How Apple made WWDC a success without making a big splash

Coming on the heels of its inexplicable $3 billion purchase of Beats Audio, Apple’s WorldWide Developers Conference was under a lot of pressure to reveal some flashy new products that would convince the chattering naysayers that the company still has its mojo.

That didn’t happen. But give the company some credit. Instead of worrying about what the press thinks, Apple’s WWDC keynote focused on things that matter to… wait for it… developers! You know, the people actually attending the massive developers conference in San Francisco. The ones whose products remain Apple’s aces-in-the-hole compared to competing ecosystems from Google, Microsoft, and others.

So, no iWatch (yet). No big-screen iPhone 6 (yet). No hardware surprises at all. But a good shot of the things that make Apple’s legions of developers choose to develop apps on iOS first and other platforms later.

I’m not even going to get into the new Mac OS X Yosemite, since I don’t think it will make a definitive difference to people and companies choosing between PCs and Mac. But the new iOS 8 includes a reported 4,000 new features, some of which could make a difference to users and companies choosing a smartphone platform. There are too many to go into all of them here, but these are the features I think are most important to enterprise IT.

For developers

Developers get a new SDK  and a brand new Swift programming language, designed to replace Objective-C for programming on Apple platforms. It’s said to be faster, more flexible, and more secure. Just as importantly, Metal provides developers more direct access to Apple’s A7 processors. The company claims Metal delivers 10 times the performance of iOS 7 in draw-call speed. If true, it could be a factor in developers choosing to write native mobile apps instead of mobile web apps.

Then there’s CloudKit, which works with the improved iCloud Drive (more on that below) to make it easier to put cloud components into iOS apps. The kicker is that CloudKit comes with up to a petabyte of free cloud storage, 10TB of database storage and 5TB of daily asset transfers!

The aforementioned improvements to iCloud Drive include the ability to work with Android and Windows devices, as well as better integration into iOS apps, and newly competitive pricing: 5GB free, 20GB for $.99 a month, and 200GB for $3.99 a month. The related Mail Drop leverages iCloud Drive to enable large email attachments. Will this be enough to make it a viable exclusive alternative to DropBox, Box, Google Drive, and other cloud storage systems? It’s too soon to tell, but it’ll definitely be a big step for Apple.

For typists

New App extensions allow different apps to “project” their interfaces into other ­apps, protected by a virtual sandbox. Perhaps the biggest improvement this will enable comes for keyboard app makers, who can now submit their apps to the App Store. That seems to mean that popular keyboard alternatives like Swype may soon be available on the iPhone. That’s a big deal. I know at least one mobile user who switched to Android mostly because she relies on Swype to type quickly.

If that’s not enough to speed your typing, iOS 8 also includes “predictive typing” for Apple’s QuickType that knows who you’re talking to and what you typically write to them, and lets you send whole phrases and sentences with just a tap or two.

For enterprises

Enterprises, meanwhile, get new security, management, and productivity features, including improved data protection for some built-in apps and better information on how devices are configured, managed, or restricted.

Finally, there’s Wi-Fi calling, which Apple didn’t discuss in the WWDC keynote. But T-Mobile, for example, has already said it plans to support the feature, and the capability could help put a dent in voice calling costs for consumers and companies.

Add it all up and I think this is the right approach for Apple. New hardware is incredibly important, and Apple still has to deliver big-time on that promise this year. But great software and loyal developers remain the key differentiators in the mobile market, and Apple this week made real progress on those fronts.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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