5 Key Things Mobile App Teams Should Know About WWDC '18

Read Time: 5 - 10 min

Apple hosted WWDC, their annual developer conference, in San Jose last week. This year the emphasis was squarely on iterative improvements to their software and experiences on mobile, with no new hardware products or major new apps.

Echoing Google’s new Digital Wellbeing narrative, Apple also focused on tools to track and limit the amount of time they spend in apps instead of the real world to give them more control over interruptions and screen time for their whole families. Both companies are clearly responding to the public debate around “Time Well Spent,” and they’re doing this by giving more controls to end users rather than by limiting what apps themselves can do today. It remains to be seen how deeply this changes user behavior - or the experiences for developers building on top of their platforms.

As I did last year, I’ll try to break down Apple’s announcements to separate the things that matter for mobile app teams from the rest of the hype and classic Apple's "reality distortion field". 

1.) iOS Screen Time & Notification Grouping/Limits

iOS 12 introduces controls and data focused around screen time and app usage. Like Android P, users can see and set per-app usage limits. Apple also includes family-wide controls reminiscent of Amazon’s Kindle FreeTime. Apps and games with longer sessions - for example, news or social media apps - will need to consider the impact on usage from parental or self-set limits like this, especially if your app has heavy usage from the under-18 set.

Notifications are also seeing major changes in iOS 12. Just like Android, iOS will now group notifications; details aren’t all out yet but it’s expected to work similarly to Android O’s Notification Channels, using Thread Identifier and Category for the grouping. Additionally, blocking an app or enabling what they’re calling “Deliver Quietly” is one tap away from the lock screen.

Developers won’t need to make changes for “Quiet Delivery,” because it actually is already available - but the iOS 11 equivalent option requires navigating through the OS notification options, switching to “Notification Center Only” and disabling sound/vibration for that app. Now it’s easily accessible, and the OS will automatically prompt the user to disable notifications coming in from apps the user doesn’t use regularly.

What App Marketers Need To Know:

It’s never been more critical to make sure you’re sending the right notifications to the right users; if a user disables notifications or sends them to the frequently-ignored Notification Center, you’ve lost a key engagement channel. If you’re not thinking cohesively about your mobile notification strategy and your users’ path through it, now is the time to start.

The bright side here is that should actually improve things for apps behaving responsibly and sending the right messages to the right users - relevant notifications should have an easier time cutting through with less noise. The one-tap-away option for Quiet Delivery may reduce risk of a full app uninstall, since there’s now an easily-accessible alternative to silencing the app without wading through system settings to do it.


2.) Siri & Shortcuts

SiriKit gets a good dose of discoverability and extensibility with the new Shortcuts app and related developer features, which should help close the gap to the developer-focused Google Assistant and Alexa platforms’ skill libraries. This may be a good reason to consider developing for Siri - especially if your app didn’t neatly fit one of the initial 12 blessed Intents; Apple demoed automation of coffee ordering, meditation, and even Tile finding lost keys.

Interestingly, one of the integrations Apple demonstrated - Kayak showing reservation info - is a built-in Google Assistant capability (via its collection of your email data in GMail). Siri will also learn your routine and suggest third-party actions based on location and time - they demoed an automatic coffee re-order from the Philz Coffee app based on historical behavior, for instance.


What App Marketers Need To Know:

It's finally worth developing for Siri. Apple is looking to third-party developers to close the gap in capabilities here, especially in areas they’re at a disadvantage due to their stronger stance on privacy and security.


3.) Wearables

Apple’s Watch OS 5 introduces primarily user-focused features, like automated exercise detection and social fitness challenges. There’s some nice bonuses for developers building for SiriKit so they can integrate suggestions directly into Siri on the watch, and improved audio options for watch music apps, but not much else to level the playing field for wearable app developers.


What App Marketers Need To Know:

If you’re considering targeting Siri on the phone, leveraging the Apple Watch Siri face may be a nice bonus, but if you’re not already building an Apple Watch app there’s not enough here to make third-party developers consider the platform - especially without any new hardware or pricing changes to Apple Watch.

4.) iOS Code for OS X

Apple announced that in 2019, developers will be able to write OS X apps using the same UIKit frameworks they use on iOS. While most apps will need major UI rethought for a larger screen, this will massively lower the effort and allow more code sharing between iOS and OS X apps.


What App Marketers Need To Know:

If your app is an experience that might translate well to a larger screen - for example, news or video - you’ll want to keep an eye on this when the tools for this drop next year.


5.) Privacy Changes to Safari

It was easy to miss this because it was buried in the OS X announcements, but Safari on iOS will now block certain third-party social scripts by default, and implements certain measures to defeat browser fingerprinting.


What App Marketers Need To Know:

If the web components of your mobile strategy rely on mobile web acquisition tools or social trackers, you’ll want to assess the impact this will have on your business. While these changes shouldn’t impact mobile apps significantly, your mobile web / progressive web teams should think through the implications.

The Future of Mobile

At Localytics, we’re excited for the future of mobile computing - and the future of more user-centered and respectful mobile experiences. I personally always love seeing the keynotes and sessions from WWDC - from the practical nitty-gritty developer content up to the design and user-experience focused content, there’s always a lot to learn by the biggest player in an industry that changes every year.

You can catch all the talks on Apple’s WWDC website. Let us know in the comments what you’re excited about, skeptical of, or starting to develop for today!