On The Eve Of Apple’s Next Generation iPhones

It’s “New iPhone Eve,” the night before the next generation of Apple’s iPhones hit stores. There’s been so much written about Apple in general and this particular generation of phones, so I just want to highlight three elements that interest me greatly. Previous “S” upgrade cycles have seen the introduction of voice command technology (Siri), biometric sensing (TouchID), and this year, an entirely new intra-app interaction design (3D-Force Touch). I want to focus this short post on the latter. I know there’s tons of news about Apple in general, but I only care about the phone.

But, before that, I need to quickly point out two other things about changes to the iPhone line:

One, Apple sticks it to the carriers!
Everyone hates their carriers. We can’t read their bills. They bilk us for roaming. Going into their stores is a nightmare. It’s sad because they employ good people, but let’s be frank, it’s not optimal, and one of the handcuffs forced upon us is we have to wait for upgrades and are tethered to them for service and their complicated pricing structures. It’s all just confusing and time consuming. Apple is now takes a first step in sticking it to the carriers with their upgrade plans. Apple certainly has its own motives for driving revenue, but they also know consumers will love this move; Apple has a power that can harness consumer sentiment and in this case, they score points and help everyone take an important first step away from locked-in service contracts.

Two, Apple sticks it to the publishers!
Yes, I know that Apple wants everything to happen inside native apps, and that Apple wants to cut off Google’s ad inventory on the mobile web, and that the company just plain hates flash (which drags down pages in the mobile browsers or applications that render web pages inside a native app), and so forth. But let’s face it, crappy content is taking over the open web, it’s being propped up by shitty ads (often coded in flash), and it’s just a pain to read. It got to the point for me where I would just not open a link for fear of how long it would take to load. Now publishers, starved for attention (which then may translate to ad impressions) now have to do the hard work of facing the same music newspapers faced in the last decade. And, no one will feel sorry for them, especially when properties like Buzzfeed anticipated such a world, invested in their own tech and mobile distribution, and imagined news in a social world. As a side note, this will also affect retailers who rely on mobile web touchpoints and who haven’t yet invested the resources to get their audiences onto mobile apps. (For all the publishing whiners out there, the best piece IMO on tactical things to do was written by Dave Winer — read it here.)

And, now back to 3D-Force Touch — Shortcuts for Apps!
For years, I’ve bitched on this blog about how hard mobile app distribution is. Brutal. Given that, I believe companies which emerged around 2007-2012 have better chances at growing their distribution and have essentially built up a moat around competitors. Then, in turn, those companies will benefit to even greater levels as new IoT devices that are tethered to our phones will make it easier to call services, largely because many physical interactions are “easier than opening up a mobile app.” It’s not obvious unless you think about it, but taking out your phone, finding the app in question, and then opening it up and finding the right interaction takes time — new devices like Dash Buttons, voice commands, and other triggers will transform the way we call on services that reside on our phones.

One such transformation could also be 3D Force Touch. Click here for a little video example. Because native apps are silos, when we want to view information that rests in another app while in the current app, we have to entirely switch our context, and go through a clunky maze to get to the new destination. Now we can get back with a back button, but we often lose context. Force Touch will enable users to stay in the current app and see a preview or snapshot of the key information that would’ve, in the old days, only resided in a different app. This could have profound changes for how app makers design and measure activity on their properties.

There are countless examples of why this will be a big change for app makers, the most common being that instead of opening an app to do a simple action, we could just tap on the icon and pick from a drop down menu of simple interactions. When I want an Uber, I won’t have to open Uber’s app, and then hit the button, etc.; with Force Touch, I can just hard touch the icon, and likely pick from a drop down menu to say “call a car” and be done with it.

The main example I like to use involves maps. Google Maps is the best maps product for iOS. Everyone has it. In many texts or emails or from calendar, people often leave those apps in order to visit maps. Google gets paid for those API calls, but they then also have our attention and present us with a valuable search bar where we can create new context at the expense of the previous app we were inside. If we were now stuck in Google Maps, Google could encourage us to search, or could layer information right on top of the map and grab our intent. However, with Force Touch, we could stay inside FB Messenger and continue having our conversation in the chat app. Now, this new feature will not be open to all third-party apps like Google Maps right out the gate, but when it does roll out, it will change how we as consumers think of “opening” and “switching between” mobile apps, and it will alter the metrics measurement and strategies of how mobile developers present information to users in a world where their creations may not be displayed to users in traditional apps, but rather as part of a contextual workflow or conversation, conferring more power to the utilities (like calendar) and communication apps (like SMS) we rely on.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus