Thoughts on iOS6 and WWDC

Apple took the wraps of of iOS 6 at WWDC this week. I’m not going to review all of the new features as there are many other sites you can go to for that (see Apple). Instead, I will discuss what I think are the important takeaways.

By The Numbers

Big events like WWDC are an opportunity for Apple to brag about its sales numbers and this one was no exception. Here are the interesting numbers:

  • There are 650K apps in the app store (Zoinks!)
  • Of those, 225K of them are iPad apps (Which is why iPad is the best selling tablet)
  • Apple has sold 365 million iOS devices (A big number, but I wonder how many are still in use)
  • There have been over 30B apps downloaded (That’s 82 apps per device)
  • Apple has paid developers over $5B (Which means Apple has kept about $2.1B for itself)
  • 66% of mobile web traffic is from Safari (I don’t know where they got that number but that sounds awfully high to me.)
  • 80% of iOS devices are running iOS 5. (This tells developers they can take advantage of new OS features without fear of only targeting a small part of the market)
  • Apple has 400 million iTunes accounts with credit cards (A huge number of devices are already tied to a credit card account)

Anyone paying attention in the least knows that Apple has a huge presence in mobile, but these numbers help give some scale to that notion and reminds developers of apps and mobile websites why it is important to support iOS.

No new major core OS changes

iOS 6 has 200 new features, but this is the first major iOS release to not add a major feature to the core OS.

  • iPhoneOS 2 added apps
  • iPhoneOS 3 added push notifications
  • iOS 4 added multitasking
  • iOS 5 added iCloud and Twitter support

iOS 6 is a collection of worthy and useful upgrades, but nothing significant has been added to the core OS itself. I don’t count the Facebook integration as “new” because it seems more of an extension of the Twitter integration in iOS 5 than a new feature.

Lots of little things.

There is a lot new in iOS 6 (200 new features) but it mostly takes the form of improvements to the existing apps. Almost across the board there are features that people have been asking for (such as “Do Not Disturb” mode, tab syncing, and separate signatures in Mail) and lots of good stuff that no one asked for but it is a good idea (like replying to a call with a text without answering the call). All the changes are too numerous to mention here but together they will make iOS 6 a must have upgrade when it is released this fall.

Don’t get me wrong here. All of the new functionality in iOS 6 looks great and I can’t wait until I can get it on my devices, but they didn’t move the ball much on what the OS can do. It feels more like iOS 5.5 than iOS 6.

Siri

Siri was a big deal at WWDC. It even opened the keynote! (notice I said ‘it’ and not ‘she’ – it bothers me when people refer to Siri as it is alive.)

Siri is clearly very important to Apple’s iOS strategy and Apple is investing in it by making it do more by partnering with more third party data providers for movies, sports, and restaurants and by integrating Siri into the OS in more places such as launching apps and within maps. Apple sees Siri as a differentiating feature and is pressing it. As a benefit, it hurts Google as Siri users need to search the web less often.

I found it odd that you need iOS 6 to get new features from Siri since Siri is mostly server based. I didn’t think much processing happened in the phone. Possibly the templates for the results are stored on the phone to reduce bandwidth usage but that seems awfully restrictive.

For the first time Siri will be available on another device, the third generation iPad, but not the older models nor any other iPhone.

I was surprised the Apple did not open up APIs for third parties to use Siri. I thought that would be a slam dunk but apparently not. I can think of two reasons for this:

1) Extending Siri may be very hard. It may be that it Siri’s internals are too complicated to offer to arbitrary developers. If this is the case, I would hope that Siri’s APIs would get easier to use over time and will eventually be made public.

2) Siri cannot scale. It also may be possible that Apple does not want to allow that much traffic to Siri because the servers would not be able to handle the load. I thought that was why Siri was not offered on any other device but the iPhone 4S. Apple will allow iPad 3 to use Siri and (I presume) the next iPhone but legacy devices are still denied.

Expect Siri to continue to become a defining feature on iOS devices.

Battery Life

Apple seems to be shifting its position of being very careful to protect battery life by adding more features that require heavy use of GPS. I wrongly reasoned in May that Apple would not offer turn-by-turn navigation with the new maps app because it would be terrible for battery life. Geo-fencing (having the phone alert you when you are physically at a location) was a new feature for Reminders in iOS 5, but is now a feature of Passbook and Phone too. For geo-fencing to work, the phone has to regularly check your position which is an expensive operation, power-wise.

I’m sure this is a conscious decision on Apple’s part (they do not do these thing without thought) but I do expect to hear complaints about battery life from iOS 6 users. I presume they decided this is a worthwhile tradeoff. I also expect the next iPhone to have a heftier battery.

Facebook support

Just as Apple added Twitter integration into iOS 5 they added similar support for Facebook in iOS 6. This should be a win for many users as it is becoming more and more common for apps to use Facebook as the authentication system. When it is built into the OS the user will just have to add their credentials once and then every app can use it. This may be a bigger win for Facebook mobility than anything Facebook is doing itself.

Passbook

First of all, Passbook is a terrible name. It sounds too much like Facebook.

That being said, Passbook is an all new app added to iOS 6 which has the potential to be very interesting. Passbook is basically a digital wallet that allows the user to manage things like airline boarding passes, train tickets, movie passes, coupons, or store loyalty cards. Apple has worked with several third parties (e.g. United Airlines, Starbucks, Fandango) to support Passbook. Fortunately there is an API to allow others to create their own passes which is crucial to its adoption.

The interesting thing about Passbook is that the passes are not static but are aware of their state. For example, your airline boarding pass will know if the gate or flight time has changed and will let you know with a notification. You can have a coupon that can give you a notification if you walk into a store reminding you to use it. Your movie pass can alert you before the movie starts. Your Starbucks card can show you your balance.

I’m not sure how these passes get into your Passbook though. Issuers of the pass must provide some way to download them Passbook. Perhaps through email attachments? There are security implications here that will need to be explained.

Passbook is a digital wallet but nothing was mentioned about payments. It is not hard to imagine adding credit and debit cards to Passbook at some point. Whether it will support an NFC payment system or not is not yet known, but if Apple were going to support payments this is where they would do it. Maybe we’ll see that with the next iPhone?

Passbook has the potential to be very powerful, but it will require third party support to be successful.

Maps

I suppose you can’t talk about iOS 6 without mentioning the all new Maps app. Apple has formally abandoned Google Maps for its own mapping technology. Although Google had to see this coming for a while, it still has to hurt. I’m sure the fees Apple has been paying are significant plus Google will be losing a lot of impression dollars.

Apple now has turn by turn directions as standard, just as Android has for years. (Last week would have been a good time to short Garmin stock.) Apple also has very pretty 3D imagery of cities called “Flyover” but as well as that demos I’m not sure how useful it will be. Apple did partner with Yelp to provide rich information for points of interest such as reviews and pictures and that is nice. (Another “you don’t need Google” feature.)

One other open question about maps is how will apps that embed maps be affected? Hopefully not at all but we won’t know until we try, will we?

The bottom line here is that Apple’s maps have to be as good as Google Maps and that’s no small task because Google Maps are excellent. There is already reports of some pretty bad mistakes in the maps so Apple has its work cut out for it. On the good side, I expect Google to offer its own map app for iOS so if you don’t like Apple’s offering you can go back to Google.

Support for older devices

New OSes usually drop support for older devices. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that iOS 6 will run on the iPhone 3GS as well as the iPhone 4 and 4S. The 3GS and 4 will have limitations though. Turn-by-turn navigation and the 3D “flyover” maps will not run on them. It would seem that the 3D imagery requires an A5 processor. I’m sure there will be other features not available (such as geofencing) that we will hear about. The fact that iPhone 3GS went on sale in 2009 and will still get the 2012 operating system is impressive.

iPad 1 owners are not as lucky as iOS 6 will not be supported on the first generation tablet at all. This is probably just as well. iOS 5 runs pretty slowly on an iPad 1 and imagine iOS 6 would just be worse.

Conclusion

iOS 6 is a solid improvement over iOS 5 and iDevice users will be enjoy their devices more when they install it this fall, but it isn’t a major leap in technology. Passbook is probably the most interesting piece.

I can’t help but feel a little let down (I’m trying to avoid the word “disappointed”) that there wasn’t anything new in the core of the OS for developers to take advantage of. I was hoping for inter-app communication or a device to device communication framework. It feels like mobile innovation has plateaued a bit. After the past few years of rapid changes, I suppose I’m a bit spoiled.

We now know what Apple has planned for its next iteration of iOS. Soon we’ll see what Microsoft has planned for Windows Phone 8 (on June 20) and what Google has planned for Android “Jelly Bean” (on June 27).

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About Lee J.

Mobile Guy!
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