uber. What the hell a “cup of flour” is in grams (I see you amateur bakers nodding along). And because it’s connected to all your other smart-home devices, it can do things like dim the lights, and control your heating (if you’ve got that stuff set up). It’s like Alexa, but automatically connected to the entire Apple ecosystem.
WHY DO I CARE?
Well, I care because this is the first time I’ve seen a device like this that could have MASS uptake in the average household. Which means a new distribution channel for us. Imagine developing for HomePod so Siri can tell you all about the latest holiday offers (being read out expertly-crafted editorial copy about the wonders of Moroccan souks, in Siri’s dulcet tones, anyone?) while you’re making dinner. Or pioneering new ways to listen to audio based on where the speaker is positioned in the room (the HomePod can understand the shape of your room, and adapt playback accordingly). As with all fresh tech coming to market, there are lots of opportunities to make world-firsts. What will you get up to?
Every year at WWDC Apple announce the new operating systems that will roll out in the autumn of that year. As such, this June they announced iOS 11 and “High Sierra” that will be hitting our devices in September. Might sound dry, but these are actually going to change the way our iPhones/iPads/MacBooks look in really significant ways this year. Forget High Sierra for now, I’m excited about a few key opportunities on iOS 11. Imagine being amongst the first to leverage arguably the most important technological innovations this year for your clients, on the world’s best loved smartphone! Sound like something you’d want to be involved in? Buckle up!
NB: This is the shortest I could make this. There are MANY MORE exciting points. Here’s what made my cut:
PUTTING EDITORIAL CONTENT ON THE APP STORE
When you go on the App Store now to get a new app, you go to the app’s page and see a description, some screenshots, and reviews, along with a bunch of developer notes. That’ll soon be totally overhauled. The entire App Store ecosystem is getting a redesign, to make it more… editorial. Apps will now be able to have pages of full screen, long-form editorial content featuring copy, imagery, video – the works.
This is a big deal if you publish apps for clients. But let’s face it, that doesn’t happen every day, so I understand your tempered enthusiasm. However, how many already have an app in the App Store? Every single one who does will now need to think about the editorial content that accompanies it. And as is always the case when a new format emerges, there will be an opportunity to shine as examples of how it should be done (would be nice to be picked up as a case study for Apple, wouldn’t it?)
BUSINESS COMES TO MESSAGES
HUGE. DEAL. HUGE DEAL. (Read in Trump’s voice to get the full effect. Wave hands around aimlessly for bonus points.)
You know the whole chatbot thing? Currently only available on Facebook Messenger and a handful of other smaller platforms (however rumoured to be coming later this year on WhatsApp!), branded chatbots are still in their infancy. There’s a lot of debate as to whether they’re a fad or not (I personally believe they represent an exciting, albeit dangerous, opportunity for brands. See here for my thoughts on the topic I wrote for Shots) The fact Apple has come out with an entire business section inside the Messages app on your iPhone so you can directly converse with brand chatbots is huge testimony to where they’re going as a digital tool for consumers. I’m really excited to see how brands move into the iPhone Messages space successfully. There is opportunity to speak with the user in an extremely intimate space: a potential for brand-safety disaster, but also meaningful connection. (NB: the way brands can use such nascent consumer behaviours to connect with them on an emotional level is a personal passion, and if you feel the same way I’d love to hear from you and more about what you do. Don’t hesitate to say hello.)
MACHINE LEARNING FOR ALL
They’ve brought out a key development tool named CoreML. Machine learning is being used a lot across the entire iOS 11 system (so much, I was positively sick of the term by the end of the keynote presentation). This basically means that it analyses what you do on your device (locally, on your device, in an encrypted way that is never shared over the internet, so you are *in theory* totally safe. I won’t get into that debate here) and can tailor your experience to who you are, what you do, where you go, and all the rest. This new functionality to make experiences more personalized.
EXAMPLE: if the user is searching for wedding guest dresses online, and later opens the News app on their phone (which is full of sponsored content, not just news, by the way), retail brand editorial content might be served therein. These new user touchpoints and journeys offer up novel and more subtle ways to deliver advertising that serves the customer. Huzzah.
MAKE AWESOME ANIMATED PHOTOS NOW
Last one, but really cool and important.
As of September, iPhone users will be able to take animated photos with their phone camera. You can make a looping GIF yourself. You can also make a “bouncing” photo (thus far known as a Boomerang). This negates the need for the pesky Boomerang app from Facebook (Apple 1 – Facebook 0). You will also be able to mimic long-exposure photography to create stunning pics with your phone. Take a look at what the output imagery could look like.
BONUS! AUGMENTED REALITY IS COMING TO IPHONE
If you’ve got this far, you’re a champ. You’re on the home stretch.
This is really important because until now, augmented reality has been restricted to clunky builds using software developed by a handful of private companies, and it’s been a challenge to see how this could work in the real world, for the average Jo (and at a cost that’s feasible for clients). With Apple’s new development platform “AR Kit”, developers can start, well, developing (what else?) using an insanely powerful AR engine that means a humble app can now let users overlay virtual objects onto the real world.
IKEA are already working on an application of this which enables users to look at their living rooms through the app, and place furniture around the room to see how it would look before buying. The possibilities for mashing-up virtual objects and your real life represent a HUGE cultural and behavioural shift.
And just because it would be remiss of me to miss it out, one final little nugget: Apple Pay is getting person-to-person payments. This means you will soon be able to send money to your friends directly inside of the Messages app. With Facebook’s similar functionality (simply named “Pay”) still only in beta in the US (I asked them recently when they’d be rolling out to the UK, and was sorry to see no dates are on the table as it stands), Apple have definitely scored a brownie point. Monzo and Revolut are in for some serious competition, as the Apple brand is so instantly trusted. It’s not hard to see how the handling of money in-message is going to fast become a new user behaviour. Leading the pack is Starbucks (US), who, leveraging Apps for Messages, have developed beautiful gift cards you can send to your mates in an iMessage, all paid up using Apple Pay directly in the Messages app. So next time your bestie needs a pick me up, users will be able to do something like this:
In conclusion, Apple announced plenty of things which at first glance don’t seem to be immediately related to our advertising world. But upon scratching the surface, it’s not hard to see how these developments could mean big business for the brands in your portfolio. Proving once again that where there are emergent behaviours and user-focused innovations, therein lie opportunities to produce marketing world-firsts.
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