Three Takeaways From Apple’s Big Show

Cook’s Keynote Points to a Future in Services, and China

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote presentation at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California, on June 13, 2016.

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote presentation at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California, on June 13, 2016. (Photo: GABRIELLE LURIE/AFP/Getty Images)

 

From renaming the Mac’s operating system to a new Mindfulness app for the Apple Watch, Tim Cook’s keynote at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco Monday had a little something for everyone.

No new devices were introduced, or even hinted at — check back in September — but the keynote revealed plenty about the future direction of the company that remains personal technology’s trendsetter.

Here are three key takeaways from the two-hour presentation:

Apple opens up: When the iPhone first launched, developers were limited to creating “web apps” — programs that ran within the Safari web browser. Only when Apple allowed the creation of native apps and opened the App Store to house them did the iOS ecosystem we know today come into being.

Many core components of the operating system, though, have remained off-limits to third-party developers — until now. With the release of iOS 10 this fall, however, Apple is throwing open the doors to several of these functions, inviting apps that take advantage of them.

Apple has become increasingly dependent on China to fuel its continued growth, and a sharp drop in sales there earlier this year sent shock waves through the stock market.

It’s a smart move, particularly because it will help extend the functionality of apps that are lagging behind competitors. For one example, Siri: The voice-based personal assistant, so full of potential when it launched, has languished as other players like Amazon’s Alexa have invaded the space and stolen the buzz. Now, developers will be invited to bake Siri — which is also coming to the Mac — directly into their own apps.

Another beneficiary: Apple Maps, which has made huge progress since its disastrous debut but still trails Google Maps in terms of power and market share. And Apple has such high hopes for its revamped Messages app, which is gaining a slew of new tricks, that it will have its own App Store to feature stickers, services and even payments.

Openness has its limits, though. Despite speculation ahead of the event, Messages will continue to remain an Apple-only service; no Android version was mentioned.

It’s increasingly about services: Apple has always been about hardware: Gadgets are where it makes its money, and that’s unlikely to change. But gadgets are only useful insofar as they enable people to do stuff, and Apple is increasingly inserting itself into the do-stuff business.

Apple Pay, for instance, will come to the web in the form of a new button that will compete with PayPal in online payments, using the Touch ID sensor on an iPhone or iPad to authenticate transactions. United Airlines, The North Face, Etsy and The Wall Street Journal are among those embracing the new service.

Apple is also taking the next logical step to insert itself into the home-automation market, a mess that desperately needs someone to bring some order.

Step one was HomeKit, Apple’s standard for smart-home devices like locks, lights and thermostats, which was introduced two years ago with iOS 8. This year brings the missing piece: a new app, called Home, for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch that will provide a single point of control for the growing number of HomeKit-enabled devices reaching the market.

The Apple News app is also introducing support for subscription services like the Journal and The New York Times. And it and Apple Music are both getting makeovers.

Boy, do we love China: If you didn’t already know how important the Chinese market is to Apple, you would have figured it out quickly from the keynote.

The new Scribble feature, which lets you scrawl out a message on the face of an Apple Watch, initially supports only English and Chinese. Demonstrating how Siri will work with third-party apps, software chief Craig Federighi commanded it to “Send a WeChat to Nancy.” The Apple Maps demo invoked Chinese ride-sharing service Didi, in which Apple has invested $1 billion. Other segments of the keynote name-checked such familiar-in-China names as Alipay and Tencent.

Apple has become increasingly dependent on China to fuel its continued growth, and a sharp drop in sales there earlier this year sent shock waves through the stock market. If WWDC is any indication, the company is, if anything, doubling down on its commitment to the Chinese market.

At the very least, all those references made for a fun drinking game.

Rich Jaroslovsky is an Observer technology columnist, founder of the Online News Association and vice president of SmartNews Inc. Reach him at richj@observer.com or on Twitter @RichJaro.

Three Takeaways From Apple’s Big Show