How sub­scrip­tions, Siri, and Short­cuts in iOS 12 will change the App Store

Macworld - - CONTENTS -

It won’t take an­other 10 years for our apps to evolve, writes Michael Si­mon

When iOS 12 hits iPhones this au­tumn, it will in­stantly be fa­mil­iar to the mil­lions of users that rush to in­stall it. Ap­ple may be ush­er­ing in a new ver­sion of its mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tem with a whole set of new fea­tures, but the focus will still be where it’s al­ways been: on in­di­vid­ual apps.

As it stands, iOS – like macOS, An­droid, and pretty much every op­er­at­ing sys­tem out there – is ba­si­cally a means to our apps. Whether you’re mak­ing a call, send­ing a mes­sage, or watch­ing a movie, you’re us­ing an in­di­vid­ual app to do it. Even if you look at iOS 12’s main fea­tures – Me­moji, Group FaceTime, AR mea­sur­ing – they all re­quire open­ing an app first. But af­ter 10 years of down­load­ing apps – a mile­stone that Ap­ple marked by spot­light­ing some of its most suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ers – there are more signs than ever in iOS 12 that things are start­ing to change. By the time the App Store cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary – and likely well be­fore that – the way we shop and down­load might be a lot dif­fer­ent than it is now.

Siri take the wheel

It’s no rev­e­la­tion to say the App Store has changed since it opened in 2008. What started with overly sim­pli­fied and mostly sin­gle-use apps have evolved into full-fea­tured tools that are deeply in­te­grated with iOS through deep shar­ing, cloud ser­vices, and ex­ten­sions.

“I think this shift has been go­ing on for years as Ap­ple has fo­cused on adding dif­fer­ent ‘app ex­ten­sions’ in each new re­lease of iOS,” said Car­rot cre­ator Brian Mueller. “It started with wid­gets, then there were shar­ing ex­ten­sions, then in more re­cent years there’s been the Ap­ple Watch, iMes­sage apps, and rich no­ti­fi­ca­tions. So Ap­ple has been mov­ing away from the cen­tral app ex­pe­ri­ence for quite a while now.”

Mueller’s se­ries of Car­rot apps (Weather (£4.99 from fave.co/2vrvxkV), Hunger (free from fave. co/2Mr0oo8), To-Do (£2.99 from fave.co/2Mr1KiI), Fit (£3.99 from fave.co/2OSj2XZ), and Alarm (£2.99 from fave.co/2OPnKpa) are tai­lor made for a de­cen­tral­ized app model. Less an app than an ex­pe­ri­ence, Car­rot uses its unique char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity to draw users into its world, with as close to an im­mer­sive, seam­less ex­pe­ri­ence as you can get. Mueller has been wait­ing for the op­por­tu­nity to take his snarky as­sis­tant out of the app and into iOS proper, and iOS 12’s might be just the thing.

“It’ll be great to just pull up a Car­rot Weather fore­cast right from your home screen via a Siri sug­ges­tion. And I can def­i­nitely see adding in more fine-grained com­mands for look­ing up spe­cific data, like when you just want to know the UV in­dex or when it’s go­ing to rain next.”

The means to that end starts with iOS 12’s Siri Short­cuts. Part of a new ini­tia­tive to give Siri greater con­trol over third-party apps, Short­cuts is Ap­ple’s spin on the au­to­mated Work­flow app (which it bought in 2017) to “quickly ac­com­plish tasks... di­rectly from the lock screen, in Search, or from the Siri watch face.” In iOS 12, de­vel­op­ers will be able to set up Siri Short­cuts that grab data from apps without users need­ing to nav­i­gate and tap it. Apps will still be in­stalled on your phone (for now any­way), but iShort­cuts takes us one step closer to an ecosys­tem where ac­tions rather than full apps, are at the cen­tre.

Maybe Siri Short­cuts can help Mueller turn Car­rot into a smarter fore­caster by giv­ing it sys­tem­level in­te­gra­tion. Or it could let Re­flectly founder Ja­cob Kris­tensen give users the op­tion to record a journal en­try without even touch­ing their iPhone.

“We cer­tainly do see the voice space tak­ing a fun­da­men­tal part of our fu­ture,” said Kris­tensen. “At its core – be it voice ac­ti­va­tion of ser­vices or ac­tual com­plete end-to-end ex­pe­ri­ences as a whole – utiliz­ing voice as a means of in­ter­ac­tion with a ser­vice will save users time and make prod­uct ex­pe­ri­ences fric­tion­less in our ev­ery­day lives. So for us, it’s sim­ply a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion for our cur­rent ser­vice to be able to also pro­vide an in­ter­ac­tion on Ap­ple HomePod or any of the other voice-based plat­forms.”

The App Store as a ser­vice

Of course, a switch to a voice-first in­ter­ac­tion isn’t go­ing to be for ev­ery­one. Mil­lions of users will still want to qui­etly tap their screen to get things done, and Ap­ple isn’t about to take that away. But how we use and down­load apps will likely be very dif­fer­ent when the App Store cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary in 2028. With the rise of sub­scrip­tion ser­vices that re­place the need for reg­u­lar app up­dates, we might not ac­tu­ally be in­stalling much on our phones at all.

As sub­scrip­tions be­come more of a vi­able way for de­vel­op­ers to of­fer a wide range of fea­tures with a low en­try fee, it seems in­evitable that all of our favourite apps will shift to ser­vices, of­fer­ing pre­mium fea­tures and sys­tem-level in­te­gra­tion for

a tiered fee rather than re­leas­ing new ver­sions of apps with new up-front costs. For ex­am­ple, Car­rot Weather offers a Pre­mium and Ul­trapremium Club sub­scrip­tions for £3.49 and £8.99 a year, re­spec­tively, that pro­vide se­vere weather alert and daily sum­mary no­ti­fi­ca­tions, app cus­tomiza­tion, and back­ground up­dates on the Ap­ple Watch.

“The sub­scrip­tions were orig­i­nally im­ple­mented be­cause Car­rot’s Ap­ple Watch com­pli­ca­tion has to update au­to­mat­i­cally in the back­ground every 30 min­utes. My weather data provider charges a small amount for each weather data re­quest, and this quickly adds up when the Ap­ple Watch com­pli­ca­tion is re­quest­ing 48 up­dates per day. So I ei­ther had to of­fer a sub­scrip­tion or not make an Ap­ple Watch app at all.”

But Mueller quickly saw how a sub­scrip­tion could help him adapt to his cus­tomers needs and of­fer new fea­tures that may be other­wise cost­pro­hibitive. “As time has gone on, I’ve added more and more fea­tures to the sub­scrip­tions, specif­i­cally, ones that would cost me too much to im­ple­ment if they were in­cluded in the base ver­sion of the app,” Mueller said. “The sub­scrip­tions have helped a lot with al­low­ing me to adapt to fu­ture changes in the App Store, be­cause I can con­tinue to add new cool fea­tures without wor­ry­ing if as­so­ci­ated weather data charges are go­ing to cost me too much for it to be vi­able.”

Sub­scrip­tions gets a bad rap, but they aren’t just an­other money stream for de­vel­op­ers. Take an app like Face­tune2 (free from fave.co/2AKmLUe), for

ex­am­ple. It’s not just the most pop­u­lar selfie ed­i­tor in the App Store, it’s also on the cut­ting edge of where the iOS model is headed.

Face­tune2 was one of the ear­li­est apps to em­brace the sub­scrip­tion model and it ini­tially took some blow­back from users. But Lightricks stayed the course, and now Face­tune2 offers one of the most ro­bust sub­scrip­tion ser­vices around, with both per-item and per-month trans­ac­tions that of­fer a wide ar­ray of ser­vices that just wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with a one-time charge.

And it also lets the de­vel­op­ers ex­plore new ways to de­liver its con­tent, such as voice via Siri and Short­cuts, even if they don’t al­ways work. “You can see how in the fu­ture cer­tain func­tion­al­i­ties will map

well to ver­bal com­mands, for ex­am­ple, ask­ing Siri to edit your self­ies in Face­tune2,” said Star Tish­ler of Lightricks. “There are still ac­tiv­i­ties where ver­bal in­ter­ac­tions will make less sense, es­pe­cially with creativ­ity tools... Even within the tech­ni­cal lim­its at the mo­ment or what will likely be avail­able in a few years, do­ing a pinch ges­ture will be much more simple than try­ing to get Siri to re­size an im­age for you. Art will re­main some­thing that many people pre­fer to ac­tively cre­ate on their own.”

Kris­tensen also offers a pre­mium sub­scrip­tion for Re­flectly that un­locks fea­tures such as au­dio re­flec­tions and cloud back­ups, and he un­sur­pris­ingly has a sim­i­lar view of the App Store bal­ance. “With the re­lease of Short­cuts and a larger focus on voice in­ter­ac­tions, I think we’ll be see­ing a more user-cen­tric ex­pe­ri­ence when it comes to apps. An ex­pe­ri­ence where the user is more in con­trol of when and where they need their apps and what in­for­ma­tion they need from them.”

Fewer apps, more ac­tions

No mat­ter how pow­er­ful they have got­ten, our favourite apps still need to be de­lib­er­ately launched to get much use out of them, just like the Notes, Weather, and YouTube apps on the orig­i­nal iPhone. iOS 12 isn’t go­ing to change that, but Ap­ple is clearly tak­ing steps to­ward mov­ing be­yond an app for ev­ery­thing.

It’s not just Siri short­cuts. It’s eas­ier to make calls in Mes­sages. Screen Time is a set­ting, not an app. If de­vel­op­ers take advantage of Siri Short­cuts

(and there’s no rea­son why they shouldn’t), it could rep­re­sent a turn­ing point for the iOS app econ­omy. There’s al­ready a ru­moured home screen re­design set to de­but in iOS 13, and there’s a good chance Ap­ple fi­nally does away with the app grid, so we won’t have to look at a pile of apps every time we un­lock our phones.

“The ‘there’s an app for that’ phi­los­o­phy had got­ten a bit out of con­trol in some as­pects and a lot of the in­ter­ac­tions users take on a day-to­day ba­sis through apps should be cen­tral­ized and stream­lined,” said Kris­tensen. “But as I see it, hav­ing an app for ev­ery­thing will still be part of the fu­ture of iOS. Only this time round it will be ex­posed to a cen­tral unit that grows more pow­er­ful the more fea­tures are ex­posed to it through apps.”

We just might not be tap­ping our phones to open them quite as of­ten.

The App Store could be­come a lot less im­por­tant once iOS 12 lands

Car­rot’s sub­scrip­tion ser­vice opens up fea­ture that are too ex­pen­sive for the de­vel­op­ers other­wise

If you pay for a Face­tune2, you get way more cus­tomiza­tion options for your self­ies

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