WWDC 2017: Your Mobile Strategy Checklist
Fiona O'Donnell-McCarthy
Fiona O'Donnell-McCarthy

WWDC 2017: Your Mobile Strategy Checklist

Fiona O'Donnell-McCarthy, VP of Product

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) kicked off Monday with a keynote featuring six major updates to the Apple ecosystem. Each of their announcements highlighted new capabilities and provided hints about the future that every leader at mobile-focused companies should be watching closely.

Just like we did in 2016, I’ll break down the most important announcements and try to point you in the right direction to get the most strategic value out of Apple’s latest developer tools and hardware. We’ll go through three categories of next steps: Do It Now, Don’t Wait, and Plan.

Do It Now

Prepare for the App Store Redesign

One of the most significant announcements was the redesign of the App Store. You’ll be able to draw parallels to core Apple apps like News and Music, as Apple continues to push the bold aesthetic iOS 10 introduced. In a world of increased competition for app developers, the Apple team doubled down on content, curation, and discoverability; and there will be major opportunities for developers and marketers in how they approach their App listing. There will also be new and exciting ways to increase the exposure of your app through how-tos, special features, and better customization.

Left to right: new App Store, Music, News

What To Ask Your Team

  • Who is responsible for your App Store listing page? As the App Store allows for increasingly rich experiences, it’s critical to involve design and content marketing in your positioning in the App Store.
  • Who is handling your release management process? Many companies delegate the release management process to their engineering or release management teams which sometimes results in an under-investment in the marketing of App Store listing pages. It is crucial to clearly identify the point person in product, marketing, and/or UX who will own the product’s positioning in the app store. As a group, define the process for updating your App Store listing for future releases.

Take Advantage of Apple Pay

According to the keynote, 50% of retailers in the U.S. will accept Apple Pay by the end of the year. Now, more than ever, retailers need to implement Apple Pay to provide the options their consumers are starting to expect, as we have seen with our partners at Saks Fifth Avenue, Lilly Pulitzer, and Equinox. Apple’s continued dedication to this platform is clear with the introduction of peer-to-peer payments (the focus of the Apple Pay segment of WWDC). Thankfully, there are plenty of resources available on how to get started with integrating Apple Pay.

What To Ask Your Team

  • Is Apple Pay a payment option on your mobile app? If not, why?

Don’t Wait

Continue Shifting Marketing Dollars From Browser Display to Mobile

MacOS High Sierra was unveiled, with updates to Safari including autoplay blocking for video advertising and intelligent tracking protection for better security of user data. These browser updates, like Chrome’s, will inevitably reduce the control and options for publishers and advertisers to reach their desired audiences. As a result, it is absolutely crucial that companies assess their mobile strategy and very thoughtfully consider the right percentage of their advertising budget to spend on mobile.

What To Ask Your Team

  • Is your mobile usage aligned with your mobile marketing spend? If your mobile adoption is low, assess your mobile marketing spend and try experimenting with new customer acquisition strategies and retention marketing. If your mobile adoption is high, and your mobile marketing budget is disproportionately small, consider increasing your budget.
  • How heavily are you relying on web-based rich media display advertising for customer acquisition? If it’s a significant amount of your spend, try to diversify into mobile.

Incorporate Visual Effects and Haptic Feedback

In 2013, Apple made a major design paradigm shift away from skeuomorphic designs toward less literal, more minimalistic visual design. A more subtle, but important, design paradigm shift is happening right now, one that emphasizes visual effects, unintrusive animations, and haptic feedback. Apple’s own app experiences will raise the bar for developers and increase user’s expectations for enjoyable sensory feedback during their interactions with your app. It is crucial to incorporate these interactive elements into your design and development process and not short-change the user experience; your users are going to expect the positive reinforcement they get from delightful animations and touch. In addition to the user experience value, App Store editors will surely be seeking out the best examples of these interactions. Adopting these best practices will not only delight your customers, but it could also increase the visibility of your app.

What To Ask Your Team

  • How aligned is your iOS user experience with the Human Interaction Guidelines that Apple publishes?
  • Do you have a visual designer or design technologist who is capable of implementing visual effects?
  • How can you make room in your design and prototyping processes to incorporate visual effects and haptic feedback?

Take Advantage of iMessage App Tailwinds

Last year, Apple introduced iMessage Apps and while overall adoption is low considering that Messages is the most used app on iOS, they are steadily growing in popularity as shown by the nearly 5,000 apps in the App Store. The strategic importance shouldn’t be underestimated. Prolific recently launched an iMessage App with our partner Saks Fifth Avenue allowing reliable, personal, and urgent communication between Saks and their customers. As Branch, a leading deep linking, attribution and mobile marketing company comments:

“Apple iMessage Apps have opened up the possibility for businesses to build integrated applications into messaging, creating entirely new opportunities for new and unique touch points for users. While still early in its development, we at Branch believe this will grow into a powerful channel in the future as more use cases are discovered. That’s why, since its release in iOS 10, we’ve supported both deep linking and attribution for iMessage Apps to ensure that your marketing campaigns and product features deliver the most optimal user experience while allowing you to measure growth while leveraging this capability.”

— Alex Austin, CEO and Co-Founder of Branch

We believe Apple will continue to invest in iMessage and promote developers who build on the platform. Additional efforts such the Superbowl ad for iMessage stickers and the redesigned iMessage App Drawer show that Apple is putting their focus on adoption and discoverability by educating the market and making apps easier for users to locate and use.

What To Ask Your Team

  • Knowing that, at least in the US, Messages is one of the most personal and closely-monitored communication channels, what are the key transactions or sharing moments that might play an important role in your customer journey? Brands like Nordstrom use iMessage to share and send products direct from the app, while others, like Starbucks, aim for high-conversion events by combining iMessage and Apple Pay.
  • How might you create high-impact sharing and collaboration opportunities within iMessage?

AR & VR Just Got Easier

Apple unveiled ARKit for third-party developers to build augmented and virtual reality apps. Now, developers can implement native spatial tracking and plane detection (think tables and floors), enabling them to create 3D scenes that are fully integrated into the user’s environment. Apple touted ARKit in their keynote as the “largest AR platform in the world.”

If you’re selling physical goods on mobile, it’s time to experiment with AR. Build a 3D model of at least one product or give someone on your team the challenge to experiment within ARKit. At a minimum, challenge your team to build and test at least one prototype with in-person customer interviews this year.

What To Ask Your Team

  • If you’re a retailer, do you have 3D models of your inventory? Do you have the capability to 3D scan your product catalog?
  • Can you spare a week to build an AR prototype with a lean team and get it in front of potential users?

Plan

Use Apple’s Machine Learning Models and Toolkit

Apple is opening up machine learning APIs which give developers the tools they need to build machine learning-driven experiences locally on the Apple platform and take advantage of Apple’s pre-trained models without the need for third-party cloud based services. Most use cases for computer vision or natural language processing can now benefit from models that have been trained by Apple. As an example, CoreML can power visual search by using image recognition on the device to parse an image for attributes that can create a search query. I’m personally most excited to take advantage of their NLP models for search.

If you’re far enough ahead to have your own trained models, they’ll now run faster and will be cheaper to deploy on iOS. You can convert these existing trained models into a mobile-friendly version using CoreML. This reduced overall development cost means that the time is now to start building this capability.

What To Ask Your Team

  • What are your use cases for natural language processing and computer vision like visual search?  
  • Does your business have existing trained models that can be converted to CoreML for better app performance?

Establish an API Strategy to Support Emerging Platforms

IoT wasn’t an explicit focus of the WWDC keynote this year but it was a consistent undertone as connected device momentum continues to build across the industry. In addition to their splashy hardware integrations like HomePod and Apple Watch to workout equipment connectivity, they also subtly mentioned their developer-facing NFCKit. This new toolkit will enable new branded experiences powered by NFC readers like smart labels, interactive in-person experiences, and new in-store payment options for retailers.

Additionally, while the announcement of HomePod focused on music, it is my assumption that this will evolve into Apple’s answer to Amazon Alexa and Google Home and its launch demonstrates Apple’s continued investment in voice beyond Siri on iOS and Mac. While Apple hasn’t opened Home for developers yet, it is likely that opening up HomeKit APIs will be a key announcement in 2018.

In order to support these platforms, respond to rapid changes in the technology landscape and iterate on your mobile apps. You need to have an API strategy in place that can help you inexpensively create access to new sets of data and quickly get that data to the right place in the right format. API management platforms like Apigee and flexible data querying layers like GraphQL can significantly reduce the development time required to ensure your product development teams aren’t limited by your backend architecture.

What To Ask Your Team

  • There are now three major platforms that will compete for your voice search queries and tasks (Apple, Google, Amazon). Do you have an API strategy in place to support these emerging platforms?
  • What are your internal processes to update your APIs? Are you able to rapidly create new API endpoints or dynamically get the data you need through tools like GraphQL? If not, you need to unblock your team now. Infrastructure constraints can kill innovation.

Keep Going

Turning technology advances and changes in consumer behavior into compelling business strategies and product roadmaps is what inspires me on a daily basis. If you want to discuss any of these topics further, don’t be a stranger — you can reach me at fiona@prolificinteractive.com.