WWDC 2014 – Apple’s developer relationships mature
Apple opened up – it showed us more love, more insight into what’s coming next and more answers. Last week’s WWDC was notable in its universal inspiration of developers. The reason was a simple one: they felt like they’d been heard. As @jsnell wrote before WWDC, there is a new confidence to this version of Apple. This Apple shares more and listens harder. Gruber and Matt Drance agree that this WWDC was a monumental success, covering most of the main requests from the developer community and then shocking them with the dream of a new beginning. It feels like Swift is a jolt of forced fresh thinking at just the right time.
To The Cloud.
I find it fascinating to watch Apple transform in front of us. The future of computing is service-oriented. Unfortunately, services are an area of weakness for Apple. iCloud continues to be unreliable, the App Store has been massively behind Google Play’s innovation curve and the company who defined act 1 of digital music looks downright old in Act 2: Beats seems like a blatant admission. Apple can’t afford to give up here, however. They realize that the changes might render them irrelevant. Not immediately, but over the next 10 to 15 years. Apple knows what it’s like to peak and then be beaten. They have respect for how quickly this can change. So they’re changing themselves, working to build out more services and taking more “risk”. As Matt shared, Apple struggles with a more open, services-oriented approach because of how they perceive risk:
“The massive technical and political change required and subsequently generated by things like extensibility, third-party keyboards, and a new programming language, bears massive risk both inside and outside of Apple. That risk — to security, to battery life, to a consistent experience that customers know and trust — was constantly evaluated when I fought for SDK enhancements as a Technology Evangelist inside Apple. And more often than not, it was decided either that the risks were too high, or that there wasn’t enough time to solve the problem while sufficiently containing those risks.”
Contrast that with Google, Amazon and Facebook: they have grown up in a services-oriented world and are steeped in how to iterate quickly and take “risks” with developer-facing offerings. The word risk means different things to these companies – they’re used to deploying their software into the cloud. Apple is getting more comfortable with this concept, finally. You can see it with their announcements about iOS 8. A lot of the announcements were about upgrades to their developer services. You can see this by dissecting two of the most interesting areas of change:
- The notifications center and app widgets
- The App Store and iTunes Connect
Notification Center and App Widgets
There is a strong argument to be made that notification center will be the most important screen on your iPhone or iPad. Similar to Google Now, notifications center has the opportunity to highlight core information at the right time. However, instead of Google determining what information to show, Apple is letting developers create the experience and compete for the attention of their customers.
Widgets enable more information to be accessible through the notification center. We fully expect more apps to be including widgets and working to ensure adoption of their widgets. This new channel for communication on a customer’s home screen will be used for marketing, customer feedback, follow-up and ongoing reminders of an app’s value. If you’re an informational app, there’s no reason you need to have a customer open your app in order to access crucial information. App Widgets and the updates to Notification Center are exciting developments and we can’t wait to experiment with them with our customers. But I bring up Notification Center and App Widgets as an example of how Apple is moving into services: cautiously but in a way that’s giving developers more control over the entire iOS experience.
If we’re right and Notification Center ends up consuming more of consumer time on the mobile device, this is an important decision. Apple, historically so careful with the customer experience, is giving the keys to the engagement castle away, trusting that developers will do the right things. This new Apple is letting developers define the mobile experience.
What will be interesting to observe is what happens when app developers get too aggressive with their widgets. Will the review process begin to test notifications out? Will developers be throttled in their widget activity? What extra controls will be embedded in the Settings section to give people control over the noise in Notification Center?
App Discovery and Marketing in the App Store
While much is made of iCloud and iTunes, the App Store is likely Apple’s most impactful web service today. Unfortunately, app discovery and search in the the App Store have long been a point of contention because developers and publishers have felt like they had insufficient tools and very little insight into the decision-making processes. While we don’t expect all of that to change with this update, it’s clear that Apple has invested more time and energy in improving the experience, both for publishers and app customers. Most of the improvements that were made should improve search, discoverability, reporting, attribution and conversion tracking. Fundamentally, the App Store team is providing a service that helps mobile businesses grow and they’re starting to act like it.
The changes don’t appear to be deployed yet on iOS 8 devices – but from the keynote, Apple’s new app store search will include “trending searches.” Similar to trends on Twitter, this feature gives insight into what are current popular searches in the App Store. It will be interesting to see how these suggestions will differ from the apps that appear in the Top Charts.
Replacing the “Apps Near Me” Section
Apple’s new “Explore” function in the App Store is a major improvement over the previous “Apps Near Me” feature that had limited use cases. With “Explore,” you are able to easily drill down into sub categories of each app vertical to find apps that suit your needs. The key takeaway here is that Apple is clearly experimenting with discovery methods and once “Apps Near Me” proved to be unsuccessful, they weren’t afraid to change it up.
App previews have been desired by publishers for years – demonstrating an interactive app with flat screenshots is just not sufficient to the task. Great app previews will provide a boost in downloads for apps by telling the story more effectively. For paid apps this will become an important tool for converting visitors into a paid install. For more information on app previews and how to make them effective, our friends at Apptamin have written a great post with tips on how to use them. What remains to be seen is how Apple is going to deal with the quality question: many of the previews will be of poor quality. Is the review process now going to encompass reviewing your App Preview? If so, how much time is this going to add to the review process?
It’s no secret that beta testing has been a frustrating experience for most iOS developers. As apps get more sophisticated and customer expectations rise, it’s absolutely crucial that developers conduct some testing and get feedback from customers before launching the apps more broadly. Launching with a buggy or incomplete app is just not an option for companies with an existing brand and customer base. This process has been significantly limited by Apple’s provisioning requirements and limits.
The purchase of TestFlight implied that this was going to get more attention from Apple and sure enough, WWDC confirmed this. Making it much easier to ship beta versions of apps to up to 1000 people (note that each person can have multiple devices, really increasing the scope of testing) is a huge win for publishers. The quality of apps is certainly going to improve as a result. The fact that Apple saw this area as truly important and crucial to the ecosystem further underlines their movement to a service-oriented approach – they have to be a provider of ongoing services that improve the app development and release process and testing is a crucial piece of the puzzle now.
Reporting and analytics have long been subpar in iTunes Connect. If you wanted to understand how many people took a look at your app’s App Store page, well, that was just impossible. If you wanted to try and implement attribution tracking, you had to work with HasOffers or another outside vendor, which meant that the vast majority of developers weren’t even thinking about the problem. Trying to understand your app’s retention and installation activity? You better set up an analytics package and get comfortable with their reports. While there were many developers who invested in analytics, attribution and other reporting tools, the problem with the lack of information coming out of Apple was that key pieces of the puzzle were missing. Without App Store view and conversion data, every other analysis was an incomplete guess. Furthermore, the vast majority of developers weren’t taking the time to invest in these tools, resulting in suboptimal results.
With more information about customer needs and actions comes better software. Apple’s rollout of reporting and analytics tools should reverse this state of affairs, democratizing the data and information about app store behavior, unleashing a wave of more finely honed app strategies and better informed developers. Many of us thought Apple just didn’t want to share this data, but WWDC communicated that Apple understands our problems and wants to help us be more successful. By investing in this area of iTunes Connect Apple is making it easier for the rest of us who help app publishers to deliver a full picture of customer activity and behavior. Our in-app communications tools help with app store download conversion and customer retention.
Now that Apple’s providing us the core data for these calculations, we can help our customers contextualize that data and act upon it instead of spending numerous cycles just to estimate impacts and results.
Looking forward: designing a better mobile experience
In addition to the items we’ve highlighted above, there are many more inspiring features that we’ll all be discovering in the coming months. You can find a full overview on all the features released in iOS 8, but the most interesting pieces won’t be clear for at least 6 months. Once iOS 8 is out the door and in the hands of consumers, we’ll get to see how the new changes are helping us make better apps and be more successful. We’re excited to see how this unfolds with a newly open and supportive Apple. We can’t wait.