The five things marketers need to know from WWDC

Adam Fingerman, co-founder and chief experience officer at San Francisco-based app developer ArcTouch, looks at the news coming out of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference this week.

For those of us in the consumer technology business, Apple’s WWDC is kind of like celebrating Christmas. Every year, we get the “gifts” of new software and updated features – and occasionally an entirely new device. And for app developers like ArcTouch, we also get our first glimpse at the new tools available for us to create exciting digital experiences for companies to connect with their customers.

On Monday during the WWDC keynote, Apple executives shared two-plus hours of new stuff – a lot of gifts for us to unwrap. Where to start? Here’s our take on the five most important takeaways for brands and marketers:

Reality check: AR just got easier (and has a new champion)
Augmented reality became trendy in 2016 when Pokémon Go lured millions of gamers with phones into local parks and businesses in search of Snorlax and Arcanine. Three years later, the buzz from Pokémon Go has faded – and AR, while slowly becoming more commonplace, isn’t as mainstream as many thought it would be.

Apple and the team behind Minecraft (now part of Microsoft) may have just pushed AR across the proverbial tipping point.

Apple introduced an update to its AR development platform ARKit – and then doubled down with new tools RealityKit and Reality Composer. Historically, AR has required development teams to have extensive 3D modelling experience and an understanding of game development technology. But these new tools include ready-made assets and content that developers can easily plug into apps, lowering the barrier to entry for AR apps.

Meanwhile, the industry just got a new champion that will help popularize augmented reality in Minecraft. Team members gave a stunning demo of AR-enabled Minecraft Earth, immersing themselves in the building game, and blending physical and digital like never before on a big stage. There may be no more perfect ambassador, given that the uber-popular Minecraft naturally appeals to builders and more technically-inclined gamers.

For marketers, the business case for creating AR-based experiences now looks better on two fronts. It’ll be easier (and less costly) to develop AR-powered apps. And the relatable Minecraft demo/example will help decision makers easily imagine building their own new AR experiences.

It’s easy to envision more AR experiences that simulate the in-store shopping experience – where getting to a store might be inconvenient – to improve the online purchase process. But I also think there are many potential AR applications that marketers haven’t even imagined yet.

Single Sign On: a win for user experience – with a catch
In the world of digital, anything that reduces friction to the sign-up or sign-in process is a good thing. But sometimes that comes with a catch.

Yesterday at WWDC, Apple unveiled a new tool called “Sign In with Apple,” which allows users to effortlessly sign in to any supporting apps through Face ID or Touch ID. Like similar services offered by Facebook and Google, Apple’s Single Sign On (SSO) makes it easy for users to create an account or log in. Only Apple says it won’t share the user data with the company that created the app, or other potential advertisers.

So for marketers trying to decide whether to support Apple’s SSO, it’s a bit of a dilemma. You could dramatically reduce the friction of the onboarding process for your app – a win for your app’s user engagement – but you might have to forgo direct contact information to the customer – a blow to your direct marketing campaigns. The marketer’s dilemma: does a better product experience lead to a more lasting (and valuable) customer connection that outweighs the lack of knowing the customers’ email or phone number?

A marketing ‘catalyst:’ new tool allows apps to reach iOS and desktop users
Today’s fragmented digital landscape can make it difficult for businesses to reach and engage with customers across all platforms. Marketers and digital product leaders often have to make hard choices, prioritizing some platforms and ignoring others.

Apple unveiled Project Catalyst, which will allow companies to publish iPad apps to both iOS and macOS app stores. This is clearly a win for anyone looking for ways to extend their reach. And it also makes it easier to get a return on investment for an app development project when you add in macOS user base, estimated at more than 100 million people.

Talking point: new voice control another win for Voice UX
Voice is fast becoming one of the primary interfaces to the digital world. By the end of 2018, as many as 50 per cent of US households had a voice-powered home assistant. Amazon, the company largely responsible for this trend, introduced a whopping 15 new Alexa-powered devices during a September 2018 press conference. Google, meanwhile, has been investing heavily in the Google Assistant and its own line-up of Google Home hardware.

As consumers, we’re also becoming increasingly more comfortable and reliant upon using voice to talk with our phones (e.g. Siri and Google Assistant), cars and smart home accessories.

On Monday, Apple somewhat quietly introduced a new feature of iOS and macOS called Voice Control, that’ll allow users to navigate applications that support it using – you guessed it – their voices. The company also released an update to SiriKit, a tool that now allows developers to build applications supporting Voice Control.

I think Apple needs to go much further. Conversational UX is a very natural way for people to interact with apps and devices, and Apple is clearly trailing Amazon and Google in this space – and has yet to articulate a cohesive vision for how Siri (and voice control) fit into the connected home. Regardless, marketers and product strategy executives have another reason to consider voice engagement as an important part of any digital strategy.

Recalculating… the new Apple Maps
Apple has been behind Google when it comes to its map application. But on Monday, Apple unveiled a more detailed version of Maps, generated from car-mounted cameras driving some 4m miles, the company said. The demo also included a 360-degree view feature that looked pretty slick.

One big reason why Google Maps is great is the relationship between Google Maps and information about local businesses available on the public web. That includes information pulled from websites of those local businesses and Google My Business listings. Local marketers dedicate a lot of time optimizing and promoting key information about their businesses so that when someone searches in Google Maps, the listing shows just the right info.

It’s not clear what the new Apple Maps might mean for local marketing, as it’s not slated for release until the end of this year. But given all the investment Apple has made in it, local marketers should start paying attention.