Siri ShortcutsLast week, Apple held its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and announced improvements and enhancements that we think are important for modern businesses to consider as a part of their digital strategy. The places where Apple is taking its ecosystem will impact the way your customers interact with your business and you'll need to adjust accordingly to continue to compete.

Performance

Apple will spend the year focusing on performance improvements for iOS and making the operating system perform well across all supporting devices. This continuous iOS improvement cycle goes all the way back to iPhone 5S; a phone made 5 years ago, which is a long time for modern smart phone support. Many Android devices are lucky to get two years of consistent updates. This may mean that Apple is making a play to sell their older devices in developing countries, in an attempt to gain broader support and improve market penetration.

Apple accumulated some technical debt over the past several years and they are using this year to start paying off some of that debt. This is a good time for you to start paying off some of the technical debt that you may have accumulated over the past 10 years in your iOS apps. That means doing things like converting to Swift, separating your business logic from your presentation logic, and making other technical improvements. If your app lags behind your competitors in terms of the ability to quickly add features or performance, your user adoption and retention will struggle. Don't let technical debt keep you from being competitive.

Design

Another area of craftsmanship that Apple is focusing on is design. There were an inordinately high number of sessions at this year's WWDC reminding attendees what good design looks like, fluid design concepts, and how to implement them into your app.

One of the design moves that Apple wants to see companies move away from is indirect actions. An example of an indirect action is, if you want to scroll down on a document you might grab the scrollbar and pull it up, which for some reason moves your document down. This type of action makes no sense and puts a much higher cognitive load on the user. Companies should be using direct actions - it's one of the key principles Steve Jobs introduced with the original iPhone. Using touch should be natural and reflect reality. If you have a visual element and slide it up like you would a piece of paper it should react how you would expect it to in the real world. Unfortunately, many companies are using interfaces that slipped back to relying on indirect contact, or indirect actions, which breaks that illusion of magic. Once you break that illusion of magic, you start losing engagement.

Project Marzipan

They didn't say the name, but project Marzipan has been deduced from various things found in the code. Marzipan will bring the ability for iOS apps to run on Macs. Currently, the user base for Macs in the U.S. is 21 million people - that's a lot of devices your app will suddenly be able to access.

Apple is importing their native, or their iPad apps over to Marzipan and presenting them under the new macOS, with the expectation that next year that functionality will be available for all iOS apps with a preference for iPad designs. With Marzipan, it's estimated that you'll be able to start publishing apps in the fall of 2019. CapTech recommends that you pay attention to your iPad presentation of your app. If you don't have one, go ahead and start working on one with the expectation that in 2019 you'll be able to easily port that app to macOS, exposing your app to 21 million desktops where you'll get an icon on the doc. That's the kind of exposure that your webpage will never get. And we expect if you have an iPad design in place that porting to macOS will be relatively straight forward and not a high-effort project.

Siri Shortcuts and Suggestions

Siri Shortcuts is a new feature that will allow your app to more seamlessly interact with the Siri ecosystem. It is not as full-featured and as flexible as an Alexa skill or a Google action, but it does take a big step toward allowing any app to be commanded by voice without having to open the app. Apple also demonstrated Shortcuts working on the HomePod, which should give some life to that device, which has excellent hardware, but needs more intelligence.

The only caveat is that to provide that functionality you need to separate your business logic from your presentation logic - which goes back to fixing that technical debt that I mentioned earlier. In developer-speak, we have view controllers which are designed to control how things are presented on the screen. However, a lot of view controllers have business logic embedded in them which you will need to change if you want to fully leverage Siri Shortcuts.

Siri Shortcuts will be available on iOS 12 this fall and will also enable other actions. This includes Siri Suggestions which will utilize predictions of user actions and will provide placement on the Today View. With Shortcuts, your app looks like part of the whole iOS ecosystem and becomes easier for your users to interact with consistently. The thing to remember here is, if your competitor has a voice interface on the phone and you don't, you're losing that channel on the device. Even though Siri is the least feature-rich of the voice interfaces, it is the most popular.

WatchOS

There weren't many major developer features of the watchOS save the integration with Siri Suggestions. Once again, this allows your app to have its shortcuts show up on the Siri watch face. For organizations who don't want to develop a full watch app but want penetration through that channel, focusing on developing Siri Suggestions will be a great way to increase your app's exposure.

Notifications

Apple's making an effort with iOS 12 to clean up the notification mess. You can now have different categories of notifications that users can approve. Pay attention to these new options, because what we continue to see is that a noisy app is quickly deleted from devices. There's a very fine line to engaging with the customer via constant notifications and if you go too far over the line, users will delete your app. These new options broaden that line so that customers who want to be more engaged with your app can enable higher levels of notifications. Many of the capabilities around Siri shortcuts can be used to increase engagement without having to resort to notifications. Additionally, for states and municipalities, or apps that provide critical information like health alerts, Apple is providing an API for critical notifications which will override any other settings. Don't worry about developers hijacking this functionality to get your attention, as Apple requires special approval for apps that want to use these critical notifications.

Passwords

Apple will simplify how passwords are managed so that third party apps can more easily take part in password management tools. This is a very straightforward integration and we can without reservation recommend that our clients use these features. With them, you get the security of authentication but without the hassle of users having to remember long passwords. This is a simple and easy way you can improve your engagement and customer experience.

Machine Learning

With the machine learning updates, it looks like Apple will make a play for being able to perform data science on the Mac directly with Xcode tools. They are also giving tools that will allow developers to produce models that are very efficient and optimized for iOS. In the past, some organizations have not put machine learning in their apps because the impact on app size and performance is so huge. It's been well observed that if you push your app over the cellular download limit, it decreases how many people will download it. These new tools help you stay under that limit while still delivering machine learning. It also helps you deliver machine learning without destroying the battery life of your user's phone.

ARKit

WWDC welcomed significant upgrades to ARKit. Including the ability to detect objects and share world information with other users, privately or in the cloud. In our experimentation with ARKit, we've noticed with object detection, it's only suitable for very static environments at this point. The example they provided at WWDC was recognizing an object in a museum. That really is the best situation because the environment is consistent and the approach of the guest to the object is consistent.

If your lighting is changing or if the surrounding area is changing, it decreases the likelihood of object recognition working. For retail it could be useful as long as the object isn't shiny and has enough texture to it. So a pair of red glossy shoes may not work well , but a pair of tennis shoes with varied Apple also announced USDZ, a standard file format for the presentation of 3D objects via Quick Look or a web browser. It's shows a lot of potential and hopefully other platforms (e.g. Android) will adopt it as well so we will have a single standard for augmented reality. As it works right from the web browser, if you're a shoe retailer and you have a 3D object of a pair of shoes, the user could be looking at them on the web page and tap on it and then see that pair of shoes in life-size view in their own environment. If you're thinking of developing 3D objects, you should make them with this file format. USDZ has already been heavily used at Pixar to exchange 3D objects within that studio. If anybody knows 3D objects, it's Pixar.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway from WWDC this year is that you really need to consider the finer details of how your app is built and take the time to pay down your technical debt. From performance to design, investing in refining and optimizing your app will let you tap into new features (i.e. Siri Shortcuts) and improve the experience for your users.