Last night was big for Apple. It unveiled tonnes of new features for both iOS and Mac OS in front of an almost exclusively all-male audience. But what do all of the new bells and whistles tell us about Apple’s strategy? What can the company’s announcements tell us about what it is planning, and where it thinks the industry is going?
1) Apple is gunning for Google
Apple vs Google is perhaps the biggest rival in tech at the moment, as the companies control both major operating systems. Unfortunately – they both need each other. Apple needs Google’s services, and Google needs Apple’s users. There were signs last night though that Apple is slowly trying to extricate itself from Google’s iron grip – continuing the process that saw the Maps fiasco a couple of years ago.
So what were the signs? First off the updates to Spotlight on Mac and iOS which gave predictive results – without ever going near Google. Once updated, you won’t have to touch Google to get maps, restaurant reviews and even carry out basic conversions (you’re able to type “10kg in pounds” in the search box, say).
And whilst Apple probably isn’t ballsy enough to remove Google as the default search provider, it was sneakily shown on a slide that the company are adding search upstarts DuckDuckGo as a search provider option. For those out of the loop, DuckDuckGo is one of Google’s biggest challengers in search – with a small but influential number of users preferring it to Google.
Microsoft’s much unloved Bing also put in an appearance as an extension to Safari offering translation options. So it appears Apple are happier working with Microsoft than Google. Imagine telling someone that in the mid-90s – you’d sound as mad as if you were to suggest a detente between Sega and Nintendo, and that Sonic and Mario would eventually make peace and go to the Olympics together.
The other big announcement of course was iCloud Drive – a new service that is not a million miles away from the likes of Dropbox and, crucially, Google Drive. Apple wants it to become the cloud storage destination of choice – and has priced it aggressively as a result.
2) Apple wants your subscription revenue
iCloud Drive was a big indicator: Apple want to SASS you. iCloud Drive will be paid through subscription fees rather than a one-off, and we’ve increasingly seen that pricing model used in tech: from Dropbox storage, to Netflix and Spotify, to…. new Apple acquisition Beats Music.
Could Apple have made the calculation that getting a guaranteed few pounds off of everyone a month is a more sustainable form of income than selling content piecemeal? Why only unreliably sell users a new tablet every few years when you can take a tenner a month for music and storage in addition?
Apple is trying to hook in developers in the same way. At the end of the presentation last night “CloudKit” was announced, which is basically a competitor for Amazon’s S3 platform. This is a bunch of cloud services that can be used for the server-side stuff on apps – so conceivably iPhone app developers wouldn’t need to provide their own servers if they have a social media app, say. Even more remarkably, it was free to quite a generous extent – with the cost to developers scaling with the number of users.
3) The internet of things is here – but the race is to provide the middleman, not the iToaster
With any new category of technology, for the first few years it is a bit of a wild west in terms of standards until the industry gets its act together and figures out commonalities. Think about mobile phone operating systems, where each phone would be slightly different, and apps (assuming you could be bothered to jump through the hoops to get them) wouldn’t work across devices. Then iOS and Android came along and made things consistent.
The Internet of Things – connected devices in the home – is currently in this early stage with devices as disparate as lightbulbs, thermostats and locks and so on all working slightly differently, with their own apps. Apple though has recognised that “connected home” is the next big thing, and is making a big play to be the middleman – offering a common platform for all of these devices.
So don’t expect to see Apple-branded devices around the home, but by cementing itself in the centre of your home, Apple will guarantee that you’ll have to keep buying iPhones, so that you can use your dishwasher or whatever.
4) Apple has an answer to “the same experience on all devices”
Microsoft’s overall strategy with Windows 8 on PC and mobile is “the same experience on all devices” – which is why Windows 8 looks the same whether you’re sat at your desk and lounging on the sofa with your tablet. Whilst I’ve criticised this approach in the past, there is a certain logic to it, as you should be able to put down one device and pick it up on another.
With Apple’s “Hand Off” features, it has provided an answer to this: rather than crudely running the same app on all three devices (mobile, tablet and PC), it is providing a smarter way of interacting that works within the framework of each device’s operating systems. It’ll be interesting to see which philosophy triumphs.
5) Apple holds grudges about Dropbox
Finally… a lesson in not saying no to Apple. Back in 2011 Dropbox apparently said no to a nine-figure offer from Apple (that’s upwards of $100m).
A couple of years later and Apple has announced iCloud Drive, a direct competitor to Dropbox’s services. And whilst Dropbox isn’t doing too badly itself, Apple has something like $151bn in the warchest with which to enact its vengeance. If you were a Dropbox executive, would you be sleeping soundly tonight?