At the end of the keynote at Apple’s Developer Conference on Monday, there were two areas where I thought Apple clearly decided it was not up to them to tell their users what they should and should not do: Siri Shortcuts and Screen Time.
Over the years, Apple has been criticized for deciding what was best for their users: color scheme on your Mac, U2 album in your library and slowing down your old iPhone to preserve battery. In all these cases, users did not like that a decision was made for them so how could they appreciate Apple telling them how best to take advantage of Siri, manage their time and parent their children?
Apple thought it was more useful to provide tools to users so they could decide how to do all those things better. Such a change might come from a shift in company philosophy. I do think, however, it is more likely to have come from the realization that Apple’s users are today as diverse as they have ever been. For Apple to find a middle ground between my mom, my daughter, and I is no easy task.
Siri Shortcuts Aimed at Pros to benefit the Masses
Apple has been trying to figure out how to talk about AI, ML, and Siri over the past year or so. Siri used to be voice, and other “smartness” that was happening on the iPhone was not necessarily called out. With the introduction of the A10 Fusion and A11 Bionic, Apple started to be more explicit in calling out AI and ML enabled capabilities. On Monday, however, rather than talk about AI, Apple was focused on positioning Siri as an assistant that helps you even when you do not talk to her, just like a human assistant would.
Digital assistant adoption is still in its infancy, and so is understanding and embracing of AI. Assistants are also suffering from users having to learn how to communicate with them. While some are more flexible than others, we are all trying to determine the exact way to ask them to do something for us and let’s face it, we are still far off from natural language.
The introduction of Siri Shortcuts seems to try and bypass these issues. Siri Shortcuts are a way for users to put together a phrase to either do one task like “find my keys” or a chain of actions like “morning routine” which set an alarm, checks the traffic and reminds me to order coffee. Siri will proactively also suggest Shortcuts based on your behavior. Behavior that is very different across the large user base Apple has today. Siri Shortcuts put the “burden,” for lack of a better word, of the set up on the user which is indeed not for everyone. I would expect. However, heavily engaged users will spend the time in setting them up, and as they see the return, they will do more. In a way, I think of these users as being similar to those who spent time fine-tuning their Apple Watch to become a complement to their iPhone rather than a replica of it.
Apple will learn from this early adopters and could feed data into ML models to create the most popular shortcuts for a broader set of users. The whole “Siri is behind” rhetoric is, after all, impacting more the engaged users than those who are interested in using Siri to set up a timer.
Screen Time Empowers You through Data
Digital health has raised to the attention of many over the past few months and companies are starting to respond. Apple, similarly to Google, is providing tools to raise awareness of what we all do with devices. While a lot of the attention has been on the well-being of kids, adults too could benefit from a little less screen time, and I sure know I could. Apple took a two-pronged approach. On the one hand it has made Do Not Disturb more efficient and broader, and on the other, they added Screen Time which, similarly to Google Dashboard, gives you a lot of information about how you use your apps. Siri also steps in helping you managing notifications which are a big part of what attracts you to look at your phone in the first place. The way you engage with those notifications will provide Siri with a clue on how important those are and will help suggest how best to set them up.
We live however in a free-will world, so Apple is not shutting things down for you. Users are in control and they should self-manage. I am a little skeptical about adults really making changes for the better, but maybe I am just projecting my own fear about me being able to change.
Where I do think there is a lot of potential is in Screen Time and kids. I always maintained that, as a parent, it is my responsibility to manage my child’s screen time, but I welcome any vendor to give me tools to help me do that. What I like about Apple’s Screen Time is that I can teach my daughter to be responsible about device time like she is responsible for others things in her analog life: feeding the bearded dragon, keeping track of her belongings at school and cleaning up her toys. I want my child to look at the Screen Time report and responsibly learn to self-manage. I want her to understand that it is not just about time with the device, it is about how you use that time. There is a difference between reading books, writing your journal, or drawing on your iPad and spending hours on Snapchat or YouTube. I do not expect her to get there straight away, but I think that having more self-awareness will undoubtedly help.
Overall I felt Apple focused on practical improvements to the experience users have today. It was not all sexy, truth be told most of it was not, but this does not mean it will not all help grow engagement and loyalty.