Two Final Thoughts Before WWDC 2017

Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference begins today (5 June 2017), kicking off as always with the Keynote at 10 a.m. Pacific Time / 1 p.m. Eastern Time. I have already discussed some key things to look for in previous podcast episodes:

WitGlass Unfiltered

This article started out this morning as a list of five things to look for at this year’s WWDC, but time constraints have reduced it to just two. So here are the two I think most significant.

1. Home Automation

Apple’s HomeKit has been on the market for three years, built in to iOS starting with iOS 8 in 2014. The home automation trend, often referred to as IoT (Internet of Things), has been growing for the past five years. Some, I think, expected Apple’s entry into IoT with HomeKit to explode the IoT marketplace, but similar to the slow march of Apple’s ApplePay, HomeKit has had a slow start but with steady improvements to the software and connected third-party devices.

HomeKit is ripe for further innovation. Unlike competitors’ strategies, I believe that Apple’s strategy for the home will involve far more connection points than others have included. This is partly due to Apple’s broader ecosystem that includes a larger array of devices than most. (Samsung has a similar array of devices, but their ecosystem is far more fragmented and less feature-rich.) All the larger-frame computing devices will, of course, connect to HomeKit—MacBooks, iMacs, iPads, iPhones—but Apple now has smaller computing devices like AppleWatch, AppleTV, and AirPods, which already connect or have potential to connect to HomeKit. In addition, Apple may have a Smart Assistant up its sleeve, and we know Tim Cook has commented on his interests in augmented-reality, comments bolstered by the recent Foxconn Insider who participated in a Reddit AMA and mentioned Apple’s game-changing A/R glasses (which may or may not see the light of day). I believe Apple will employ all of these devices to create a home automation “mesh network” that will be both far simpler to use and far more powerful—and have far more long-term potential.

2. Smart Assistant

Rumors have long-circulated about whether Apple will get into the countertop smart assistant game, with most assuming that Apple will join Google and Amazon in creating some kind of speaker-with-microphone device utilizing Siri as the voice interface. This seems like a natural development for Apple, as mentioned above. I suspect that Apple’s Smart Assistant will not be a single stand-alone device, however. Rather, I believe that Apple will employ the hub that Steve Jobs referred to in one of his last Keynotes (maybe his last?): iCloud with Siri as the primary interface.

Does that sound different than Google’s or Amazon’s devices? Perhaps not on the surface. But I think it’s a different way of looking at the problem. Google and Amazon treat the device as if it is the Smart Assistant and that their Siri-like interface is just that: a device-centric interface. I believe that Apple will recognize that the device is just a connection-point to the real interface, which is SiriCloud™. While it is true that this goes against the typical understanding of user-interface, in reality, our Ai Assistants like Siri are becoming more and more than just a software feature that we access through our customary interfaces (touch/sight), and are themselves becoming the interface (voice). Again, technically, the voice is merely another input source like touch, but because sound is omni-directional, it can be picked up by multiple devices at once (a problem many have experienced using Siri in its current deployment on macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS). To solve this problem, Apple could utilize the wearables that more and more people are purchasing—along with carryables like the iPhone—to know who is nearby a stand-alone device like the Siri Canister and therefore who is giving it instructions. I think that each of Apple’s devices, though, could be outfitted with microphone and speaker, including future Apple TVs, so that it might be possible to have all the benefits of the stand-alone Smart Assistant, without the actual stand-alone device.