After last month's Google's I/O conference, I wrote about how its announcements followed a theme of lowering barriers, such as not requiring a separate device for Android Auto, or a PC for advanced virtual reality, or even installation to experience an app. While Apple also announced efforts to make app development child’s play at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote on Monday, it focused more on embedding apps deeper into the fabric of the core experiences that make up its emerging uberplatform.
Its steps have included giving developers access to four key apps that represent major components of the modern smartphone experience—albeit at different levels of prominence:
Siri. Developers have been clamoring for access to Apple's voice assistant since the early days, when it dispensed advice on hiding dead bodies. While Amazon’s Alexa has quickly added well over 1,000 skills that expand its repertoire, Siri combines the convenience of a voice interface with the visual reinforcement of on-screen information. Letting third parties integrate their wares with Siri has the potential to change the very nature of app interaction and allow the previously limited assistant to do almost anything.
iMessage. The embedding of chatbots within Skype and Facebook Messenger posed a challenge to Apple, which has always centralized access to software within its App Store for a consistent experience. By opening up the App Store for iMessage, the company will enable payments and other transactions within the context of the iPhone’s most-used app. The opening of iMessage may also be a nod to the expectations of Apple’s increasing base of users in China, where local favorite WeChat has become a gateway to a wide range of tasks.
Maps. An important but task-driven app that drew ire and prompted an executive apology at launch, Apple’s Maps has steadily improved while its integration into iOS has given it an inevitable lead in popularity. Of course, directions and locations for nearby facilities will be among the most common reasons for developers to plug into Maps even as iOS 10 users will be able to wipe it off the map of their home screens.
Phone. The iPhone's ability to make phone calls may be mundane, but once upon a time, when Google Voice was a hot commodity, it was a mobile OS battleground. iOS 10 will let you use the Phone app to make calls using services other than your wireless provider, limited mostly to VoIP providers, a development of which Vonage, for one, approves.
In nearly all cases, the opening up of these apps coincided with significant improvements in their standalone functionality. Take iMessage. Modern messaging apps have turned conversations into a circus of stickers, GIFs, pictures, videos, and emoji. In iOS 10, Apple is playing to many of these media types with its own twists, such as animated bubble effects and the ability to highlight words you've typed that are suitable for substitution by emoji.
To be sure, not all experiences on Apple platforms remain open to extensibility. Take, for example, the NFC chip that Apple builds into all current iPhones and the Apple Watch. It's there to enable Apple Pay, which Apple encourages developers to integrate into their apps. But the company doesn't provide third parties with full access to the NFC chip, which would enable them to leverage it for other sorts of features less strategic to Apple. Still, after years of encouraging developers to build software for phones, tablets, watches, televisions, and even cars, the company has now cleared a path for developers to go deep within its own applications.