After Apple’s latest product presentation — WWDC — I was strongly reminded of all these communication-context-über-services we were hearing from telecom operators all over the world for the last decade. Strangely, none of these ever succeeded. But it seems like Apple will. Is Apple taking over the networks’ role? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Here are my top take-aways from the WWDC keynote.
1. Location-based Alarming (aka “remind me” function in the iOS 6 phone app)
Wow, remember all these ringtone, alarm and voicebox profiles we fought with before the iPhone hit the market? Things like “at home” (meaning that your phone would lower its ringtone volume) “on the street” (quite the opposite) or “meeting” (no sound). How many projects have there been about a better way to determine the user’s surrounding to offer adjusted settings and functionality? Sadly, it never worked. But, it seems like Apple got it now. At least it sounds a lot more reasonable than everything else before.
With adding this little twist of putting location in to play it suddenly seems to make sense again. It is not anymore about me (the user) telling my phone that I am in another set-up, it predicts it and adjusts automatically — just as all our operators wanted to have it in the old days.
2. Integrated Messages Over All Devices (aka iMessages)
Yep, this speaks to an old old dream of enhancing the power of SMS (remember MMS, tha last big idea of the super-power SMS). Oh yes, they all wanted to get their hands (and revenue streams) on the next big thing in messaging. From e-mail to SMS, photos, videos, conversation tracking — these ideas all drew the attention of the big network owners. But they never pushed them in the right direction.
Now it seems that they loose all the big messaging bucks to 3rd party suppliers. Be it Apple, What’s app, Yuilop or the next thing to come out. And so now here comes Cupertino again and introduces a one-for-all (phone, tablet, desktop) messaging solution that totally bypasses all the operators’ revenue streams, despite the little of mobile data it generates. Oh, and it can include pictures, contacts, complex data and all the rest.
3. Free Calls (aka FaceTime)
And video calls: they are back — the best sci-fi dream out of the 80s. The topic of video calls itself has been discussed to a sufficient extend before. What really strikes me here is something else: When Apple announced it’s FaceTime service to run over 3G now, I expected an enormous, immediate outcry. But nothing happened at all. This literally means free calls within your iPhone friend circle. Even if you don’t care about the video, it’s still a huge step to an entirely network-free phone…or let’s say almost network free.
I guess Apple should be called your new network!
It feels natural that Apple, who has such a control over such a large number of telecommunication devices, is starting to reach into these kinds of services. In the past it has always been the big claim for all the networks to know best about the mobile customer: to know the context by from where your connects, to know your habits from your history and, last but not least, to be the one with a direct billing opportunity: your monthly phone bill.
Now, it looks like all this gets tighter in the Apple universe: they gather all the user’s context by there own data retrieval, they track your history with Genius and iTunes and they got the most direct, on-click billing channel via the mandatory iTunes store.
Maybe that is just a natural evolutionary step. There has always been the time for someone from outside to push disrupting initiatives forward within an industry. And this case, it may not only be Apple to step in the arena: Amazon seems to be making its move as well with the Kindle ecosystem.
The only question that remains is, will all the networks take this without blinking? At least in a lot of places it’s still the Vodafones, AT&Ts and Telefonicas of this planet who sell iPhones in their stores. New data-only plans from Verizon and AT&T are perhaps going in exactly that direction, and they prepare a pricing strategy that solely bills for data-traffic. But only time will tell if the big networks can keep up with Apple’s low-end disruptive strategy.
We’re witnesses fascinating market shifts at the moment, and I, for one, will be watching the developments with great interest.