Apple WWDC: The Privacy Foundation, and Moving Software Platforms Forward

As I attended Apple’s is main developer event yesterday, a picked up on something related to privacy I had not thought about before. Yes, there were great announcements like Sign on With Apple, or hidden email proxies, or the ability to limit further app background location tracking as examples. More interestingly, Apple is building a privacy firewall not just around its devices but truly building firewalls around their customers.

But what struck me that I had not thought of before was how the last few years of Apple making privacy a central theme has been about building their credibility as a whole by laying a foundation of privacy-centric technologies. Each year, more and more solutions from Apple with a focus on privacy emerged, and I firmly believe the goal was credibility.

Now, you may say, Apple’s customers already trust and believe Apple is credible. It is true that a segment of their customer base would already feel Apple credible and trust them with their privacy, but then there are many more consumers who may be more indifferent, or just didn’t think about their privacy that much. For those humans, Apple wants to make sure they are seen and known as a trusted entity on privacy-focused platforms, software, and services. You may not think Apple was in a position to still have to earn the trust of their customers, but there is likely a larger group than one thinks of people for whom earning that trust is still necessary.

The last few years Apple spent a lot of time and energy doing things to earn the trust of their customers and be seen as a company who is on a mission to protect their privacy not just from Apple but from others as well. Where things get interesting is what, then, Apple can do once that foundation is laid, and people know they can trust Apple with their privacy. Enter the new Find My App.

It went largely under the radar, but Apple’s Find My app is fascinating in execution. If you are not family, Find My is a service that goes one step further than Find my iPhone. Apple went out to solve the problem of locating your Apple device when it is turned off. What they came up with is Find My, and when you understand how it works, you then understand it could have only been made by a company with a credibility foundation of trust around privacy.

When you need to find an offline device, you can use the Find My app, and it will have the offline device act as a Bluetooth beacon, and any other Apple device in the area will return back the location of your offline product. So, basically, you left your Mac or iPad at the office, and it is offline, for whatever reason, it will send out a secure Bluetooth signal and any other Apple devices in the area (even if they belong to someone else) will send a signal back to you with the location of your device. The surrounding iOS devices, and their owners, never know they are assisting you in finding your device.

What’s crazy about this is that some random strangers Apple device is going to help you find your device if need be. If this wasn’t coming from Apple, it would seem awfully creepy. In fact, had Apple not built a foundation of privacy credibility, I don’t think they could have released this feature. It’s only because Apple’s customers now believe Apple is not going to track or steal their location and use it for malicious reasons in this solution that people will be Ok with letting the service use their nearby Apple product to help you find yours. This is the crux of the matter. Only because Apple has credibility in the area of privacy can a feature like Find My become possible.

Looking forward, the question then becomes, now that Apple has this foundation of credibility around privacy what other new features or services can they release that would otherwise be creepy or intrusive if they were coming from any other company? I expect Apple has many more clever solutions up their sleeve that had we not believed them credible as protectors of our privacy would not have been possible.

Moving the Software Platforms Forward
Tim Cook at a quote as he was closing the keynote where we said we have moved each of our software platforms forward. At a thousand foot view, I think this is the takeaway that matters.

People will be tempted to look at all of Apple’s software announcements and feel they are simply iterative. But iteration is progress, and iteration moves things forward. Many years of iteration can look like brand new things over time. Apple released a wide range of features that, if I can add a word to Tim Cook’s statement, meaningfully move their software platforms forward.

While iOS and macOS had what I would consider many meaningful new features, I think iPad got the most meaningful update of them all and its worth a few minutes to point out why.

Year after year, Apple has been addressing the main issues with iPad that stood in the way of many iPad owners to comfortably move more of their workflows from their Mac to iPad. I am one of those people who would love to use the iPad for as many as my workflows as possible but could not go to the iPad full time. With the newest features coming to iPad, and now its true platform name in iPadOS, Apple has eliminated many more of the reasons people cite for not being able to move from their Mac or PC to iPad.

One of the main ones being desktop-class browsing. Especially in many corporate workflows, web-based software is extremely common. A great many web-based services used by corporations, or small business, etc., don’t use apps but instead use browser-based software solutions. Even though iPad could request a desktop website, it still was not the same Safari browser as on the Mac and many web-apps either did not work or just did not work properly.

In my own workflows, both WordPress itself (which I prefer the browser to the app because it is more functional), and the web-based solution I use to send out the subscriber email, does not run well on iPad Safari. We at Creative Strategies, use a service called Infogram as our data visualization solution. Infogram does not function on iPad Safari. I have a number of examples, and I’m sure others have many more, but the bottom line was iPad Safari was not a desktop-class browser. With iPadOS, iPad gets a true desktop-class browser and its one of those things that seem small but is a big deal.

Multitasking took a huge step forward as well. Running the same two apps side by side is something I know iPad Pro users have been requesting forever, especially being able to run two-word docs or two excel files side by side. The increased touch-based text editing is something I’m excited to try as well. My hope is that Apple keeps investing in making touch mightier than the mouse. Meaning, make a natural interface like touch and our finger a more efficient way to manage and edit text than a mouse ever was. I think Apple is getting close, but I’d like to decide for myself by trying it out.

While there is still more to analyze with regard to WWDC, I believe this event was one of the most meaningful in totality for all of Apple’s platforms.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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