Apple Enables Web Embedding of Live Photos for Developers (Apr 20, 2017)
Also today at F8, Facebook overhauled its Messenger Platform, which launched last year, and went as far as to call it Messenger Platform 2.0. That kind of separation from the version launched a year ago is smart, because the first round was ill thought out, with the vision for bots both too expansive and not nearly detailed enough. In the year since, Facebook has made a lot of progress, and the version of bots it now offers to developers is much more compelling and better suited to the kinds of things it will be used for. Facebook is also getting better at serving small and medium sized businesses, which continue to make up an enormous chunk of the total base of businesses in many markets. That’s important because these businesses represent the biggest future opportunity for Facebook advertising, which is already well penetrated among larger enterprises. I’m still skeptical that bots have broad appeal beyond a few specific categories, but it’s starting to look like Facebook has cracked at least some of what it will take for bots to be successful in those categories where they do make sense. And it’s less religious about bots as full-fledged experiences now, too, which means that other flavors of automated, semi-automated, and human-driven interactions can live side by side more seamlessly, which is smart.
I’m at Facebook’s F8 today and one of the two big announcements from the first day keynote is this Camera Effects Platform, which is Facebook’s first big push into AR. That’s a good thing, because Facebook has so far made its big bet on its narrower cousin, VR, through Oculus. AR has the potential to be much bigger, and Facebook getting into this space will only accelerate adoption and awareness. Sensibly, though, I don’t think any of this will be described as AR in most user-facing settings – it’ll have more user friendly names like Camera Effects, Frames, and so on. But building a platform for AR experiences including some pretty sophisticated ones means Facebook is finally serious about AR both from a first-party and developer perspective, which is a good thing. The stuff shown off on stage today looked much cleverer than what Snapchat launched this morning, and although it won’t all be available right away I suspect Facebook is actually going to be ahead here, especially when it comes to the rear-facing camera. In fact, there’s a possible scenario in which Snapchat continues to do AR better for the selfie camera, while Facebook provides better AR experiences for the outside world. More broadly, this means Facebook will now be a serious player in a field which includes not just itself an Snapchat but also Microsoft, and will soon include Magic Leap, Apple, and many others too. There are therefore big questions to ask about who will be able to attract developers and help them get a return on their investment with good monetization. I would expect to see some similar stuff from Apple at WWDC in June and possibly even more in September with new iPhone hardware too.
Intel Kills its Developer Forum, its Big Annual Event (Apr 17, 2017)
Twitter unveils a new API platform, roadmap and vision for its developer community – TechCrunch (Apr 6, 2017)
Twitter has had a rocky and confusing relationship with developers over the years. Early on, it relied heavily on developers and encouraged them to build apps, but then it pulled back from that strategy and also made it harder for developers to create standard Twitter apps in competition with its own. And then it built and subsequently sold off a set of developer tools. So developers could be forgiven for being a little wary of another developer push from Twitter. But the moves Twitter announced today seem largely sensible and should move the company’s developer platform along nicely, aligning the mainstream REST and streaming APIs with its enterprise-grade GNIP APIs, and adding new functionality both today and through 2018 to improve and expand its offerings. All of that should make it easier for developers to build apps to hook into Twitter and take advantage of its data for a variety of purposes, as well as using Twitter as a customer service channel. That’s all good stuff, and if Twitter hasn’t alienated developers entirely, it should help rebuild that relationship over time too, with at least some of them.
Facebook will launch group chatbots at F8 – TechCrunch (Mar 29, 2017)
This is yet another sign that Facebook feels its initial bot strategy from last year isn’t panning out (something I predicted at the time) and that it needs to try alternative approaches. It’s iterated fairly rapidly since then and added some functions to make interacting with bots easier, and it now sounds like it’s trying another different tack, allowing developers to integrate bots into group conversations. But those bots won’t be interactive AI-type creatures, but instead will provide updates on events or processes, such as sporting matches or food orders. Like earlier pivots, this seems more modest in its ambitions but also more likely to be successful. But Facebook’s direction here stands in marked contrast to Microsoft’s, which continues to work on AI-based chatbots.
Apple’s App Store Gets a Makeover – Bloomberg (Mar 21, 2017)
The headline makes it sound like there are changes coming to the App Store, but this story is really about all the changes that have already happened on the App Store since Phil Schiller took it over from Eddy Cue a little over a year ago. One of the notable things in the story is the impact that better analytics have had, and how that’s made it easier for more dynamic developers to update their apps more frequently in response to user behavior. More generally, though, the article suggests that big strides have been made in the way the App Store runs from a developer perspective, which is a story that hasn’t been told much. It’s been subtle, and if you’re just a user you might not be aware of most of these changes, but better experiences for developers make for better end user experiences too. I know there are still lots of developers, especially Mac-centric developers, who have complaints they feel have gone unheeded, but Apple has at least made some progress in fixing big pain points on the iOS side.
Foursquare is the rare example of a company whose late-stage pivot is actually working out. So many companies switch from one business model to another early in life – Twitter is a classic example – but very few start to struggle after several years of one business model only to find success with another. A few years back, a friend who was then senior at Foursquare told me that data and tools and not consumer check-ins were going to be the future of Foursquare, and in the years since the company has been executing on that vision. One of the most impressive parts of this is that Foursquare apparently has more checkins today than ever before, so the app is actually still doing well enough among a core set of users to provide a rich location database that can be used for these new developer tools. But it’s now monetizing pretty much exclusively through the developers and others that are tapping into its location data rather than through something on the consumer end.
Motorola Shares Results from Moto Mod Developer Events (Feb 6, 2017)
While LG is stepping away from its modular approach, Lenovo/Motorola seems to be doubling down on its Moto Mods strategy, holding developer events to invite third parties to come up with clever ideas for add-ons to its Moto Z range. Either Motorola is seeing more traction around the concept than LG did, or it’s simply out of other ideas for how to differentiate its phones in the market. I’ve seen little evidence that the Mods (or Moto Z) are selling particularly well, so I’m skeptical that it’s the former. But it’s interesting to see Motorola take the crowdsourcing approach here, both with these developer events and its Indiegogo campaign, which runs through March.
Apple opened up Siri access to certain categories of developers last year as part of iOS 10, but Siri on the Apple Watch has remained a first-party-only affair. That will change with iOS 10.3, which is rolling out to developers today and offers developers in a subset of four domains the ability to integrate their Apple Watch apps into Siri on the Watch. Apple’s focus in the last year or so has been about putting Siri on essentially every device it sells – a counter to Amazon Echo and Google Home’s single device approach – and making Siri smarter by allowing it to control more third party functionality, albeit in a much more tightly controlled way than Alexa’s Skills approach or even Google’s recent opening up of the Assistant with Actions on Google. These two fronts – third party integrations and the range of devices supported – will be critical as these various companies compete in the voice assistant space, and this small step is part of that much bigger picture.
via Business Insider
Twitter canceled its annual developer conference, Flight, back in October, and I posited at the time that this would send a strong message to developers working with Twitter, though I got pushback from some people at Twitter. Now, Twitter is selling its developer tools (collectively known as Fabric) to Google, rather validating my initial take on the Flight cancelation (no pun intended). This is certainly a result of Twitter’s narrower focus going forward on user-facing, live content including video, but it reinforces the sense that Twitter has really messed around with developers over its history. Developers will still be able to create and run apps for Twitter, but Fabric was a big part of Twitter’s developer toolset and a major focus of those Flight conferences in the past. Lots of those tools, though, had little to do with the core Twitter product, so there’s definitely some logic in selling it a company – Google – which is committed to providing a broad set of generic tools to developers.
App downloads up 15 percent in 2016, revenue up 40 percent thanks to China – TechCrunch (Jan 17, 2017)
Two things are worth noting about all the data presented here: firstly, apps are still growing massively, putting the lie to the idea that native mobile apps are somehow dead, to be replaced by some combination of better web apps, bots, or something else. The number of apps being downloaded is growing rapidly each year rather than stagnating or slowing down. The second point is that there continues to be a massive disparity between usage and spending when it comes to Android and iOS. See the first and fourth charts in this article – the first shows massively more Android apps downloaded than iOS apps, while the fourth shows double the spending on those iOS apps relative to Android. It continues to be far more profitable for developers to make apps for iOS, even with a smaller user base and far fewer apps downloaded. That, in turn, seems likely to reinforce the pattern that the vasty majority of big new apps get launched on iOS first, and Android second (if ever). That continues to be one of Apple’s big ecosystem advantages.
App Store Shatters Records on New Year’s Day – Apple (Jan 5, 2017)
These new numbers from Apple reinforce the sense that Service revenues, driven largely by the App Store, continue to be the company’s most consistent growth driver. Payments to developers were up 40% on 2015, for a total of $20 billion, while subscription billings alone were up 74% to $2.7 billion, or almost 10% of the total. That 40% year on year growth rate is fairly consistent over the past year or two, as the rise of IAP accelerated growth above levels in 2012-2013. All of this also reinforces Apple’s argument to Wall Street that Services will grow even as device sales falter.