WWDC 2017 Social Comms (5): HomePod and Social Communications

The new device may also become an endpoint for rich communications

I am paying attention to the announcements from Apple during WWDC 2017 that have an impact on its strategy around Social Communications. This article is part of a series that covers:

The HomePod

One of the big announcements during WWDC 2017 was a new product: the HomePod.

It was interesting to me that they gave a lot of focus into the music aspect of the device, leaving the Siri-enabled capabilities almost as a minor addition. Of course from a marketing perspective this allows them to differentiate further from the Amazon Echo or the Google Home, but my expectation was that, given the WWDC is supposed to be a developer conference — although the keynote always has a lot of consumer focus in the end — , Apple would announce APIs to allow the development of apps for the device. I thought they would open Siri further, and potentially redefine how an app-ecosystem can work in a voice-only interaction environment.

Amazon already allows applications from developers to work on their Echo devices based on the Alexa “Skills” approach, and also provides access to third party music services, like Spotify or Pandora, while Apple only supports Apple Music. I believe that one of the things Apple has done best has been to enrich their devices allowing third party services that sometimes work even better than their own (think Apple Music vs. Spotify, or Google Maps vs. Apple Maps), and I expected the same for a new device category (and still expect it in future versions).

Communications in the HomePod

But, what does this have to do with Social Communications? Well, quite a bit, because when they announced the things Siri will allow users to do using the HomePod, “Messages” was there:

That is all the information I have been able to find about this, but to me is very clear that this means they will support iMessage, which makes a lot of sense because being able to send and receive messages is a basic feature for this kind of device, as I discussed some weeks ago. Amazon also knows this, and they launched their own Alexa Communication Service last month, but while Amazon is trying to build their own network effects via the Alexa app, Apple already has hundreds of millions of iMessage users that could reach or be reached by other user via a HomePod.

And what about voice? Could the HomePod be used for calling, as the Google Home now does? Well, there is no information about that, and I would expect if this was the case Apple would have mentioned it, but a natural extension from supporting iMessage in the HomePod would also be to enable FaceTime Audio calls.

But, coming back to developers, I think Apple should follow the same approach they have in the iPhone, and also open the HomePod capabilities to developers so that other communication services can enrich the device experience. I already discussed this for Amazon, and with their latest APIs for Skills, doing a messaging app like Telegram is possible in Alexa devices, and I expect also voice and video skills will be available in the future too.

iMessage, being available in the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and now the HomePod, with a shared synchronized communication history, is becoming the gold standard in multi device communications. But other communication providers should be given that opportunity too, and Apple — and Amazon — will have to provide developers the tools to do this.

This concludes my article series covering the WWDC Social Communications-related announcements. You can check the full list of posts here.

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