Music barely featured in Apple’s keynote session at its WWDC developer event today, which suggests that the next steps for iTunes Radio and Beats Music will be saved for an unveiling at the company’s Autumn event later in the year.
Dr Dre had a cameo in a short segment demonstrating new voice-calling features in Apple’s Mac OS X desktop software – and recent rumours that Shazam’s music recognition will be integrated into Apple’s Siri feature within iOS 8 were proved to be true. That was about it.
There was still some news for music companies and executives to think about. iOS 8 will see a big step forwards for Apple’s App Store, with more ways for people to discover new apps that they might like; video trailers in App Store listings; the option to sell apps in “bundles” at a discount; and an ‘Editor’s Choice’ logo to highlight the best apps.
Apple is also adding widgets and extensions for apps. Judging by Android, which has had these features for some time, there’ll be some interesting opportunities here for music apps. And there’s a new feature called HomeKit to make iOS devices play nicely with other devices around the home: locks, lights, cameras, thermostats and the like. We suspect this could also be used for connected hi-fis and other entertainment gear.
The keynote saw some new big numbers from Apple too. The App Store now has 1.2m apps, with 300m people visiting the store every week. The store is now past the 75bn downloads milestone too.
Apple has sold more than 800m iOS devices so far: 500m iPhones, 200m iPads and 100m iPod touch units. CEO Tim Cook was keen to stress that iOS is bringing new customers to the company, not just existing fans.
“This is incredible, but what’s even more impressive is how many new customers to Apple that iOS devices have brought to us: over 130m customers who bought an iOS device in the past 12 months were buying their first Apple device,” said Cook.
Apple clearly remains rattled by the popularity of Android, with Cook devoting several minutes of his on-stage time to criticising Google’s software and the devices running it.
“Many of these customers were switchers from Android. They had bought an Android phone by mistake, and then had sought a better experience, and a better life, and decided to check out iPhone and iOS. In fact, nearly half of our customers in China in the past six months switched from Android to iPhone,” said Cook.
He went on to note that while 89% of iOS users are running the last major update – iOS 7 – comparing this to the 9% of Android users that are on that platform’s latest KitKat version.
“Over a third of their customers are running a version of Android from four years ago. That’s like ancient history. That means that these customers are not getting great new features,” he said.
“They’re not able to run the latest apps, and they don’t get security updates that they may need to stay safe. And this is particularly important for Android which dominates the mobile malware market.”
Away from the Android bashing, Cook also said that Apple now has 9m registered developers, up 47% compared to last year. He also talked about the performance of Apple’s Mac business in the last year: “While the industry declined by 5%, Macs grew by 12%, that swelled our install base of Macs to over 80m, which is a record for us,” he said.
Other non-music improvements to iOS 8 included QuickType: a predictive text system that suggests words you may wish to use next, based on your writing history – essentially iOS’ equivalent of SwiftKey on Android, right down to its name. But iOS 8 will also support third-party keyboard apps – SwiftKey, for example, or Swype.
Apple’s iMessage app is getting some useful tweaks, including the ability to ping quick audio and video messages from within conversations – shades of WhatsApp, Snapchat and other popular messaging apps.
Meanwhile, Apple is making health a major focus for iOS 8 with a feature called HealthKit and its app – simply called Health – which helps people monitor various fitness metrics, and connect to third-party health apps.
Another feature is Family Sharing, a digital equivalent of the traditional fridge-door sharing between family members – and there was a music angle here.
iOS users will be able to set up their family on separate iOS devices – up to six people, although they’ll all need to share the same credit card – then share photo streams, calendars and reminder lists. But also media, just as they might share physical books, DVDs and CDs within the household.
“Increasingly our media is in the form of songs from iTunes, movies, books and apps. Well now, with family sharing, you can get not just at your purchases, but at the purchases of all your family,” said Apple’s SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi.
Children will also be prompted to ask a parent’s permission when making a purchase, with a notification going to the parent’s device – so kids blowing a credit card on One Direction songs (or, more likely, virtual items in mobile games) shouldn’t be a widespread problem.
Apple pulled some big surprises during the keynote for developers too, including revealing a brand new programming language called Swift, which it said would be able to be used to build everything from simple social media apps up to rich 3D games.
Developers will be able to get their hands on the beta version of iOS 8 today, with everyone else getting it in the Autumn. And no, there was no iWatch or Apple television unveiling – of course there wasn’t – but judging from the response from developers on Twitter, the real meat to Apple’s announcements today will have big implications for the apps being released later in the year and beyond.