Eleven tactical takeaways from WWDC17

Brett Thornton
By Brett Thornton under Insights 06 June 2017

This year’s WWDC keynote was a sprawling two hour affair, covering the full breadth of Apple’s ecosystem. To save you time and preamble, we cut through the large amounts of commentary online and share eleven succinct takeaways that got our strategists, designers and engineers talking here at TAB HQ: 

#1 | The App Store gets a revamp

The App Store gets a makeover at WWDC17.

The nine year old App Store got a Apple Music-style redesign, with increased focus on curated content including ‘how to’ guides and developer interviews. The ‘today’ home page now features one new app, and games and apps are split into separate tabs. This slimmed down approach may worry developers, and puts greater importance (read: pressure) behind being the top result in your search category. The need to think differently about a broader range of content when launching an app means the need to have a really (really) strong go-to-market and user growth strategy will increase in importance.

#2 | Apple Pay begins to pose a real threat

Apple Pay at this year's WWDC17.

With our recent research and work in financial services, changes to Apple Pay loomed large in our minds. Pay introduced peer-to-peer payments, including built-in payment requests and sending within Messages. Context sensitive prompts to use Pay based on the content of your conversation also appear. The money for those payments is stored on a new ‘Pay Cash’ card across your devices, which you can also use with merchants - big threat to default cards today, and the first step in turning Pay into a store of value wallet.

#3 | Messages gets interesting

Messages gets interesting at Apple's WWDC17 with Business Chat.

Alongside the addition of Apple Pay, Messages received two notable updates that got us thinking. First, the Apps in Messages are being made more prominent to users, with contextual reminders in QuickType. Second, Apple are launching Business Chat: a new platform for direct customer service, payments and appointment scheduling within Messages. Learn more.

 #4 | AR comes to iPhone and iPad

WWDC17 saw augmented reality come to iPad and iPhone with ARKit.
Apple announced ARKit for iOS developers: a new set of building blocks for augmented reality experiences, using the camera inbuilt into iPhones and iPads. They showed off an impressive demo app, where virtual objects could be placed in the world using the iPhone camera. Apple is betting the iPhone camera will become the biggest AR platform in the world overnight - and they are perhaps showing a hint of their learning strategy for future dedicated hardware. This creates significant opportunities for games developers, as well as retailers and experience providers to start testing with more reliable AR, at a lower cost. Learn more.

#5 | Apps box clever(er) with CoreML

Apple's suite of machine learning tools, CoreML.

Apple also announced CoreML: a suite of machine learning tools developers can utilise to add extra smarts to their app. This includes computer vision tools, including face tracking, face detection, landmarks, text detection, rectangle detection, barcode detection, object tracking, and image registration. Natural language tools will help your app understand text, using features such as language identification, tokenization, lemmatization, part of speech, and named entity recognition. Apple’s ML focus didn’t feel transformative - at least not compared to recent Google announcements - but a useful early foray nonetheless. Learn more.

#6 | Going Pro: iMac

Apple's iMac upped its game at WWDC with more Pro features.

Mac announcements, meanwhile, focused on Pro software and hardware - after lots of criticism about Apple going soft at the high end, this move wasn’t surprising. They updated iMacs and the portables line to new turbocharged hardware, and presented a new iMac Pro, coming later this year. The wonderfully named macOS ‘High Sierra’ saw lots of refinements and talk of applying ML techniques, as well as updates to core technologies - including their Metal graphics kit for developers - alongside a focus on its application for VR.

#7 | Going Pro: iPad

Apple's iPad goes even more Pro at WWDC17.

Alongside new Pro hardware, iPad got the biggest ever iPad-specific iOS update. This was squarely focused on productivity features, including drag and drop, and improvements to multitasking. It also included app switching using the dock, extended capabilities for Apple Pencil, and a new app for file management across iCloud and popular third party services.

#8 | Siri gets smarter

Siri on Apple's new HomePod at WDDC17.

Siri continues to get smarter by learning and remembering context and interests between apps. Siri will also be opening up to new domains that developers can build for. This include ‘bills, payments, banking’; adding to, or checking, ‘lists’; ‘car controls’, such as climate or radio in CarPlay enabled cars, and quickly displaying personal ‘QR codes’ in addition to the six existing domains. Excuse the excessive quote marks here: they reflect the fact that while these new areas were broadcast, the precise scope of each remains, as yet, to be seen. The overriding message, however, is that Siri can now be said to be branching properly out of voice, as a smart assistant, and becoming strategically important as the range of post-touch devices proliferates (HomePod, Watch, Car).

#9 | The big reveal: HomePod 

Apple's HomePod was announced at WWDC17.

Perhaps the thing that has grabbed most attention - Apple previewed the HomePod: a long-anticipated, high quality speaker with Siri built in. For now, the focus was on sound quality, music and connectivity but expect Siri to get a higher billing when the product is fully announced later in the year. Alongside HomePod, iOS was getting match ready with new capabilities for managing multi-room audio, and Apple shared an update to the AirPlay standard.

 #10 | WatchOS doubles down on health

Apple's Kevin Lynch discusses updates to watchOS at WWDC17.

WatchOS is doubling down on Health and Fitness, adding new workouts and finding new ways to connect to other things - such as gym equipment or medical kit. Apple also previewed a new Watch face, which puts contextually relevant cards surfaced by Siri front and centre, cementing its ‘smart assistant’ positioning.

#11 | iOS Updates

A preview of iOS11 at Apple's WWDC17 event in June.

Other iOS updates included the usual range of improvements to the photos app and camera functionality, QR code scanning direct from the camera, a newly designed control center and a rationalised UI for displaying notifications. Maps added indoor maps for shopping centers and airports, lane guidance - and a feature which limits drivers from interacting with their phone while driving.

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So amongst the usual fanfare and beautiful product shots, what do these eleven key takeaways point to?

Apple’s priority, much like last year’s event, was largely focused on laying the foundations for a less smartphone-centric world. Apple showed off new core technologies that enhance their current product line up, while pointing to future platforms: machine learning, augmented reality and virtual reality all had their moment on the big screen. We saw continued investment in strategically important cross-platform services - including Apple Pay, Messages and Siri; the latter carefully positioned as a primary interface for the Watch and the newly announced HomePod. Finally, we also saw a strong Pro and productivity focus for iPad and Mac - pushing them to become more and more capable, as the iPhone strips away everyday, domestic jobs from its bigger siblings.