With WWDC around the corner, the rumor mill is in full swing as to what the folks at Cupertino plan to unveil. It’s unlikely to be a new iOS device, (our bets are on an October new iPhone event) but as 9to5Mac reported, there’s every indication that iOS 6 is in the final stages of testing and will likely be the centrepiece of this year’s developer conference.
Apple Maps to replace Google Maps
Two major changes have been reported for iOS 6. The first is that Apple is dropping Google Maps in favour of its own service that will simply be known as Maps. While at first glance not much may appear changed beyond the icon, there will be an optional 3-D view. The sample images look gorgeous and these new maps offer vast potential for augmented reality apps, but also speak to an underlying tone. Apple is squaring off against some of its new biggest rivals. No, not Motorola and Samsung. Rather they are focusing on software and taking on Google here, and Facebook, which I will get to in a moment.
That Apple’s maps will look great and “just work” is almost a given, but what happens to all the apps using Google Map’s API? Hopefully, it’s still supported because Apple’s closed ecosystem makes a switchover less-than-appealing to developers who work across multiple platforms, and even to iOS devs, forcing them to issue a huge heap of updates.
Social photo and video sharing via iCloud
The second big announcement takes this competitive spirit to the next level. While iOS wish lists often include Facebook integration in line with iOS 5’s Twitter incorporation, according to the Wall Street Journal, Apple instead is taking on Instagram and Facebook (which recently acquired the mobile app for one billion dollars) by offering photo and even video sharing via iCloud.
Until now, only a few apps like Calendar really used iCloud. You can store your purchased media in the cumulonimbus, but the free storage limit for everything else is 5GB. iOS users are also presently limited to 1,000 photos in their PhotoStream and pictures are stored for a maximum of 30 days. The new service would, theoretically, offer unlimited photo storage, and, notably, in-app commenting – a move straight from Instagram’s playbook.
That raises financial concerns as the WSJ points out: “Apple is rolling out new features cautiously as it worries about the costs of storing huge volumes of user data.”
Can Apple succeed in social media?
Moreover, as Time Magazine points out, Apple’s plans to unveil its own social media photo sharing service seem doomed to the same ignominious fate as its Ping social music network. What Apple continually fails to grasp, despite the success of apps like Instagram, TwitPic and the ascent of new social sites like Pinterest, is that people don’t want to be completely tethered to Apple. I am as a devoted a fan-girl as there ever was, but I have no intention of leaving Facebook. Nor, for that matter, do I expect to rely less on Google maps, since they are integrated with, well, Google.
While it would be great to see Apple allow their apps on non-Apple devices, history suggests that’s not likely to happen. So what Apple is focusing on here seems counter productive in its exclusivity. By creating yet another closed system, they not only shut out the huge non-Apple market share and those who want to interact with them, but risk alienating third party cross-platform developers.
And what happens to existing photo and video apps? It’s a given that iMovie will integrate along with the camera app and iPhoto. But if Apple chooses to exclude third-party apps from accessing the service, they run the risk of disenfranchisement. And if they encourage all third-party apps to adopt the new network, it’s going to be a tough sell until enough users sign-up and again, require endless updates.
Apple needs to think about what people want
The more I think about iOS 6 news the more I think back to Game Theory. I don’t remember much from my undergrad days, but I do recall that cooperation trumps competition even amongst opponents. Consider Apple’s iOS 5 Twitter integration: it's simple and successful and enhances the iOS experience making it easy to Tweet from any account and from a vast assortment of apps. Logging-in and out of Facebook each time I want to share something, on the other hand, is tedious.
The same holds true for other long wished-for features like third-party app widgets on the lock screen and in the notification center. Users want them, and Apple has nothing to gain by excluding them except customer dissatisfaction, yet stubbornly keeps the system closed. iOS 5 borrowed a lot from the jailbreak community, and Apple needs to continue to look to there to learn what users really want. And most often, that’s wider external connectivity and internal integration. It’s tiresome to wait for Apple to make more useful and necessary changes to iOS while they go off chasing windmills.
If Apple spent less time trying to beat Google, Facebook and the like at their own games, they could put more energy into a redesigned and more useful lock screen and home screen, maximize iCloud’s potential as a viable alternative to Dropbox and Evernote, and gave third-party developers more access to core iOS features. This, in turn, would build hype, sales, and customer satisfaction.
It’s also long past time for Apple to look beyond iOS to its desktop iTunes app, which has sat, virtually unchanged, since the advent of the App Store. It’s unwieldy, duplicates iCloud functions unnecessarily, and as a media center it’s an eyesore. Apple’s priorities are out of sync with what users want and the entire open-Internet ethos; that only stands to hurt their bottom line as new smartphones, tablets, social networks and cross-platform apps continue to permeate the marketplace.