Apple WWDC 2019 Recap: Everything Brands Need to Know

Why Apple is revamping the desktop experience, preparing for post-mobile, and doubling down on privacy

Richard Yao
Jun 5, 2019 · 11 min read
Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at WWDC 2019. Image credit: Apple

Editor’s Note: This is an abridged edition of our Fast Forward newsletter on the latest announcements from Apple’s annual developer conference and their brand implications. For the full version, please contact our VP of Client Services, Josh Mallalieu (josh@ipglab.com) to send a request.


Another June, another WWDC event where Apple unveiled its latest software updates to the world. On Monday, the iPhone company kicked off this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose with a 136-minute keynote that introduced a slew of new OS update that covered everything from iOS to tvOS. There is even a new iPadOS, as Apple decides to break it off from iOS to accentuate its productivity-oriented features, while also using iPad apps as a basis for creating new apps for macOS.

Altogether, Apple’s announcements this year reveal a company that is trying to align its outdated desktop experience with the superior mobile experience it offers, while also steadily laying the groundwork for the post-mobile era that is fast approaching by developing its wearables and AR platform. Underpinning this twofold strategic plan is Apple’s unwavering commitment to protecting data privacy and creating the best user experience in market. Let’s take a look at how each strategy informs Apple’s latest software developments and what brands can learn from them.

Section 1: Aligning the Desktop Experience with Mobile

Key brand takeaway: Design your brand experience mobile-first and keep it consistent across platforms

For the past few years, iOS has usually been the star of the show at WWDC, which is understandable given how dominant mobile has been in the past decade. This year, however, iOS was hardly the focus of the event; instead, the main sections were devoted to software updates aiming to improve the rest of Apple software ecosystem, often following in the footsteps of iOS.

First off, iPad’s software is now separated from iOS and rebranded as “iPadOS” to emphasize its multitasking productivity features. More importantly, breaking off iPadOS from iOS also allows it to serve as a jumping-off point for Project Catalyst, which will allow developers to easily create Mac apps from existing iPad apps. This move makes sense, since most of the new iPad models are basically being marketed as laptop alternatives, and their screen sizes are certainly more comparable with laptops.

With the new iPadOS, Apple continues to position iPad as a productivity tool, using the keynote to highlight many of its performance improvements, multitasking UI design, and new external support for mouse control and USB thumb drive. It is also worth noting that in new macOS Catalina, a new Sidecar feature will allow Mac users to use their iPad as a second display to their laptops, either via cables or wirelessly. Features like this illustrate how well Apple products work together seamlessly thanks to its integrated control over both hardware and software. Plus, safari on iPadOS will request the desktop site by default, which means brands will need to make sure their websites work on iPad too.

Project Catalyst comes at an interesting time. Last month, Microsoft canceled its cross-platform app initiative that was supposed to link its (now defunct) mobile OS with Windows apps. The fact that Apple is pushing forward with a project for creating universal apps across mobile and desktop devices only further illustrates the benefits of Apple’s full-stack control. Last year, Apple ported four of its mobile apps (Stock, News, Home, and Voice Memo) to macOS to create a consistent user experience across devices. Now with Project Catalyst, Apple is inviting more developers to create desktop apps based on their mobile apps.

It is not hard to see that before long, developers may have to make their apps compatible across all Apple devices, if they wish to distribute their apps in the App Store. By doing so, Apple would be pushing desktop users to use apps instead of relying on web browsers. For brands, this means that many Mac users may start to use apps instead of visiting your websites, especially if they already have used your mobile app. Therefore, it would be smart to make sure all the features and functions that a customer can do via your website are also included in your app in order to ensure a consistent and coherent customer experience.

Then there is the long-awaited unbundling of the iTunes app. As Apple’s most iconic desktop app, iTunes was created for the iPod and existed long before we entered the mobile era. Although it started as a simple tool for managing music libraries, it grew to include a cohort of media over the years. On iOS, Apple has already broken up the old iTunes app into separate apps for Music, Podcasts, and Video since iOS 9. Now following the steps of iOS, the iTunes app will also be disintegrated into off into Music, Podcasts, and Apple TV apps to offer a more focused media experience.

Of course, the mobile experience is not staying stagnant either. In iOS 13, besides the arrival of the popular Dark Mode, there are a couple of business-friendly features that brands should heed. For starters, if a user tries to call a business that has incorporated Business Chat (iMessage for businesses), the iOS 13 will suggest they message the business instead. Also, in the native Maps app, dynamic information such as movie showtimes and event information will be displayed in the business info card, which means theaters and event organizers should ensure it is pulling the correct and up-to-date information.

Overall, Apple’s efforts to update its desktop experience show just how prominent mobile has become. For brands, this means thinking mobile-first, since that’s where most of your customers are spending time today, but also update your touch points on desktops and other non-mobile devices to stay coherent with what customers have come to expect on mobile.

Section 2: Laying the Groundwork for Post-Mobile

Key brand takeaway: Invest in wearables and AR to prepare for the next paradigm shift

Beyond updating its desktop experience to keep up with what iPhone users have come to expect, Apple also continued to lay down the groundwork for the next paradigm shift in personal computing by investing in wearables like Apple Watch and AirPods as well as augmented reality.

Apple Watch continues to its march towards becoming an independent device as the new watchOS 6 will bring an independent App Store and new health features. The addition of the App Store is significant, as it allows users to browse and download apps on the Watch without having to resort to their phones. Along with the new support for creating watchOS apps in the new SwiftUI framework, this addition could spur more users to check out some of the third-party apps on the Watch, including watchOS apps made by brands, such as the “Brush with Colgate” one that Apple briefly mentioned during the keynote.

Beyond Apple Watch, iOS 13 will bring several useful updates to Apple’s other wearable product — the AirPods. Siri will be able to read your messages to you as they arrive (even from 3rd party apps), and you can reply with your voice instantly should you choose to. A new sharing feature will let you share a song or podcast with someone just by tapping your phones together while wearing AirPods. In addition, AirPods will be an accessory option in Memoji in iOS 13, further cementing its influence as a fashion statement and status symbol.

Siri no doubt plays a big role on Apple’s wearable devices, and the addition of media playback support on third-party apps such as Spotify and Podcast apps will also make it more useful for wearable users. Siri Shortcuts now supports follow-up questions, which allows developers to build more functional use cases. For example, the command “order takeout from Caviar” can now be followed with a list of suggestions of dishes for users to choose from.

Beyond Apple Watch and AirPods, Apple also increased its investment in the AR space with new tools that make it easier to make AR experiences,. The ARKit update promises to be a major one, improving stability and performance while introducing a variety of new features. New developer tools RealityKit and Reality Composer will enable developers to create AR experiences that incorporate real persons, allowing participants to be part of the virtual world. A new motion tracking feature will also let developers map their virtual creations to the movement of real people. AR Quick Look, which is Safari support for AR models, can be created in Reality Composer and is being pitched specifically to create use cases in retail and education.

Together, Apple’s continued investment in wearables and AR will ensure it is well positioned to transition its business beyond the mobile era. Its steady and assured approach to both domains means it is now quite ahead of the software curve whenever they choose to release the AR glasses they have been working on, which will no doubt change the rules of media consumption and consumer attention all over again. For brands, this means it is important to have a long-term vision to look beyond mobile and recognize the rising prominence of wearable devices and AR technologies. The time is now to explore how your brand experience can be interpreted for wearable devices and how AR can bring value to your customer experience.

Section 3: Privacy as a Strategic Fulcrum

Key brand takeaway: instead of “collecting” data from users, brands will need to come up with fair value exchange in order to acquire data

Bridging all of these announcements is Apple’s commitment to privacy and data security. Throughout the keynote, Apple repeatedly pointed out that all of the personalization features it will roll out in the new OS updates, whether it’s auto-generated collages in Photos or the automated shortcuts for Siri, are powered by machine learning that employs on-device processing, meaning that no data is shared with cloud servers.

One of the most impactful moves Apple pulled at this WWDC to protect user privacy is the new “Sign In with Apple” feature, which will allow users to use Face ID to create an account in apps and web services without sharing any personal information. If they wish, they can even set up a relay email address so that their personal emails stay hidden.

This privacy-minded SSO tool will be mandatory for all apps that use third-party sign-ins (but not all iOS apps) when it becomes available later this year, which will ensure its availability and usage among Apple users. Once users choose to sign in with Apple, it essentially breaks data-sharing between applications and third parties, rendering it impossible to track users across different apps and websites. By leveraging its control over the App Store, Apple is putting an end to the ad-tracking enabled by the universal sign-in options from the likes of Google and Facebook. Plus, Sign-in With Apple works on the watch, which FB and Google don’t. If independent Watch apps take off, this is probably going to be the preferred sign-in method.

Make no mistake, this is Apple’s most aggressive move to protect user privacy to date, and it will no doubt put pressure on Facebook and Google. Moving forward, they will have to justify why users should choose their options over Apple’s by demonstrating the value that their sign-ins could offer users in exchange, such as importing your existing social graph from Facebook to the new app, and leave it up to users to decide for themselves if that trade-off is fair. It is particularly interesting to contrast Apple’s stance on data privacy with Google’s sales pitch from its I/O conference last month, which basically boils down to “you should give us your data in order for us to offer you the best, most personalized user experience.”

Apple will also be further restricting how much location data apps can collect with a new option to allow users to grant apps to access their location data only once. If the apps need location data again, it will have to ask users to grant access again on a per-use basis. Previously, the only options for granting location data access were either “always on,” “only when in use,” or “never.” In addition, new security features have been added to Apple’s home platform, including a new option to store home security footage on iCloud for free for up to 10 days, as well as a HomeKit security firewall for WiFi routers to prevent hacks.

As Apple continues to double down on user privacy as not only a product feature, but also a strategic fulcrum on which it aims to build credibility and brand trust that help differentiate itself from competitors. As we noted in the Media Haves and Have-Nots section of our 2019 Outlook report, the deepening gap between media consumption between ad-supported free options and ad-free premium platforms is widening. As a result, privacy is increasingly becoming a luxury good that users will have to pay a premium for, either by paying for a subscription service or by buying an Apple product.

For brands, the impact of this widening divide is twofold. On one hand, if you can demonstrate to customers why you need to collect data and what value that collected data will offer them in return, then there is a chance to establish a fair, transparent value exchange between benefits both brands and customers. In other words, instead of “collecting” data from users, brands will need to formulate a value exchange in order to acquire the data they need. On the other, it is increasingly important to communicate to customers your stance on data privacy as a brand. If your brand can afford to offer value — be it products or services — without acquiring user data, then that is certainly a strategic credit you should be leaning into, as Apple is doing.

Final Thoughts

Beyond the myriad of software updates, Apple also devoted a significant portion of stage time to introduce the new Mac Pro, its high-end desktop device (starting at $5,999 without the display) that has been long overdue for an upgrade. In a way, it makes sense for Apple to spend over 30 minutes pitching its most powerful workstation computer to the WWDC crowd, given that they, plus the creative community loyal to Apple, are very much the target audience for this hardware product.

Overall, this WWDC event shows an Apple that is audacious and uncompromising, willing to look beyond mobile for new growth opportunities as iPhone sales hit a plateau. Whether it’s aligning its desktop experience with mobile, or paving the groundwork for its upcoming AR hardware product, Apple is making a strong statement for data privacy and superior user experience across the board. At the end of the day, this user-centric approach will always be Apple’s winning card, and it should be your brand’s too.

Want to Learn More?

If you are keen to learn more about Apple’s latest announcements and what they mean for your brand, or just want to chat about how to adapt to changing user behaviors, the Lab is here to help. You can start a conservation by reaching out to our VP of Client Services, Josh Mallalieu (josh@ipglab.com).

IPG Media Lab

The media futures agency of IPG Mediabrands

Richard Yao

Written by

Manager of Strategy & Content, IPG Media Lab

IPG Media Lab

The media futures agency of IPG Mediabrands

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