A few weeks after Apple announced iOS 7 at WWDC, many marketers are still trying to assess its impact on their mobile strategy. The company’s biggest update in six years introduced a long list of features to the mobile community, from sweeping changes like the new flat design to more niche functionality like App Store wish lists. In total, there were over 100 new features, with more expected before the operating system’s official release.
But underneath iOS 7’s individual changes lies a broader shift in how Apple views mobile devices. While the company did not overtly discuss the future of mobile in the keynote – it rarely does – it did pepper hints throughout. To Apple, iOS 7 was not about introducing a modern look, launching new functionality, or even catching up to competitors. Its bigger goal was to make mobile devices a more natural extension of our daily lives, and to give app creators better tools to connect with their audience.
I’ve summarized iOS 7’s major changes into four key themes. These themes will help marketers move beyond a laundry list of tasks for their next app update and toward a holistic way of thinking about the mobile category.
1. Creating more engaging mobile experiences. On the surface, iOS 7’s new flat design is most recognizable through its fresh, vibrant, and colorful visuals. However, the design goes much deeper to redefine how we interact with our devices at the core. Those who have used the beta version of the OS report feeling different after the experience, something that visuals alone cannot do. Several UI changes contribute to this feeling, including the parallax effect, which creates an illusion of depth; new gestures like swiping up, which reveals the control panel; and elements like borderless viewing areas and disappearing controls, which maximize screen space. Apple defines these changes in its UI Transition Guide along the design principles of deference, clarity, and depth, which imply an experience that focuses first and foremost on an app’s content and functionality. And while the company has moved away from the visual realism of its skeuomorphic past, it has instead dialed up other forms of realism, such as motion.
For marketers, these changes mean that creating an engaging experience in iOS 7 is more of a priority than ever before. At a minimum, they should update their apps’ visual aesthetic (some companies have already started the process). But they should also rethink the way they connect with their audience on mobile. A great place to start is by asking a few simple questions: what benefit is the app providing? How is that translated to the experience? Is there a better way to communicate its core value proposition with iOS 7’s gestures, interactions, and styles? Answering these questions now will help marketers anticipate a new competitive landscape created by iOS 7’s public launch.
2. Shifting to real-time interactions. People expect data on mobile phones to be fast and easily accessible. Waiting for apps to download and content to populate hurts their expectations and increases frustration with the mobile experience. IOS 7 reduces the friction of these everyday interactions with automatic updates, which automatically push a new version of an app to someone’s device, as well as background fetch, which pre-loads content to apps when a person expects to access it immediately (e.g., a push notification that links to an app page). This gives people the ability to consume content – such as breaking news, the latest sports scores, and stock prices – as soon as it’s available.
This is an important change for marketers because it redefines part of their core responsibilities. First, it lets them focus more on the content they deliver rather than the delivery of the content. The “what” of their jobs is essentially more important than the “how.” Second, it allows them to be more experimental and take risks with their apps when launching new features, communicating with users, or presenting content in different ways. They can now tweak, optimize, and measure much more efficiently to tailor an experience to the needs of their audience. On a broader level, this means that app businesses are becoming more consumer- and market-driven.
Marketers have seen this shift before in the transition from desktop software to web applications. Web-first companies like Gmail and Facebook took advantage of the immediacy of the web to deliver software updates in the background and launch new features on a regular basis (unlike desktop-first companies, which were constrained by physical CD-ROMs). As iOS 7 moves closer to this model, marketers can shift their responsibilities from managing app releases to managing the needs of their customers – incidentally, the part of their jobs that provides the most value.
3. Connecting behaviors across multiple screens. The multi-screen world is no longer a rare occurrence, but rather the new reality. People are splitting their attention between smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and TVs, sometimes using these devices as complements, other times sequentially, and other times simultaneously. In general, the interactions between these screens are disjointed, and app developers are still figuring out the best way to connect them.
Apple is breaking down a key barrier in the multi-screen world by introducing cross-platform notifications on iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks. A single push notification can now be sent to multiple iOS devices, and any action a person takes on it will be synchronized across all devices.
For marketers, this shift provides a unique opportunity to influence and optimize their customers’ path to purchase. With data on cross-platform behaviors, they can now better understand their customers’ purchase pretzel and identify the times and places most correlated to purchase behavior. They can also take advantage of each screen’s unique benefits to deliver targeted notifications. For example, they may send transactional messages to desktop computers (knowing they’re ideal for inputting credit card information), while top-of-the-funnel messages are directed to smartphones and tablets. Better targeting will lead to a more personal experience, which will in turn drive higher revenue.
4. Using context as a discovery tool. Apple’s goal has always been to promote the highest quality apps in its ecosystem. To do this, the company has battled – and banned – those that manipulate App Store rankings to gain an unfair advantage over competitors.
With the launch of iOS 7, Apple is adding more weight to context to drive discovery and engagement. This makes it more difficult for apps focused solely on App Store optimization to rise to the top. Apps Popular Near Me, for example, surfaces apps that people are using in a particular geographic area to add a new layer of context to rankings. IBeacons takes the notion of location one step further, allowing iOS devices to identify people’s micro-location with high accuracy. For retail businesses, this may mean sending hyper-targeted, contextual push notifications when someone walks by in-store display. AirDrop, Apple’s new wireless sharing platform, also opens the door for contextual discovery by collecting data on apps people send to their friends. It’s conceivable that Apple could use this information to enhance its ranking algorithm and help more relevant apps surface in search results.
For marketers, these changes suggest they should focus on the audience that is most relevant to their business and identify the times and places where they can provide them with the most value. In other words, targeting a specific group of people linked by location, friendship, or other contextual data will be much more effective than trying to appeal to everyone at once.
With the launch of iOS 7, marketers are entering a new chapter of mobile, one that is defined by engaging user experiences, real-time interactions, and a better understanding of the end user. Rarely do we see a change this big from a company so deliberate in its decisions. And while Apple may not have been the first to introduce certain functionality, it has spent a lot of time thinking about the big picture of its platform and shaping the way people will interact with mobile devices in the future.
IOS 7 puts a premium on the mobile experience at its core – one that is engaging, one that delights, and one that fits perfectly into the lives of people who use it. The OS strives to get out of people’s way and feel natural, rather than simply look natural. This is an important distinction that will continue to define Apple’s perspective on mobile.
For marketers, the implication is similar: give people what they want, when they want it, and how they want it, and then get out of their way.
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