Apple iOS News, apple, Apple WWDC, Internet, iPad, iphone, Mapping technologies, Software, Technology — June 12, 2013 13:51 — 0 Comments
WWDC wrapup: iOS 7, iTunes Radio’s value, and a newly confident Apple
Apple may have a few tricks up its sleeve – including mobile payments, more music sales and desktop convergence
Apple’s WWDC announcements – and particularly the unveiling of iOS 7 – have already reverberated around the tech industry. Here’s your guide to what has happened, and what it means.
• iTunes Radio could make Apple (and labels) quite a bit of money
There are 575 million iTunes accounts (most with credit cards) and Tim Cook said “iTunes in the cloud” has 300 million users. If that’s the same as iTunes Match (where you can download songs to up to five devices using the same iCloud ID), that’s a hell of a lot of people who are listening to their music on multiple devices. (Even if he actually meant devices rather than users, it’s still 60 million.)
Even if just one-third of 300 million people upgrade their version of iTunes to take advantage of iTunes Radio (which is free if you pay for iTunes Match; ad-supported otherwise) then Apple will be paying out large sums of money.
The standard streaming rate is 0.085p per track played. Apple has probably organised a lower price. But for the sake of argument, if 100m people listen to 200 songs per month, equivalent to 10 hours – the ceiling that Spotify presently puts on free listening, that’s £8.5m per month going to the labels. Essentially, it’s free money for them. Apple can sell ads against it; you can debate whether it will manage to sell that much advertising. At the worst, it could kick-start the iAds mobile advertising business by giving it a new source of inventory (the space ads are sold into).
But iTunes Radio will also offer one-click purchasing of songs and that’s where the advantage comes. Apple is reckoned to keep between 4p and 12p per song sold. That means it only needs to make about one sale per 50 listens, and it’s breaking even (ignoring streaming costs). If Genius, which has been going for five years, is any good at all, it should be finding songs that you’ll want to listen to – and even buy – all over the place. If Apple has negotiated a lower rate, and keeps more money from each song sale, then the number of “sales per listens” needed to break even falls further.
So it might be free and ad-supported, but it’s got a potentially big financial upside, both for labels and Apple. And users get free ad-supported music. (The devil might be in how much advertising has to be tolerated in those 10 hours. For free accounts, Spotify plays one 30-second advert per 20 minutes, plus displaying adverts on its app.)
An interesting contrast is that Google’s streaming music service will be paid for. Why? I suspect it’s because Google simply doesn’t have the scale that Apple does in terms of Genius data or potential users. Making its service paid-for ensures that it only gets those who find it valuable, not those who just find it convenient, and so increases its chance of keeping within break-even.
• Maps: an app and some feedback
Apple Maps are coming to the desktop as an app in Mac OSX 10.9 (“Mavericks”). Sources tell me that Apple is acutely aware of the annoyance Maps has caused, and of the extra annoyance (as enunciated by people like former Apple staffer Daniel Jalkut) caused when suggested changes don’t seem to get fixed. An improvement to the feedback process is in the works.
Maps is also getting some of the intelligence that Google Now and Windows (phone and desktop) have – such as pointing out that you have to leave a certain amount of time to reach your next appointment. Apple has a lot to prove here, but the incorporation of its Maps app into the forthcoming “Mavericks” desktop OS is further demonstration that it’s trying to winkle Google out of the default position it holds in many places. (Default location searches on Mac OSX presently offer Google Maps.)
• iOS 7: the “supergroup” of mobile operating systems
Remember when big rock bands used to form “supergroups” composed of the singer from one band, the bassist from another, the guitarist from somewhere else and a drummer, with the notion that the sum of these exalted parts would be better than the rest? That’s something like what iOS 7 is. It’s taken lots of ideas from other operating systems – Android, Windows Phone, webOS – and synthesised them into what was already there in iOS. (So mathematically it’s also a supergroup.)
Lots of people who have only seen photos of iOS 7 think that it’s “flat”. (That was my initial reaction when it was being shown on stage.) In fact, it’s not. I used an iPhone running iOS 7 briefly on Monday, and while the icons themselves give the impression of living in a single plane – very much like Windows Phone – there are other layers present too. The wallpaper behind the icons has a parallax effect, so if you move the phone it seems to have depth. (It can be turned off. A fun version would be a parallax effect that makes the phone seem deeper than it actually is.)
There are then at least two other layers – Notification Centre (which swipes down from the top) and Control Centre (which swipes up from the bottom). Control Centre has translucency overlaying what’s underneath it, while the keyboard in some apps (such as iMessage) also seems to have an element of translucency.
According to Jonathan Ive, who has driven the team to do the redesign, “these planes, combined with new approaches to animation and motion, create a sense of depth and vitality … Even the simple act of changing your wallpaper has a very noticeable effect on the way your iPhone looks and feels across the entire system.” Using translucency, he says, “gives you a sense of context”.
Here’s what’s been “borrowed”:
• Control Centre contains ideas that will be instantly familiar to any Android user – a shortcut to common functions such as turning wireless or Bluetooth off/on, enabling/disabling Airplane mode, setting Do Not Disturb, changing brightness, “AirDrop”, AirPlay, and more. It’s strikingly done. Android has had something like this for a long time, but Control Centre is clean and well-organised in a way that lots of Android implementations really aren’t. (Compare the Samsung Galaxy S4′s version, for example, which combines notifications with controls. It’s overloaded by contrast.
• Notification Centre is now available from the lock screen. This is just like Windows Phone, though with more detail. That might be a security hazard; no doubt it’s configurable what shows, or whether you get it in the lock screen at all.
• The multitasking interface – double-clicking on the home button – brings up the apps in a horizontal scrolling list (so, unlike Android’s vertical scrolling list). You can dismiss an app – ie kill it – by swiping it upwards. Yup, exactly like the much-missed webOS. Apple’s also promising better control of multitasking.
• Does AirDrop presage mobile payments? Perhaps
“AirDrop” is Apple’s wireless response to Samsung’s physical NFC “bump”. The idea is that if you want to transfer a picture or other asset to someone nearby, you go to Control Centre, activate AirDrop, and it will find fellow iOS 7 users nearby, to whom you can (with their permission) send the file. No passwords or codes, and multiple sends are possible. Craig Federighi, Apple’s software chief, took some delight in explaining this, saying “you won’t have to go around bumping your phone against each other one.”
It certainly looks very neat (it seems to work by using supersonic tones – honest), and a good solution to a perennial problem which most people solve by email (clunky) or picture messaging (pricey). But there are also hints that Apple is looking at using AirDrop, or some element of it, for wireless mobile payments. Cook pointed out that there are now 575 million iTunes accounts, “most of which have credit cards – that’s more accounts with credit cards than any store on the internet that we’re aware of”.
The expectation has been growing that Apple will do something with mobile payments – last year you could hear the air going out of the mobile payment business when the iPhone 5 didn’t include NFC. This week, a newly filed Apple patent emerged which suggests that it could offer “iWallet” as part of iTunes accounts.
• Skeuomorphism is dead
And it has a flat unshaded translucent stake through its heart. The Safari icon no longer looks like a “real” compass. The Game Centre doesn’t have a green felt effect. The News-stand icon doesn’t look like a bookshelf (which never made sense anyway.) The Compass icon doesn’t look like a compass. We didn’t see what Find My Friends, which in the current iOS has an abominable faux-stitched leather appearance, looks like, but no design could be worse.
Personally, I’m happy to see the back of skeuomorphism. It was nice while it lasted, but had outstayed its welcome by about 2010, and under Scott Forstall (fired in October) it was starting to metastatise: the “shredder” when you deleted a pass in the Passbook app was truly horrible.
• Less phone theft? Maybe
“Activation Lock” will make it impossible to reformat or reuse a phone if it has been remotely wiped, unless the Apple ID that was used to wipe it is entered. It’s Apple’s response to the growing trend of smartphone thefts.
• Apple is merging mobile and desktop
Mac OS X 10.9 (“Mavericks”) borrows a fair number of elements from mobile (such as Maps), and there’s increasingly tighter integration between the two – although no merging of the user interface. Apple is trying to make the three platforms – phone, tablet and PC – work together seamlessly without taking Microsoft’s path of forcing the desktop OS onto the tablet.
Like Google, Apple thinks tablets are more like phones than like PCs. And while Google is trying to do the same integration of desktop and mobile, Apple looks to be ahead. There’s more detail about Mavericks on Apple’s site. Note how AirDrop has moved from being a desktop feature (where it started) to mobile (where it’s potentially much, much more useful), iMessage is on both, Maps is on both. It’s a shift towards feature parity but not user interface parity.
• its iWork office suite is now cross-platform
Nobody’s ever going to mistake the iWork suite (for spreadsheet/presentation/document creation) for Microsoft Office, and it doesn’t (yet?) have the multiple ownership and simultaneous editing of Google Docs.
It’s cheaper than Office and more stylish than Google Docs, but doesn’t look essential. Being able to run on Windows 8 in an HTML5-capable browser is useful, but doesn’t feel like a game-changer. Still, if Microsoft won’t bring Office to the iPad, Apple can bring iWork to Windows. The last time Apple ported an app to Windows was Safari (not a great success); the time before, it was iTunes (a huge success). So, flip a coin. (It’s pretty likely to come up Safari.)
• Apple is, after all, bullish
After weeks of being under attack over tax, not having invented Google Glass and not introducing low-cost iPhones, Apple showed its bullish side. “Can’t innovate my ass,” said Phil Schiller, the marketing chief, when he was showing off the design of the new Mac Pro desktop. (It’s tiny, and will probably get mistaken for a large ashtray or a small urn by some office cleaners.)
Tim Cook did some fancy numerology to argue that iOS 6 is the world’s most-used mobile operating system. The logic goes thus: Apple has sold more than 600m iOS devices in all; 93% of current iOS users are on iOS 6.
For Android, Google’s platform stats show that the most-used version is Gingerbread (36.5% of all installs). Google said at I/O that 900m Android devices have been activated. (That’s up by an amazing 500m in a single year.) If you take 36.5% of the 900m, it’s less (probably) than 93% of however many active iOS devices there are. (Cook didn’t specify.)
Cook also drew attention to how much money developers get from writing apps for iOS (five times more than for Android, he said – though Horace Dediu of Asymco, sitting beside me, pointed out that Google has never said how much money Google Play generates). And there were the statistics about the amount of time spent using iPhone versus using Android phones. Apple is sensitive to the idea that Android is “winning” in anything other than the numbers war. WWDC was its response.
Now it has to make good on the other promises about innovation – whether in phones, or TV, or other services. And iOS 7 isn’t finished; it wasn’t even shown running on an iPad. There’s still some way to go.
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