Announcements from Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference offer few immediate new opportunities for marketers, but scratch beneath the surface and they hint at some more far reaching trends which will affect us all down the road.
1. The rise and rise of messaging
As a critical part of the core phone experience, Apple's 'Messages' app has received remarkably little love over the past few years. A renewed focus this year is the tip of the iceberg of the messaging explosion that will unfold over the coming months.
Back in 2011 the introduction of iMessage, allowing users to send text and images using data and avoiding carrier charges, seemed reasonably ahead of its time. Fast forward to today and the product has been overtaken and lapped several times by standalone competitors including Messenger, WhatsApp and even Snapchat.
This week's announcements won't regain parity with those competitors but will inject some much needed fun back into proceedings, including larger representations of emojis, animation effects which take over your entire background, and the ability to scribble your own notes or images by hand.
In case you hadn't 'got the message' from Facebook's conference, or from a string of platforms offering their own take on chatbots, messaging is a big battle ground this year. It's emerging as a preferred form of communication, attracting huge levels of use, and attempting to become the heart of our commercial transactions. Opportunities for marketers are limited for now beyond early test cases, but expect the field to boom rapidly.
2. Connected virtual assistants
Rivalling the written power of bots is the verbal power of virtual personal assistants like Siri to tackle our basic tasks for us. As well as now also coming to your desktop or laptop PC, Siri's main new trick will be the ability to integrate with and control a range of other services.
Siri's usefulness will vastly increase as it goes from just being able to tackle a short list of stock questions to doing anything a developer can imagine – from sending a WeChat Message, through to ordering an Uber or turning up your Nest Thermostat. Amazon's unexpected US hit the 'Echo' is a speaker with similarly built in 'Alexa' functionality which has captured the hearts of millions of active users.
Whilst such integrations are fairly harmless or even gimmicky to begin with they point to the beginnings of an alternate, completely voice-dominated operating system. One of the challenges of such a system will be the subjectivity with which questions will be tackled and the spectrum of results shared. The more useful Siri is to us the more reliant we become on it and the more we'll trust it to make big decisions for us.
Anywhere where decisions are being influenced creates an opportunity for marketers – will local restaurants be bidding to be Siri's recommendation for a 'good Italian' before we know it? Siri focused marketing could easily begin to create a DR business to rival Google's own search.
3. The internet of home
Closely connected to Siri's expanded powers are Apple's efforts in the internet of things space. The pinnacle of which was the announcement of 'Home', a single app designed to control any number of devices connected through Apple's Home Kit standard.
The standard itself is a way of allowing competing manufacturers to build connected products (like lights, thermostats and more) which can better talk to and work alongside one another. One of its key drawbacks to date has been the lack of any consumer facing entry point across products, effectively still relying on each individual manufacturer to create their own siloed approaches.
Although again heavily hyped, many IOT products are relatively gimmicky and standalone, whilst the true potential of such technologies only really emerge when such devices are able to cleverly network, learn and deliver successful combined outcomes. Fragmentation in the early days of the industry represents a real barrier to this sort of coordination and adds to the perception that such technologies are complicated, hard to set up and tricky to run.
Apple has the footprint and software skills to start pulling together a coherent ecosystem which will make it far easier for average users to understand the value opportunity and setup and run their own networks. Whilst use cases currently remain fairly frivolous, we're only a couple of years away from embedding sophisticated commercial functionality in such devices – by the time your fridge can order its own food there's an entirely new customer to persuade.
4. Slowly cutting the cord
Apple TV remains the feeling of being something of a 'pet' project for Apple – delivering a simple promise well but not having yet truly found a way to disrupt its category like its other technologies have. New apps, channels and remotes this year will once again be iterative additions to an already powerful box.
The challenge here seems to be less the functionality of the technology itself, and more the inertia of the would-be customers. Despite a decade of warnings that TV users would cancel their subscriptions, throw away their TV licences and turn to new forms of content transmission, the reality is that TV remains in rude health. If anything boxes like Apple's have simply added to the total amount of time spent in front of screens, rather than shifting it around.
With a focus on paid for content, platforms like Apple TV offer little opportunity for advertisers but if anything they can take comfort from this relatively slow adoption – it seems there's still a good while before TV stops being the biggest reach media for most markets.
Jerry Daykin is global digital partner at Carat and tweets @jdaykin