E-Commerce Opportunities from Apple’s WWDC 2016
Harlan Kellaway
Harlan Kellaway

E-Commerce Opportunities from Apple’s WWDC 2016

Harlan Kellaway, Senior iOS Engineer

Apple’s primary conference for developers, WWDC, was upon us again this summer, serving up the latest and greatest in Apple software advancements. Myself and another Prolific engineer had the privilege to embark to San Francisco to take in some of that knowledge first-hand. After every WWDC, Prolific evaluates the new opportunities that could be on the horizon for our partners. As we work with several top retail brands to create E-commerce apps, we find WWDC rarely fails to provide a bounty of frameworks and updates that these brands can leverage. Last year we highlighted Universal Links, App Search, Apple Pay, and Internationalization. This year, we found an expansion on some of those topics, as well as new and exciting possibilities.

Apple Pay — Again!

Apple Pay makes an important appearance once again — this time in expansion across platforms. While Apple Pay has already made its mark on storefronts and mobile apps, the future will see Apple Pay checkout available on Watches, Web, and more.

Image Source: Apple.com

A new JavaScript API will allow checkout via Apple Pay on websites being viewed with Safari. Additionally, Apple Pay will be available within the new iMessage Apps.

Apple is clearly making a push to see Apple Pay being used in more places. Apple users by proxy are seeing it arise increasingly as a payment option. Having Apple Pay on a website, Watch app, or iMessage app is a good opportunity to be noteworthy to Apple and offer a payment experience users might prefer.

For more information: https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/703/

iMessage Apps

WWDC 2016 revealed a plethora of updates to the iMessage experience — from emojis, to response options, to the interface. Perhaps most exciting for brands though is the opportunity to create an iMessage App that allows an extension of their app’s functionality to be usable within the context of iMessage. In other words, a user doesn’t have to leave iMessage to engage with, purchase from (even via Apple Pay), and share content from their favorite brands.

Image Source: Apple.com

iMessage apps come in different varieties — from providing a set of Stickers, providing a simple experience for exchanging content such as text and images, or being “interactive.” Interactive iMessage apps will allow users messaging each other to use app functionality in a collaborative manner. The example Apple gave was two individuals using a food delivery iMessage app to add dishes to a cart and purchase lunch together, all without leaving iMessage.

iMessage apps offer various opportunities for brands to make an appearance as iMessage will have its own separate App Store. Stickers allow brands to show and share their personality and all apps provide another opportunity for engagement. Apple even amplifies discoverability — users who receive a message originating from an iMessage App they do not have installed will also see a link to download that app.

For more information:https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/204/


Perhaps one of the most anticipated advancements this WWDC was the opening of Siri to developers. The idea is that brands may be able to leverage the Siri interface to have users engage in a very natural way — via conversation. While this is an exciting idea, expectations should be tempered.

Siri doesn’t yet know how to comprehend every conversation about every business domain. iOS10 will include updates to allow Siri to interpret conversation about only select domains: Messaging, VoIP calling, Payments, Workouts, Ride booking, and Photo Search. Brands that fall within those business domains may want to explore the possibilities while others can look forward to future updates as Siri’s intelligence grows.

For more information:https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/217/

Proactive Suggestions

iOS already proactively suggests usage of apps in domain-specific ways — Handoff suggests apps to jump into from the lock screen, Spotlight Search suggests apps related to search content, Siri can also suggest apps based on content, and more. WWDC 2016 introduced additional areas within iOS10 where Suggestions can appear.

Location suggestions may now show up in Quick Type (the area above the keyboard typically used for autocorrect), Contacts will now suggest the app users are most likely to use when communicating with a contact, the Multitasking screen will offer more intelligent suggestions on which apps to switch to, and more.

Image Source: Apple.com

While a brand’s app cannot control when or where Proactive Suggestions will surface their app to the user, they can give themselves a better chance at being surfaced by providing the operating system with information about user behavior (which is anonymized by the OS). Without getting too technical, doing so requires leveraging the NSUserActivity API to report information to the operating system on significant events (such as a user searching for a restaurant). NSUserActivity also made a big appearance at WWDC 2015, as it is what powers Search. It would not be surprising to see this API continue to appear — and is perhaps an indication for brands to start considering how to leverage this API as OS intelligence improves.

For more information:https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/240/

Notification Improvements

Notifications are already greatly utilized by brands to offer timely information about products, offers, and events. WWDC 2016 heralded a bonus to that by allowing more information to be included in notification payload.

Image Source: TechCrunch.com

Now, instead of simply a title and body, notifications can include a title, subtitle, body, and even media content like images or video. Additionally, a custom UI can be provided for the user to view before they opt to act on a notification — yet another opportunity to inject brand style and encourage engagement.

For more information:https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/707/

App Search Improvements

Last WWDC broke ground for Search, allowing apps a way to surface their own content in the operating system’s search experience, Spotlight. This year there are a couple notable improvements to that experience. First, “Search in App” is a link that will automatically appear in Spotlight for enabled apps that brings the user to an in-app search experience if too many results are returned in a Spotlight search. Second, apps will now have exposure to the index of searchable information they have given Spotlight to surface. This allows the opportunity to make in-app search results more complete, quicker, or to replace functionality for retrieving results all together.

What’s also worth noting is that Spotlight will show up in more places in the iOS10 interface — both in Notification Center and the Lock Screen. This is an indication that Apple is moving toward making Search a more central part of users’ experience with iOS. For brands, especially those who haven’t taken advantage of Search since WWDC 2015, this means it’s time to take another look.

For more information:https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/223/

3D Touch Improvements

3D Touch allows a rich navigation experience for users with enabled devices, providing special tactile and visual feedback when a certain press gesture is used. There are two types of 3D Touch experiences: Quick Actions, which allow users to press an app’s icon to receive a menu of shortcuts into the app; and Peek & Pop, which allow users to preview content before choosing whether to navigate to it.

WWDC 2016 introduced the opportunity to add more brand flair by allowing customization of the preview that 3D Touch users see when using Peek & Pop. But, perhaps more notably, 3D Touch is becoming a more central part of Apple user’s experience as it will be showing up more in iOS10. In the WWDC talk on 3D Touch, developers were urged to include Quick Actions and to consider Peek & Pop for any interaction that involves navigation to a subsequent screen. As with Search, this is an indication for brands who have not yet taken advantage of 3D Touch, to consider the possibilities — and for those who have, to double down.

For more information:https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/228/

App Store Search Ads

Getting an app in front of a user’s eyes on the App Store is somewhat of a gamble. Will a brand’s app ever show in the coveted Featured section? The Top Charts? Trending Searches? The best hope apps often have for user discovery is when a user does a direct search for a keyword the app pertains to. This year, Apple will provide an update to the App Store to make that effect more of a possibility.

Image Source: Apple.com

App Store Search Ads allow brands to bid in a cost-per-tap model to have their app show in a special spot above relevant search results. A dashboard will be included in future versions of iTunes Connect to allow control of keywords and cost.

For more information:https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/302/


A lot of the updates and new functionality mentioned here have aspects in common. Apple is evolving the experience that users have with their devices to become more tailored, more intelligent, more timely, and ultimately more useful — and giving brands many hints and hooks into that.

Some trends we found notable are:

  • Increased virality/discoverability of apps (iMessage Apps, Search Improvements, Proactive Suggestions, App Store Search Ads)
  • Richer interfaces and interactions (SiriKit, Notification Improvements, 3D Touch Improvements)
  • Push to use Apple innovations (Apple Pay, 3D Touch)
  • Investment in certain business domains (e.g. Payment, Location, Contacts, Ride booking)
  • Increase in OS Intelligence (SiriKit, Proactive Suggestions)

With these insights in mind, it’s time for Prolific and brands to start imagining what the future of E-commerce apps will look like.