iOS 10: the beginning of the end for apps as you know them

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is a rare chance to get a glimpse into how the company’s long-term thinking could reshape the app industry, as well as the web.

Although it’s probably said every year, it felt like this year’s WWDC was significant, even if a lot of people don’t realize it quite yet. To me, it signaled the beginning of the end of the way we use apps.

I’ve been playing with iOS 10 since the announcement, and in that short time it’s finally become clear how Apple plans to move its mobile platform into the future: by changing what it means to interact with apps.

With iOS 10, Apple wants to stop you from jumping in and out of apps all the time, instead encouraging quick dips into different services, without ever opening them entirely.

Rich notifications, which are part of iOS 10, let developers extend what a notification actually is in complex ways so you don’t actually need to open an app to reply, see a picture or get the latest news — a 3D touch on the notification reveals more information without leaving whatever you’re already doing. Tapping the home button takes you back to where you were.

Here’s a great example: I’m browsing Twitter, catching up on what my friends are talking about. I get a text from Femke, asking me if I want to go out for dinner.

In iOS 9, I could have pulled down on the notification to reply, without the context of our previous messages, or I could have tapped on it to jump into the full Messages app and read the thread.

In iOS 10, you can 3D Touch a notification to open a popover window with full context, then reply instantly and go back to what you’re doing without ever breaking the flow of your previous task.

There’s far less cognitive overhead because you’re not completely removing yourself from what you were doing before, so you’ll probably carry on once you’re finished replying rather than doing something else.

Developers are able to do this with a huge range of different app types, giving you as a user new ways of accessing apps without ever really needing to open them.

In the same vein, widgets have been liberated from the notification center and appear front and center across iOS 10.

Now they’re on your lock screen, to the left of the home screen and in the 3D Touch menu of an app’s icon — giving you one less reason to actually open that app to get information.

Check out this glimpse of an upcoming Ring smart doorbell widget, which lets you see live video and open the door instantly: no need to open the app, mess around with where to go and what to do: the options and information you need is right there.

Need the weather? Swipe left on your lock screen. 
Want to check your calendar? Just force touch on the app.
Keeping up with the game? Slide on over to Siri.

What’s most impressive about these changes is they’re also validation of a feature that felt a little lackluster before: 3D Touch — the hardware feature in the iPhone 6s which lets you push a little harder on the screen to view more.

Now, 3D Touch is the ALT button like on your Mac. It lets you peek a little deeper inside apps and find out something interesting, rather than just right click them to get a menu.

iOS 10 is going to change the way we think about apps, because you won’t even need to open them most of the time.

Apps are suddenly less about performing tasks, and more about consuming, since whatever else that needs your attention can be done immediately without switching context to something else.

Over the last year we’ve seen Facebook fighting to deeply integrate every app it possibly can into Messenger, like Uber, so you can order a ride without leaving a conversation. But what if that dead-simple idea of embedding services to be used where you are already could be extended to an entire phone? That’s what Apple just did.

Soon, you’ll be able to watch a YouTube video, while replying to your boss on Slack and iMessaging your friends — and it’s going to be a fundamental change to how all of us use the iPhone.

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