There has been no shortage of controversy, critique, and praise over Apple’s release of iOS 6, the world’s most advanced and anticipated mobile operating system to date. Regardless if you are a fan of the old Maps or the new Maps (I’m still waiting to hear if there are such people), the important thing to note is what the new features (or lack thereof) reveal about where Apple is placing their bets for the future of the mobile / media industry.
Native Social Integration
Sharing is now part of how people consume content. It’s natural for people to look for the share button when they are reading an article or watching a video. But for a long time, Apple had shied away from social media integration. After their own failed attempt with Ping (for those of you who don’t remember Ping, consider yourself lucky) they seemed reluctant to include native social media integration. Then with iOS 5, they introduced native Twitter integration, which clearly showed a shift in the tides.
Now, with iOS 6, both Twitter and Facebook are built into the platform, increasing seamless sharing capabilities. In the newest version of OS X (10.8 a.k.a. Mountain Lion), they even have native YouTube, Vimeo, and Flickr integration. This is a significant move because Apple is now taking an active role in social media, not only admitting that social is here to stay but that it needs to be integrated into the Apple operating systems. Sharing on the web is commonplace, but within native apps, it is still a rarity. With iOS 6, we see shareability quickly becoming a major theme, and I believe this is only the beginning of Apple’s strategy here.
Photostream Gets Social
Along the same lines, Photostream now can be shared with friends and families. I can share my photos (and choose which) with someone, but they can’t contribute photos. Instead, if that same person wanted to share with me, they would need to create a separate Photostream and share it with me. You can also share with groups of people, but again, one-way. The result is a sort of unidirectional Instagram. Cool that it’s in there, but definitely seems like an incremental step toward a larger goal.
What’s most interesting perhaps is that there is the ability to like or comment on photos (very Instagram/Facebook-y). Seems that Apple is slowly tackling the photo sharing biz, and it makes total sense to do so. One of the mantras in the Apple iOS Human Interface Guidelines is to “enable collaboration & connectedness” in your apps — that’s Apple’s fancy way of saying make apps “social”. Now, finally, they are started to practice what they preach.
Passbook is Apple’s first official play in the mobile payment and ticketing world. With Passbook, users can keep their Starbucks cards, American Airlines boarding passes, Fandango movie tickets, Target coupons, etc. all in one place, virtually, on their device.
The writing is on the wall here: Apple is making major moves towards full out mobile payments, coupons and ticketing by including Passbook as a built-in iOS 6 app and opening it up as part of the iOS SDK (using JSON which makes it especially useful to web developers!). Apple is getting on board early and understands this trend industry-wide, but as usual, they are taking baby steps to get there, and smart baby steps at that.
Many expected iOS 6 to support New Field Communication (NFC) in anticipation of it being built into the new iPhone 5. For those hardcore tech-heads who cared, that was a no-go. However, this shows an important point about Apple’s corporate character:
Apple is focused on reaching the mass market consumer, and right now, NFC is just not mass market. There’s no consumer demand, the vast majority of business do not accept it, and so including it now would be useless to the average user. There will be a new iPhone every year, and the year that it will hit the center of the bell curve is the year it will be included.
Apple recognizes that just because the cutting edge technology exists, it doesn’t mean everyone will use it. They are purposefully lagging behind the curve to let the technology mature until they can roll it out in a meaningful way. To me, that is classic Apple restraint.
See Ya Later Google Maps…
The most talked about change to iOS 6 has been the replacement of a Google-powered Maps app with non-Google-powered Maps – in what is presumably a strategic business decision to cut off Apple’s dependency on Google that has left iOS fans unsettled to say the least.
I believe a lot of the bad press could have been mitigated by announcing the new Maps as a Beta, or an experiment, a 1.0, a “work in progress” – or anything to negate the consumer perception that is was a finalized product (like they did with Siri for instance).
One can speculate all they want about the motivations for the switch, but it makes sense that eventually Apple does not want to have to rely on one of their largest competitors in the mobile space (hint: Android!) for a major component of iOS. They also yanked the YouTube app. It’s the right strategy long term, but perhaps the transition could have been a bit more… graceful.
There are some great new features in the new Maps like turn-by-turn navigation, vector based graphics, flyover– but so many things missing like subway schedules, ACCURACY, and such.
The backlash has been so strong that “Apple’s CEO” as he signed his letter, Tim Cook, wrote a public letter, suggesting alternatives (including Google Maps). He points out that the more people use Maps, the better it will get (something that Google has the benefit of: years and years of crowd sourced feedback and corrections). “We will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.” Totally. But why wouldn’t they do that before releasing it? Or if they couldn’t make the deadline, then at least have set expectations right from the get-go?
The new Maps is just horribly half-baked and leaves users many steps behind where they were with Maps on iOS 5. A clear step backwards, but hopefully to take two forward over time…
At the same time, I bet there are tons of new iPhone and iPad users who will get their devices with iOS 6 preinstalled and never know the difference. 100 million installs of iOS 6 so far, but how many are actually complaining? We only hear about the most vocal ones (and they are very vocal…).
The Bottom Line: Apple is no longer the underdog company I grew up with, now they are the most valuable company the world has ever seen. With that comes the responsibility of catering to the many vs. driving cutting edge technology for the few, and even the smallest error can create media frenzy. People are looking for weaknesses they can jump on, so Apple just needs to be smart and not allow for any holes. With software development, that’s easier said than done, even for a company like Apple.