When Tim Cook, CEO of technology company Apple Inc, took to the stage to open the 25th anniversary of its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), technology enthusiasts and industry watchers all over the world were aware that a slew of software enhancements were going to be announced.
They were not disappointed.
The unveiling of iOS 8, the next phase of the iPhone and iPad operating system, and OS 10.10 or OS X Yosemite, the new Mac operating system named after the California park (known for its incredible natural views) drew a series of applause and shouts of approval from more than 6000 developers who had gathered at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco. Drawn from some 69 countries (with the youngest developer aged 13), the section of the over 9 million worldwide developer community who were gathered in the hall, received a note of thanks from Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook.
“From all of Apple, thank you very much.”
The CEO of the 5th placed Fortune 500 company was right to do so. It is the commitment and mental acumen from those individuals that has given the company the gravitas to make make the sort of bold statements it made on Monday. It is this same commitment that the company will be banking on as it takes a bold step into laying a hand on the future of computing. The company’s current operating system for their Mac computers, OS Mavericks, has been installed 40 million times and currently makes for 50% of the installation base since November. This is in comparison to that of rival technology company Microsoft, whose Windows 8 operating system accounts for only 14% of its installation base. The mobile operating system iOS 7 currently accounts for 89% of its installation base which is comparable to 9% of its closest rival Android from Google.
Several of the enhancements announced, however, are mere reflections of already existing softwares and show Apple as a company playing catch up. The several ‘improvements’ to iMessages including renaming group message threads, ability to add and remove recipients, self destructing photos and audio messages, ‘tap to talk’ function and the muting of messages from groups, are currently available in messaging applications such as Whatsapp and Snapchat. The displeasure and sarcasm of Whatsapp CEO Jan Koum were expressed in a tweet, “very flattering to see Apple “borrow” numerous WhatsApp features into iMessage in iOS 8 #innovation”.
The Apple OS X Yosemite, with its translucent panes that take on different colours as they move around, has also been tagged as mimicking the Aero function in Windows Vista, Microsoft’s operating system released for personal computers in 2007. The redesigned version of Spotlight, Apple’s search function, has been criticised for its close resemblance to Google Instant, a search enhancement tool from search company Google Inc, that shows results as you type. The newly announced Apple Drive, a file system for iCloud, the cloud storage and cloud computing service from Apple Inc, comes two years after the launch of Google Drive and 7 years after the launch of Windows Live SkyDrive (now known as One Drive) and file hosting service, Dropbox.
The list goes on.
However, throughout the presentation by Apple’s head of software engineering, Craig Federighi and the brief appearances by other members of the Apple team, it was clear that the company had its eyes set on conquering the future of computing. A move that will make founder Steve Jobs smile (Investors too).
Courting the Developers
The gratitude showed by Tim Cook and the subtly humorous video that opened the Keynote address were clear signs of the push the company was making to court the growing worldwide community of programmers and developers responsible for shaping the success of several companies today. The technology company announced, among others, a new programming language for IOS and OS X called Swift. It is intended to make it easier for programmers to develop applications.The iOS 8 Software Development Kit (SDK) with more than 4000 new Application Programming Interfaces (API) – the system which instructs software components on how they should interact with each other – and Metal, a new graphics technology were also unveiled. As Himanshu Sareen, Founder and CEO of Icreon Tech put it in a post last year, “software developers will be the future masons of the smart city.” He argues that by year 2020, the role of developers and programmers will be most crucial. The claim was based on the projections made by US networking equipment company Cisco Systems Inc, on the growth of the ‘internet of things’ (over 50 billion things will possibly be connected to the internet). CEO of social networking service provider Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, in an address in April at the company’s F8 Developer Conference, made several commitments to the programming community in what industry watchers consider to be a move to woo them to use his company’s platform. New CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella is also quoted as saying at a recent gathering: “It’s exciting times for us and exciting times for developers in terms of the opportunity to be able to take your creativity, your applications, your systems, and then bring them forth to Windows as it evolves.” It should not be surprising therefore, that Apple will also want to get a bite of the ‘developer’ cherry.
The Apple Ecosystem
The consumer electronics and computing worlds have craved a software ecosystem that allows for seamless interaction across various devices – phones, tablets and computers. Google has for years pushed its Android ecosystem as the “open approach” which application vendors will favour, as noted by the company’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt in 2012. Microsoft’s Windows operating system which has for years dominated the personal computer market has struggled in recent years to maintain the stronghold it had several decades ago. The latest iteration of the operating system, Windows 8 and 8.1, have failed to revive the declining fortunes of the company, according to statistics website, Statistica. The announcements made on Monday by Apple’s Craig Federighi showed the company’s desire to “engineer (our) platforms, services and devices together… to create a seamless experience for our users across all our products that is unparalleled in the industry”. The introduction of Continuity, a software platform which allows the Mac and iOS devices to communicate seamlessly is an indication of the company’s commitment to ecosystem future. Handoff, a platform developed by the company, allows users to start an activity on one device and pass it to another and also make and receive phone calls directly using the Mac computer as a speakerphone. The unveiling of HomeKit, a platform that allows users to connect devices seamlessly for better management of homes, should win over some skeptics. HomeKit, according to Apple, offers the ability to easily control individual or groups of devices throughout the house, including integration with Siri – the company’s voice assistance service – thereby transforming the way people interact with their homes. This streamlining of the functions between the various Apple devices will likely improve not only the share performance of the company’s stock – currently at $630 a share – but also its chances of winning over the next generation of users.
Banking on your health
Though the announcement of the iWatch – Apple’s rumoured and soon-to-be-announced entrant into the wearable technology arena – was not made, the introduction of the Health app and HealthKit APIs will see various fitness applications communicating with each other to manage people’s health. John Noseworthy, M.D., Mayo Clinic President and CEO noted: “We believe Apple’s HealthKit will revolutionise how the health industry interacts with people.” The debate can be made about several fitness and activity trackers available on the market, including those on Samsung’s Gear 2 (which also serves as a watch), Moves (purchased by Facebook for an undisclosed fee in April) and Endomondo. Despite the drive for investment into fitness tracking devices and software by so many other companies, Apple’s Health application and HealthKit offer the added advantage of medical professionals being able to track, in real time, the performance of their patients, for example. The prospects of this are limitless. The launch of hardware that supports this software such as the iWatch, will go a long way to boost investor confidence and drive up sales.
The Cupertino based company has made its intentions clear to the world as it kicks off its conference in San Francisco. It is declaring a stand in the future of the internet of things. The interest of the technology industry, consumers and investors is on high alert. The ball now lies in the court of companies such as Google, who are planning their I/O event slated for June 25, to make their move.