The Apple Lords Giveth, Not Taketh Away
One might be inclined to think that the sole intent of Apple's World Wide Developer Conference last week was to wreak technological genocide. This month alone, Apple introduced new products and features that supposedly will kill Flipboard, Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, Tidal (as if it weren't self-destructing), Google
Based on the coverage, one might expect tumbleweeds to soon roll through Silicon Valley and cause property values to plummet back to bargain-basement 2013 levels. Entrepreneurs will apply en masse to business school, law school, or -- could it be so bad? -- medical school. All those 22-year-old startup founders' parents will be signing up for Snapchat just to tell their kids, "I told you so."
Yet how come there's so little focus on the real story of Apple's annual WWDC? Or the real story from Google's similar developer conference (Google I/0) that took place the week before? This isn't a story about what such companies taketh away, but what they giveth. It's not a story about death, but renewal.
First, consider the history of such events. Google continues to innovate with Maps, Wallet, search and its other products. Startups are tackling these areas as well; it's hardly a two-horse race in any field. iCloud hasn't killed Dropbox, FaceTime hasn't killed Skype, and the list goes on. There are relatively few examples of Apple, Google or others finishing off companies based on a new feature.
Instead, there are many more examples of how these platforms are adding value to others' businesses. This is especially true for brands. During the Apple Watch section of the keynote, one prominent logo was Volkswagen's. VW is making its products more valuable with updates such as fuel and battery monitoring, remote-control access to climate settings, and alerts when another driver of one's car (such as a teenager) is speeding. VW can use Apple's technology to make its cars more valuable, and to deepen the role of its brand in consumers' lives. Similarly, Product Hunt users just named Chipotle's "burrito button" one of the best Apple Watch apps. Apple is giving brands more tools to compete and differentiate.
Despite such opportunities, marketers can find themselves on a razor's edge. Many will lose out by announcements made at WWDC, though by no fault of Apple. They're the same marketers who will lose out from Google I/O -- the ones who ignore phenomena cataloged by sources such as the annual trend report by Mary Meeker at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Apple, Google and others build products that in some way shape how people use technology, and those products in turn must adapt to trends in consumer behavior. Recent trends include: how notifications are becoming the most powerful way to reach consumers with time-sensitive updates; the shift toward messaging apps as the main conduits for communication and content sharing; connected devices getting better at delivering clear value propositions to consumers (save money, protect your home, etc.) and heralding a new wave of innovation; and shifting screen sizes forcing creatives to take usability best practices from tiny screens such as smartwatches and apply them to increasingly larger screens such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and smart TVs. Marketers still prioritizing big, clunky website builds over nimble mobile web and app development might as well be formatting their media to be viewed best on fax machines.
The more entrepreneurial-minded of marketers will be relishing these trends to discover and reach audiences in ways they never could have dreamed of before. And there will be new entities arising to capitalize on these trends that can in turn better help marketers reach their goals. Ad-supported media properties such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, BuzzFeed and Wattpad can all thank the rise of the iPhone and the smartphone wars that followed for their success; marketers tapping into those audiences can in turn thank Apple for what it ignited. Apple has paid out $30 billion to developers since the App Store launched, but that's a small fraction of the value of businesses that have been built around reaching people across Apple's devices, let alone businesses that are more successful thanks to Apple's groundwork.
If anything should die after the latest WWDC, let it be the punditry around what Apple has killed. As it is written in Deuteronomy, "Choose life."