Doubling down on the ecosystem

magic_2Long-time Apple followers will attest that the magic happens when a confluence of hardware, software and services creates a solution that is simple, elegant, and no one saw coming.

In that context, casual observers might have been surprised—even disappointed—that Apple failed to announce any new hardware products at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)—no iPhone 6, no Apple TV, no iWatch.

Was WWDC therefore a failure? In a word, no. Keeping in mind the audience and tradition of WWDC, one could argue that it was a roaring success.

WWDC is a developers conference, after all. By all accounts, the approximately 7000 programmers, system architects, designers, and other stakeholders who attended this year’s WWDC were thoroughly impressed by what Apple had to share.

Sharing moodwwdc_logo

Indeed, Tim Cook and company were in a sharing mood this year. Going against convention, they live-streamed the WWDC keynote presentation to anyone who might be interested.

In the process, Apple leadership revealed a myriad of new features and capabilities in the next major versions of the company’s flagship operating systems, Mac OS and iOS.

Anyone who owns and uses Apple gear is likely to be delighted when September rolls around. That’s when both new OS’es will be available for download. For free.

One expects that this will be about the same time that Apple announces a passel of new products.

Blessing or curse?

Central to many of the new solutions that Apple showed this week on both operating system platforms is its ecosystem.

walled-gardenApple’s ecosystem has been described as both a blessing and a curse. If you choose to play exclusively in Apple’s so-called walled garden, you gain all of its benefits with a minimum of fuss.

If you’d rather mix and match your hardware and software among a variety of providers, you can certainly include Apple products, but you lose out on some of the benefits.

The company has received plenty of criticism over the years about the closed nature of its ecosystem, and in some cases, rightly so.

Doing something right

Nonetheless, this year Apple is on track to sell 180 million iPhones, 60 million iPads, and 20 million Macs. On top of that, among device companies, Apple has the highest customer satisfaction ratings on the planet.just_a_thougt

Just a thought, but could it be the company is doing something right?

What Apple offered up to not only its loyal legion of developers, but to anyone paying attention were these points:

  • We already have a proven ecosystem of products, software, and services unmatched in the industry, and we’re about to make it a whole lot stronger.
  • How? We’re giving our loyal third-party developers unparalleled access.
  • Together, we’ll reap even greater rewards, and our ever-expanding customer base will be the beneficiaries.

Developers, developers, developers!

Now, cynics would say this is boilerplate hyperbole. What? Not as dynamic as, say, Steve Ballmer sweating profusely and yelling “Developers! Developers! Developers!…” at a Microsoft conference a few years back?

steve-ballmer-sweaty-developers-238x178From my view, Apple was as serious as a heart attack. What Tim Cook and company spoke to and demonstrated on stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco last Monday was nothing short of brilliant.

Doubling down on perhaps its best opportunity to shift the paradigm once again by opening up the Apple ecosystem to its loyal third-party developers.

Without Apple’s ecosystem, iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, and Macs are beautifully designed, functional devices. With it, Apple devices become integral to customers’ lives, keeping their calendar, contacts, music, photos, videos, e-mail, and apps within reach wherever they go.

Unparalleled access

Developer access to the Apple ecosystem may very well be the single most important element of the company’s strategy going forward.

Virtually every feature that was described and demonstrated at WWDC this year has an associated SDK, and the company announced that they had over 4000 new API for iOS 8.

Apple over the last several years has rolled out impressive and ambitious capabilities, such as the App Store, iCloud, PhotoStream, and iWork. But those capabilities have not been without glitches and missing features. Seems the company has finally decided to leverage its large and loyal universe of third-party developers to complete the puzzle and take the company and its ecosystem forward. And the key beneficiaries will be current and future Apple customers.

This must be a scary thought for Apple competitors.

What’s new?

In a nutshell, what Tim Cook and Craig Federighi, Apple’s software chief, announced were a boatload of upcoming new software capabilities.

Software is what WWDC is all about, and at this year’s event, if you watched the keynote, you could feel the energy as a theater-full of brainiacs began imagining all the cool things they could do.

Roundel_OSX_Yosemite-PRINTFor Macs, Apple revealed “Yosemite” as the next great California landmark to grace its Mac OS X masthead. Mac OS X Yosemite promises a welcome refinement of its graphical user interface (GUI), but more importantly, a tighter integration with a user’s iPhone and iPad.

New features included Continuity, a simple but elegant approach to starting something on one device (say, an email on your iPhone), and going to another device (say, your MacBook Air) to finish it.

Another enhanced feature was the MacOS Notification Center, which now provides a high level of customization, including the incorporation of widgets (stock, weather, etc.).

Apple’s Spotlight feature now enables search across your Mac and the web, with new categories of results and “rich suggestions” from Wikipedia, Maps, Bing, iTunes and iBooks.

Remember iDisk? Apple introduced a new product called iCloud Drive, and if you know what Dropbox does, you’ll have a good idea of the capabilities of iCloud Drive, which is tightly integrated into Mac OS Yosemite and competitively priced. iCloud Drive could very well prove to be cloud storage “for the rest of us.”

iPhone5s-5Up_Features_iOS8_2-PRINTFor those iconic iDevices, iOS 8 will gain a plethora of new features.

For one, in its tradition of promoting the importance of photography, Apple announced iCloud Photo Library. With iOS 8, any photo or video you take on your iPhone will be stored in the cloud, automatically, so you can access anywhere from any device. With 5GB of free storage, that a lot of photos and videos.

In addition, Apple also announced a host of other features, including family sharing of movies, music, and other media, health tracking, home automation, enhanced predictive typing, and access to third-party keyboards (for example, Swype).

A giant step

It’s been said that Steve Jobs built Apple to last 100 years. Given that the company has only been around for 40 years, what possibly can sustain it another 60?

One can only speculate, but what Tim Cook and company announced this week may have set Apple up for the next 10 years.

And that’s a giant step.

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