Apple Opens Up

Swiftkey-Murphys-LawMonday’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote might prove to be a landmark moment for Apple when the history of the company is written up. That might seem a strange thing to say, given that there were no new iPhones, iPads or even Macs unveiled. All the punters got was a new OS, iOS 8, but perhaps more to the point, a new approach from the Big A, one characterised by the word ‘open’.

Were Steve Jobs still running the show, it seems hard to imagine that Apple would have taken down the barriers and opened up elements of its OS, including the keyboard and cloud storage, to third party developers. Much as I like the Android OS, for the past five years, ever since I discovered SwiftKey, I have felt locked in to it, as I didn’t want to lose the excellent predictive keyboard if I switched to an iPhone. SwiftKey, and no doubt other third party keyboard developers – Swype on an iPhone was demoed at Monday’s event – will more than likely be burning the midnight oil to get an iOS 8-compatible version of their offerings ready.

Jobs, of course, was a control freak, who was initially against opening up the iPhone to third party apps. He backed down on that one, but it wasn’t always so. Anyone who has read Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Jobs will no doubt remember the section on ‘Antennagate’, where the author notes that Jobs was warned that putting an aluminium band around the iPhone 4 to act as an antenna – as Jony Ive had designed it – could cause signal loss if the tiny gap that had to be left in the band for it to function as an antenna were covered by the user’s palm or finger. It was advice he chose to ignore in favour of design aesthetics, which was what caused the Antennagate scandal. With Jobs, sadly, no longer on the scene, perhaps Apple is finally adopting a more pragmatic approach to running its business and competing with Google and Samsung.

Coming just a few days after Apple splashed the cash ($3bn of it) on its biggest ever acquisition, of Beats Audio, it’s starting to look that way. For me, there were two clear messages from yesterday’s event. Firstly, that connected cars, homes and health are shaping up to be the next big battlegrounds, as evidenced by the announcements of HomeKit, HealthKit, and, previously, CarPlay. Secondly, after enjoying the view from the ivory tower for so long, Apple has finally realised there is life beyond it and decided to check it out.

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