Apple Opens Siri, Other Key Apps to Developers at WWDC

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple is going the way of Microsoft and opening more of its previously locked-tight applications for developers.

SAN FRANCISCO—For anybody who had attended Google I/O three weeks ago, there was a clear feeling of déjà vu June 13 at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference here.
This is because a great deal of the new-gen IT functionality that was announced and demonstrated to a packed Bill Graham Civic Auditorium crowd of about 6,000 Apple developers on Day 1 of the five-day conference had been shown and demonstrated by Google at its I/O event last month at another concert venue, Shoreline Amphitheater, in Mountain View, Calif.
The two huge IT products and services companies have been competing head-on in certain areas for a while, but it looks like even more market battles are on the horizon. These newer categories include messaging services, automotive and home environment and entertainment services to go with the already hotly contested music, photo and video services.

Improvements All Over Apple's Lineup
These are not your father's IT services, or not even your older brother or sister's. These are all-new, extremely fast and accurate, mostly voice-enabled, collaborative, integrated and/or overlayed, always-available functions that have intuitive interfaces and can be used by widely varying types of users.
For example, Apple is joining both Google and Facebook in building messaging franchises that could all become billion-dollar businesses of their own in a few years. Apple on June 13 introduced several new messaging functions in iOS 10, including automated voice-mail transcription, options to add rich links with photos and videos (similar to Google's), and something it calls "emojification"—offering dozens of new emojis along with the ability to blow up or shrink down fonts in responding to conversational points.
Google's and Facebook's messaging apps also provide these types of options.
In Apple's updated—and formerly scoffed-at—Maps app, users can find a potential place to eat, make a restaurant reservation, order an Uber or Lyft ride, and then pay for any or all of the services using Apple Pay—and without leaving the Maps application.
This, too, is similar to what Google showed last month. Since users by and large prefer the simplest way from Point A to Point B and beyond, messaging apps that can do all of the above in one session threaten native apps for various businesses that must be called up and used separately—and thus are more time-consuming to use.

All Four Operating Systems Updated

On June 13, Apple announced the upgrade of all four of its operating systems and renamed one of them: After 15 years as OS X, the company's desktop/laptop system officially becomes macOS. watchOS, tvOS and iOS all have undergone major revises for efficiencies, contain new functionalities and are in the process of adding feature cross-integration.
For example, Siri and her brand of artificial intelligence is moving from exclusive iOS use to include macOS and watchOS, and she'll undoubtedly be working her way into tvOS soon. For another example, maps, photos, videos and documents can now be overlayed in Apple iMessage to create much more interesting communications between people and groups of people.
Apple Watch, which hasn't been selling quite as well as the company had expected, will undoubtedly pick up more buyers, thanks to the watchOS upgrade. It's much faster, has improved navigation, incorporates all-new fitness and health features that are more complete and easier to use than older ones, and enables users to change the look and feel of the watch face at will.
Apple is reaching back to the education market, much as it did in the 1980s when it gave away hundreds of thousands of desktop computers to schools. The company announced a new, simplified version of its Swift programming language for junior high and high school-age programmers, called Swift Playground.
Swift Playground comes with a wizard-type instructional interface designed to be fun to use for beginning coders. Coders using it can build additions onto current applications or create new ones. Apple plans to make this widely available for all levels of computer science education.
Analysts' Early Takes on the Overall Event
Apple's frequent referral to its increased usage of artificial intelligence, analytics and deep learning in its apps was a key data point in its presentation.
"In some ways, the star of the show wasn't a particular product but Apple's refutation of accusations that it can't compete with Google and Facebook in artificial intelligence and deep learning," Jan Dawson, chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, said in a media advisory. "Both terms got shoutouts during the keynote, and Apple highlighted several features which it said were based on these technologies.
"Apple has been accused of being behind in this area, and also of being handicapped by its privacy stance, but its on-stage demos today showed that it's capable of competing effectively regardless."
Apple Opening Up 'Crown Jewels' for Developers
Apple is going the way of Microsoft and opening more of its previously locked-tight applications for developers. Siri, iMessage and Maps are now available as sandboxes for third-party developers to test and develop new functionalities.
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK that "Apple has opened up the crown jewels of their OS."
"With iOS 10, Apple has given developers deep access to Siri, iMessage and Maps, and that's huge. While Apple was less prescriptive as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, this serves as Apple's answer to CaaS [conversations as a service] and bots. The Apple platform is there and ready to do this, and a whole lot more," Moorhead said.
"Opening up Siri will make an enormous effect on the experience. I don't see anything Google can do that Apple cannot, and they're doing it with the highest levels of privacy, which is unique. It's apparent Apple has been working on this for a long time and in many ways, appears ahead of where Google is with their developers on an intelligent agent."

Beta Testing Starts in July

Developers at WWDC received updates of all the operating systems. Beta testing will happen in the July-August time frame, and general release to Apple customers will take place this fall. Each of the operating systems will be distributed to customers as free upgrades, Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

Apple also demonstrated updates to Siri, Apple TV and a reconfigured Apple Music service, which developers and customers alike had been anticipating for a few years. Apple Pay now can be utilized on Macintosh laptops and desktops.

Cook, who described iOS 10 as "the mother of all releases," said the company's App Store now has 2 million apps and 130 billion downloads. "The result is that there has been $50 billion paid to developers," he said to a large cheer from the audience.

WWDC 2016 will continue at Moscone West in San Francisco June 14 through 17.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...