In mid June, Apple publicly released its SDK for iOS 10, which will officially be available in September. It was most likely a response to fellow tech giants Facebook, Google, and Amazon opening up their services in recent years. Apple opening its SDK means that third-party developers can integrate their mobile application into key Apple apps, such as Siri, iMessage, and Apple Maps. Now, any and all apps on the App Store will be available to iPhone users during their inquisitive conversations with Siri, their back-and-forth with friends in iMessage, and more.
It’s game-changing for app developers who for years have been itching for such access. App developers will be able to capitalize on the growing popularity of intelligent personal assistants like Siri, who believe it or not has a much higher user satisfaction rate than Google Now and Cortana. In addition, the open Apple SDK means that app developers can more easily get their app in front of millions of untapped users, reaping the benefits of innovative mobile engagement opportunities from previously unavailable channels -- namely, Siri, Maps, iMessage, and others.
Let’s go back to 2011 -- when, after upgrading to iOS 5, you encountered Siri for the first time. The promise was incredible, and many felt like we were one step closer to living in a science fiction film. But, it’s been five years, and Siri has barely matured past her simple Web searching capabilities and bank of sassy insults. Until now, that is.
In order to translate a user’s spoken request into actions, Siri relies on natural language processing. The Apple SDK for Siri is divided into six domains:
- Audio or video calling (“call John via Skype”)
- Messaging (“WhatsApp Mary I’m running late”)
- Sending or receiving payments (“send my brother $50 with Venmo”)
- Searching photos (“finds pictures from my France trip on Instagram”)
- Booking a ride (“call an Uber to my location”)
- Managing workouts (“start counting my steps”)
So, if your app supports any of these services, then click here to get started developing your extensions. But, don’t forget to register a unique vocabulary for Siri to understand, like your app name or other brand specific features. Uber, for example, might register “UberX.”
Although not all apps fall under these six categories, it’s reasonable to assume that Apple will widen their SDK to include additional categories, as well, such as music apps like Pandora, email apps like Gmail, and others.
It was only a matter of time until Apple permitted third-party integration for iMessage, as Messenger, Snapchat, Line, and WeChat already offer its users similar services. In iOS 10, third-party developers can manipulate iMessage to let users send branded stickers and interactive messages like games or collaborative apps from within iMessage itself.
First, iMessage apps. In iOS 10, developers will be able to create “app extensions” that users can access and interact with from within iMessage. In some ways, a mini or stripped-down version of your app will be available within iMessage so that users can access in-app functionality all while chatting with their friends. In September, when iOS 10 launches, users will also find a mini App Store integrated into iMessage, where they’ll be able to browse through and download relevant iMessage apps.
For example, users who downloaded a gaming iMessage app could invite their friends via iMessage to join the game. Or, users who installed a payment iMessage app could request immediate payment from their friends, as well. (Don’t worry, there’s no need to create a whole new app. Just add the iMessage functionality into your existing parameters.)
In addition to iMessage apps, Apple is introducing branded stickers. Of course, Apple didn’t invent themed or branded stickers. They’ve long been a part of Viber, Facebook, and a slew of other messaging apps. But, because iMessage is so prevalent -- as the most used app in Apple’s ecosystem which handles several billion iMessages daily -- creating branded sticker packs might be a smart investment for app developers. It’s great for monetization, brand awareness, and can work to increase downloads by improving discoverability.
In 2013, Facebook Messenger launched its first branded sticker pack -- a bundle based on the fun, playful characters in Despicable Me 2. Naturally, this generated a huge amount of brand awareness for the Universal film. Sticker packs are a fun and potentially viral way to get your app brand in front of active mobile users.
It seems that Apple doesn’t want its users to leave any app, not just iMessage. In iOS 10, third-party developers will be able to create app extensions for Apple Maps, as well, using the same extension functionality as the ones for Siri. Specifically, if your app offers location-related services, such as booking rides or reserving tables, your users will be able to perform the entire service, including booking, tracking, and paying, without ever leaving Apple Maps.
In the keynote address introducing this feature, presenter Eddy Cue offered the example of OpenTable and Uber. It works like this: a user who has the OpenTable app installed on his iPhone opens Apple Maps and browses for a sushi restaurant nearby. He finds one he likes and taps on it within Apple Maps. The OpenTable extension pop ups, prompting the user to select the reservation time and number of people joining him. Then, once the table is booked, Apple Maps offers him the option to book a ride via Uber, or whichever ride-sharing app he has installed. Using the Uber extension, the user chooses the car he wants, orders the ride, pays via Apple Pay, and watches on Apple Maps as the car approaches him. And this entire process from A to Z all happens within Apple Maps.
Recently, in the past year or so, Apple Maps has quietly overtaken Google Maps, with Apple asserting that its maps software is being used over three times more than its closest competitor. This, of course, comes after the cringingly bad reputation Apple Maps received when it first launched in 2012. The additional features Apple is introducing to Apple Maps -- which include a complete redesign; proactive assistance that uses calendar appointments or daily routines to suggest a best route; search for nearby gas stations, coffee shops, etc -- will only further Apple Maps' growing popularity. As more users excitedly start trickling over to Apple Maps, the impact of third-party extensions for app developers will be even greater.
Previously, Apple prided itself on its closed operating system. Steve Jobs, viewing iOS as a more cohesive environment than Android, unapologetically warned that, “open systems don’t always win.” But today, Apple has more competitors than just Android. In recognizing the superior functionality third-party apps brought their competitors, namely the 1000+ integrations for intelligent personal assistant Amazon Echo, the current executive team at Apple had no choice but to open their SDK and join the competition.
It’s possible that Steve Jobs himself would have advocated for a more open operating system today. After all, permitting third-party developers to add to and improve Apple apps by filling in missing functionalities will only improve the Apple user experience going forward.