One thing is for sure. Apple is working on something big. We’re not even exactly sure how big just yet.
This year, it seems many tech companies are focusing on “quality of life” (QOL). Usually the phrase “quality of life update” refers to a software update that makes many changes to an application or game to improve the overall experience – usually a combination of bug fixes, interface tweaks, performance enhancements, and anything else that improves someone’s experience with a particular piece of software. However, most recently, we’ve noticed more and more emphasis being placed on the user’s QOL rather than the software. Both Apple and Google have released features to help users spend less time on their phone and more time with those around them. Digital Health is not a new concept, but it does seem to have gone by the wayside in recent years. Although not the one key takeaway that we chose to highlight in this article (but it was a close second), we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the hot topic of app optimization. Quite a bit of time was spent covering how developers could and should optimize apps in every way possible – in file size, performance, and amount of time users need to spend in it to accomplish the desired task (which you should be doing anyway).
Speaking of QOL, Apple spent a majority of the keynote announcing new features for their apps and devices. Things like Search Suggestions for photos, updates and UI changes for several first-party apps, new workouts on the Apple Watch, and much more. They also announced that you could FaceTime with 32 people while using your own emoji, aptly named Memojies (below).
A majority of these updates benefited the ultimate end users of Apple devices while some helped developers more easily and effectively build on Apple’s platforms. There was, however, one update that stood out above the rest as the “killer feature” for apps this year. And that feature, is Siri Shortcuts.
These. Are. Big. Siri Shortcuts will change how a lot of people interact with a lot of apps. Since the emergence of DVAs (Digital Voice Assistants), the biggest barrier for adoption has been the learning curve for users. “What can I ask it? Was it how I phrased it? I didn’t want it to open that app to do ____.” are all statements you may have muttered to yourself when trying to communicate with your Google Home, Home Pod, or Amazon Echo. But Siri Shortcuts are going to change that. Instead of adding voice-controlled features to an app that users may or may not ever discover, developers can now prompt users with a button to “Add to Siri.” This does not add a particular action to Siri, but instead it allows users to create their own custom phrase to activate a certain feature that the app allows. For example, instead of having to say “Hey Siri, play my ‘Running’ playlist in Spotify,” someone can create a custom phrase for “Hey Siri, I’m going on a run” and the outcome will be the same.
This doesn’t sound like much, but this could change Siri’s role to many as a peripheral accessory of the iPhone to an app necessity. Instead of having to try several times to get a request to work, users can simply make their own. As we aren’t exactly sure on how this will work just yet, we are assuming it will be based on deep linking.
Another reason apps need to be Siri-ready is that Shortcuts will not just be for individual actions, but for a series of actions. Seen above, when asked “how’s the surf,” Siri began running through the requests the user had previously set up – like checking the weather and getting directions to the beach. Other examples Apple provided were Siri Shortcuts for “time to go home” or “let’s go to work.” In the “let’s go to work” example, Siri automatically knew to order a coffee from Starbucks that the user gets on the way to the office every day. So, for example, if your brand allows pick-up for groceries, you may want to integrate Siri in a way that allows people to create a grocery list of common items they need each week so users can order with a simple phrase.
By creating useful Siri integrations that can become part of a larger, daily/weekly/monthly routine instead of a one-off request, branded apps can quickly become a necessity of life even if they aren’t being manually launched. Like in the example above, the user with the morning routine didn’t open the Starbucks app, but they still bought a coffee.
Stay tuned for more from Apple’s developer conference or contact us today to learn more about Siri Shortcuts and how your brand can best leverage them.
While there were a lot of big announcements during this year’s WWDC Keynote, there were even more our Rocketeers learned during the sessions following it. Some of these barely made an appearance at the conference, but we think they’re some of the most exciting updates yet. If you are interested in learning more about these topics, you are also welcome to watch our webinar that aired Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Click here to watch.
Any business large enough to have a call center or customer support group should take note. Business Chat opens a support line directly in iMessages making it easier than ever help solve everyday customer problems with a tool that’s familiar to everyone. This interaction can begin from a button in an app, a link on your website, a CTA in an order confirmation email, or pretty much anywhere else you’d want to put it. Within the chat, you can share files, images, product images and/or videos, and much more. For example, let’s say a customer wanted to upgrade or change their seat on a flight – the airline could send them a layout of the seats available and can even charge for the upgrade through Apple Pay directly in iMessage. If you wanted to schedule a meeting, the details will be saved directly to the calendar.
Near Field Communication (NFC) has been around for several years now, and the odds are good that you’ve used it and didn’t even know. NFC can be used for a wide range of applications, but to date it has primarily been used for mobile payment through apps such as Apple Pay. However, that may change very soon as Apple has officially opened the iPhone’s NFC functionality to developers. In true Apple style, they have taken every precaution to ensure user data remains secure. Each session must be initiated by the user and developers can only read, not write, data from an NFC tag. This means there will never be an accidental scan or possibility of someone pulling information from your phone. Brands will be able to leverage NFC for everything from presenting more information about a painting in a museum to adding items to an account in a hotel – but they will not be able to bill you directly from the interaction.
In the United States, QR code sightings can be uncommon depending on where you live. In eastern markets, they are much more common. QR codes failed to reach widespread adoption in America because some didn’t know what to do with them and others didn’t see the value in downloading an app specifically for reading them. Now that Apple has integrated a QR reader into the default Camera app, that could change. However, western adoption of QR codes relies on content creators and advertisers just as much as, if not more than, users interacting with them. QR codes can be used for a wide range of applications such as sharing a playlist, opening a YouTube video, downloading an app, adding an item to a cart, and much more. The more interesting the experience, the more likely users are to give QR codes a try. To best leverage them, think guerilla marketing mixed with surprise and delight – people should feel as though they found something special rather than an advertisement, and where it takes them should almost be a reward.
The ways Google and Apple have approached artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are very different. One of the biggest differences is where the “magic” happens. Google’s approach is in the cloud while Apple’s is on-device. Processing the information on the iPhone itself not only provides a much faster experience but a much more private one. CoreML has three offerings at the moment, including Vision for image analysis, Foundation for language processing, and GameplayKit for NPC (non-player character) behavior, pathfinding, and more. While GameplayKit will mostly be used by game developers, Vision and Foundation can be used for a multitude of applications. For example, Vision can be used to recognize barcodes. You could use Vision to show more information about a product after a consumer scans the barcode or, with some training, teach Siri to recognize the product itself so that they can simply take a picture of the product to learn more.
Three new extensions are now available to developers through SiriKit. For apps that allow you to make or check off items on a list, Siri can now be integrated into the app to allow users to take actions around those lists. The other two extensions, Points and Domains, can be leveraged for rewards and loyalty points. Points will allow users to ask Siri questions, such as “do I have enough points to book a flight to LA?” and Domains will allow users to scan visual codes such as loyalty points on a purchase to have them automatically added to your account in the app. With Siri’s new extensions, the customer experience in apps can be improved greatly as Siri makes it easier for consumers to keep track and add reward points to their accounts.
There are some big changes coming to the App Store. First off, Apple has completely redesigned the store and added several sections to improve the app discovery experience. There will be three primary sections to the store – Apps, Games, and Today. To make it even easier to decide if you want to download an app, Apple has also added the option for developers to upload up to three videos to showcase gameplay, features, and more in apps. What’s even more exciting is that Apple now allows developers to decide if they want to reset their reviews when uploading a new version of an app. Believe it or not, some developers would allow bugs to go unfixed for weeks if they had high ratings for their app to avoid having the ratings potentially drop. Now hotfixes are much less stressful for brands and developers as they can effectively push out several builds of an app and retain their ratings and reviews.
Check back for more updates as these new features and tools become available. In the meantime, please feel free to contact us with any other questions you may have.
Just as our Rocketeers are coming down from Google I/O fever, Bottle Rocket’s iOS Engineers are gearing up for Apple’s 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). We’re sending some of our Rocketeers to the event where they anticipate announcements regarding Siri and many other surprises that present and potential clients can use to grow their businesses and further connect with customers. We’ve asked some of our Engineering Jedi (our lead engineers) what they hope to see at WWDC this year. Here’s Russell Mirabelli, Ryan Gant, and Josh Smith with expert insight (and plenty of tech talk).
As a potential competitor to Amazon Echo and Google Home, this speaker is rumored to be powered by one of Apple’s own A-series arm processors and run a variant of iOS. It is also thought to use some form of Beats technology and support AirPlay. Expected to carry a premium price, the speaker could feature high-end audio with one woofer and seven tweeters built in. If Apple does release its own smart speaker, our clients could easily leverage the code already written in their iOS apps and bring them into the home. This could be yet another platform our clients could utilize, as it opens up conversational interactions between brands and their customers.
Utilizing machine learning, or SiriKit, within an app could make the difference between having the next new thing, or having an app that'll be outdated and underused in five months. So, brands should watch for the addition of a Siri-enabled smart speaker closely, since there’s a pretty good chance Siri will get some improvements to support it.
It's a safe bet that we'll get quite a few new intent domains for SiriKit, which will bring Siri integration into many new applications. When Siri expands, it brings with it a whole new way for users to interact with your apps. Imagine asking Siri for something and your app giving you exactly what you want. There’s a good chance Apple will expand SiriKit to include more domains outside of the current Ride Booking, Messaging, Photo Search, Payments, VoIP Calling, Workouts, Climate, and Radio.
If these enhancements occur, we would be able to leverage Siri in both the speaker and on iOS devices in these ways for clients:
Steel yourself—this is straight developer talk. Our iOS developers love new tools. We know what's next in Swift for this year because it's been developed in public, but it will be nice to have those updates rolled out to our developers. Object serialization being incorporated as a language feature has our iOS team excited—this will lead to more consistent code across all our projects.
And, of course, we're about to get some new goodies in Swift. Updates to the compiler will not only help with compile times but, with any luck, we'll also get more useful error messaging, which will increase development speeds and quality of life. Our Rocketeers would also love to see another one of Apple's main apps become more open to extension. Last year we saw a little opening into Apple Maps, and it would be great if they continued expanding that. Something else we hope for, but don't really expect, is easier keychain support. Some developers avoid storing data in the keychain because it requires some C-level API usage. Apple could revamp that interface for easier accessibility via Swift. This would serve all of Apple's users by ensuring that more apps protect user data.
One area that we might see some improvements is in the persistent caching of objects in a local store. Core Data, although powerful, is cumbersome to use in Swift, and writing your cache in a keyed archiver is prone to errors. It'd be fantastic to have a solid solution that's capable of adapting both NSObject subclasses and Swift structs into a lightning-fast storage file format.
This is exciting stuff! Is your brand ready for what may come from WWDC? Keep an eye on our blog for the latest from WWDC, or get in touch and share your vision for engaging your customers via mobile or voice.
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