IPG Media Lab
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IPG Media Lab

Apple’s 2022 WWDC Event: Must-Know Highlights for Brands

No “RealityOS” or AR headset tease, but still plenty to dive in and chew on

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Return to the Apple Park; All image credits: Apple Inc.

As is tradition, Apple brought the 2022 developer conference season to a close with its annual WWDC event. As the first public event hosted at Apple Park, this year’s WWDC marks a return to in-person events for the Cupertino company since the pandemic started. Despite heavy speculations around its AR headsets, as well as the rumored “RealityOS” that would power said headsets, Apple sidestepped new hardware products, save for a new line of Macbook Air and Macbook Pro laptops powered by its next-gen M2 chip. As with previous WWDC events, it was, for the most part, all about software updates.

Over its nearly 2-hour keynote session, the iPhone maker announced at a rapid speed a slew of new features across the next-gen iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and macOS. Overall, customization and shared experiences emerged as repeated motifs, popping up across various OSs and underscoring Apple’s quest of making its user experience more personal, social, and, as always, frictionless. As Apple products continue to command global consumer attention and shape digital behavior, brands that wish to stay ahead of the innovation curve know that the WWDC announcements often offer a sneak peek into the future. The following are highlights from this year’s event that we think brand marketers should know.

The Multiplayer Experience Comes to Apple

In our 2022 Outlook report published in January, we pointed out that the bridges to the metaverse will not be built by simply turning every online interaction into 3D game-like experiences, but rather starting with cultivating a higher awareness of digital presence across different apps and platforms, making the digital experience less solitary and more ambiently social — like a multiplayer experience, if you will. At the time, we pointed to Apple’s SharePlay and “Shared with You” features as key examples of integrating both live and time-shifted social experiences into the mobile experience. So, it should come as no surprise that Apple’s latest OS updates include several new features that place a newfound emphasis on “presence awareness” and collaborative tools.

SharePlay comes to iMessage

Extending the reach of SharePlay and “Shared with You” recommendation into more apps across devices, Apple introduced a new “Shared with You” API, allowing users to more developers and brands to surface their content in native apps like Safari and iMessage. SharePlay support has been integrated into the control panel of FaceTime to encourage more users to discover collaborative experiences powered by SharePlay while video-chatting. SharePlay support has also been integrated into iMessage as well, further extending the reach of live, collaborative experiences on Apple devices.

Family sharing features have long been part of Apple’s ecosystem, but this latest batch of OS updates brings forth new sharing features across first-party apps such as Photos, Safari, and Notes. Family sharing users can now contribute to shared iCloud photo albums, and can even opt to let on-device machine learning do the heavy lifting to select which photos to automatically upload. Meanwhile, Safari users will soon be able to share a collection of websites via “Tab Groups” with friends and family, making it seamless to add tabs and see what others are viewing. On the productivity side, the native Notes app also gained cross-device SharePlay integration, with updates posted to messages thread. Apple even teased a brand new Freeform app, which is essentially a cloud-based whiteboard app with multi-media support.

Even the often-neglected Game Center received a redesign featuring user profiles and an activity dashboard that shows friends’ recent gameplay sessions and in-game accomplishments in one place, making it easy for players to jump in to play with or compete against their friends. Moreover, live sports results and other live information can now be featured on the iPhone and iPad lock screens via new widgets (more on this in the next section).

Overall, these new features focused on facilitating a more collaborative, multiplayer experience across Apple devices signals the company’s commitment to enriching the digital experience, offering users smarter ways to share and communicate with each other. All of these features will benefit from the global scale of Apple’s ecosystem and push digital presence stemming from our work applications and multiplayer games into every corner of the internet.

Brand marketers can learn from this developing trend and enrich their customer experience by embracing live presence and time-shifted togetherness. Rather than jumping into 3D proto-metaverse environments, brands can benefit from figuring out what a multiplayer experience would look like for their own category and value proposition. Community-building is a key priority for many brands today, and tapping into this emerging set of multiplayer features would be a great way to bring people together and start building a real community.

Lock Screen Widgets Unlock New Mobile Real Estate

With iOS 16, the lock screen of your iPhone will soon become a more customizable space. Not only users will be able to personalize the lock screen with expressive type styles and color choices, the app widgets that debuted on the home screen in iOS 14 will make a leap to the lock screen as well, offering more persistent, glanceable information to iPhone users without even unlocking the phone. Notifications will roll up from the bottom, ensuring that e users have a clear view of their personalized lock screen.

New lock screen UI with customizable style & widgets

If that sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because that is exactly how the Apple Watch interface works. The watch faces on the Apple Watch have long been highly customizable with various styles and widget-like complications, offering a great deal of self-expression and glanceable information. Now with iOS 16, the iPhone lock screen will essentially become a big Apple Watch. In fact, the new lock screen widgets actually share some of the same codes with watch complications. Given that Apple Watch users can easily share their customized watch faces with others via email or text, it seems safe to bet that iPhone lock screen may soon be shareable as well.

Interestingly, Apple also started to extend the Focus mode feature introduced in iOS 15 by linking it bi-directionally with the lock screen experience as well. They can set a lock screen for Work mode, another for Personal mode, and yet another for Do Not Disturb mode. In addition, users will be able to apply different “focus filters” on different sets of apps to switch out the widgets and notifications, thus truly creating a new lock screen experience for each Focus mode.

Similar to how adding app widgets to the home screen provided a new way for developers and brands to gain valuable mobile real estate, the addition of widgets to the lock screen will also unlock new territory for brands to fight over. Interestingly, one of the side effects of introducing lock screen widgets is that it may prompt more developers and brands to create complications for Apple Watch as well.

To conquer more valuable real estate that commands an inordinate amount of attention today, brands need to figure out how to make widgets that extend the functionality of their apps. The best way to start is to pinpoint the value that your brand could provide via live information surfaced via a widget, be it the latest news, order delivery status, or flight updates. To get on the lock screens, brands will have to earn a spot by offering valuable live updates for constant engagement.

Apple Wallet Adds More Commerce-Friendly Features

As part of iOS 16, Apple Wallet added some noteworthy features that will facilitate more online purchases, including a buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) offer, a new order tracking feature for Apple Pay purchases, and a way to securely share state IDs with third-party apps for age verification. Let’s look at their implications one by one.

BNPL services have been gaining popularity among online shoppers, especially those of the younger generations. Study has shown that 55.8% of consumers had used a BNPL service in 2021. Brands such as Target, Wayfair, Lululemon, and Urban Outfitters have incorporated Buy Now, Pay Later options to encourage large purchases. Apple is now jumping on this trend with Apple Pay Later, which offers users an easy way to divide the cost of their Apple Pay purchases into four interest-free payments over six weeks with no late fees and zero interest. Apple says this offer is available everywhere Apple Pay is accepted online or in-app, using the Mastercard network, and users can seamlessly apply for it when they are checking out with Apple Pay, or in the Wallet app.

Another major addition to Wallet is the Apple Pay Order Tracking feature, which allows users to receive detailed receipts and order tracking information for Apple Pay purchases with participating merchants. This feature integrates with Shopify, and users will not need to install any additional apps. For now, Shopify still remains the premiere partner for new ecommerce initiatives across the board, and a great platform for brands to use to test and learn about these retail innovations. In the long run, however, it does seem that Apple has some ambition to build out the ecommerce features in Wallet as a competitor as well.

New Apple Pay features in action

In addition, Apple users can use their ID in Wallet for apps requiring identity and age verification. To ensure a private and secure experience, only the necessary information required for the transaction will be provided to the app, and the user can review and consent to share it using Face ID or Touch ID. This is helpful, for example, for an alcohol delivery app or a sports betting app that needs to verify the users’ age in a trusted, secure manner. As more states add support for digital IDs in Wallet, we could see more age-gated apps to explore various sectors in the vice economy.

Major CarPlay Updates Signal Apple’s Car Ambitions

Somewhat surprisingly, Apple announced a complete refresh of CarPlay as part of iOS 16. With a customizable, widget-heavy redesign, the new CarPlay interface promises better connectivity with a car’s instrument panel and even deeper integrations with the vehicle’s sensors and data system. Users will be able to add trip info, control in-car climate, check the weather, view navigation information, fuel and battery levels, and more. Apple shared that 98% of all new cars in the US already support CarPlay, and 79% of users consider the feature before buying a car, so it makes perfect sense that Apple would double down on CarPlay as a way to extend the reach of it ecosystem into cars, which are quickly emerging as a media consumption channel.

Refreshed CarPlay coming to new vehicles starting 2024

Interestingly, Apple mentioned that some auto manufacturers are already looking into integrating the next generation of CarPlay, including Ford, Audi, Nissan, Volvo, and more. Apple teased that more announcements regarding CarPlay will come late next year. It seems unclear why so many automakers would already throw in the towel of owning the dashboard UI, especially considering that we know Apple has been working internally on an autonomous EV., albeit it did seem to have hit some personnel troubles recently.It seems odd that not more auto brands are recognizing this refreshed CarPlay for the trojan horse it is, but perhaps no one wants to take a public stance against Apple, yet. Regardless, this new CarPlay integration is arguably the closest we’ve seen to what an Apple Car could look like so far, and it looks pretty good.

Apple Lays More Subtle Groundwork for AR Interface

Despite strong pre-event speculation that Apple would at least tease its much-anticipated AR headset and its operating software, Apple ended up sidestepping the topic entirely and revealed nothing about that. Many had deduced that this WWDC would have been a great time for Apple to start getting developers on board with the idea of designing 3D apps for an AR headset interface, but the company steered clear of AR almost entirely during its opening keynote that even its ARKit did not receive a single mention. Interestingly, one day after the WWDC keynote, famed Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo shared that Apple may be looking to unveil its AR headsets in January 2023.

That being said, just because Apple is holding off on revealing its AR headset doesn’t mean it is not doing anything to prepare users for that inevitable launch. Rather, some of the new features announced this year have been quite variably subtle in their relationships to supporting an AR interface, such as better AI-powered dictation and visual text input, and rolling out for 3D “city experiences” in Maps.

Apple’s 3D “City Experiences” come to Vegas

Even the new Stage Manager windowing UI for Mac and iPad looks distinctly like how one would manage 2D windows in a 3D interface. So it’s not that Apple is not working on AR, it is just holding its cards close to the chest while subtly laying all the necessary groundwork that will ladder up to the upcoming interface for its AR headset.

Miscellaneous Media-Related Observations

Besides the aforementioned cross-device software updates (and in the case of AR, the conspicuous lack thereof), let’s close out with some miscellaneous media-related announcements that are worth noting here.

For starters, Apple announced that later in 2023, iOS 16 will enable push notificationsfor websites (and web-based applications) through Safari and, presumably, other supported browsers on iPhones. This means that something like Wordle could now send daily reminders to the audience who choose to opt in. This update may provide a powerful engagement tool for publishers if used correctly, as well as for brands who would like to try their hands at developing web-based apps.

Although Apple made no mention of tvOS 16 during the keynote, it did make time to highlight the enhanced focus on sports content in Apple News, Apple TV, and across the ecosystem. A new My Sports tab will be available for Apple News users to customize the sports teams they follow across different leagues, and receive live results via a Live Activity widget on the new lock screen. Apple News+ subscribers will gain access to more local sports coverage, which might pull users from other sports media sources. This is particularly worth keeping an eye on as Apple News is the one Apple service that still carries an ad offering.

Lastly, Apple announced ahead of the keynote that it is bringing new features to its native Podcast app, including brand-friendly functions such as downloaded episode controls, annual subscription plans, and partnerships with more hosting platforms. As the default podcast app on iOS, it commands a large share of podcasting listenership, and these upcoming new features should help move the needle on improving measurement and attribution of podcasting ads.

Want to Learn More?

At a glance, this year’s WWDC keynote may be a disappointment for those eagerly waiting for Apple to unveil, or at least tease, the OS for its upcoming AR hardware. Upon a closer look, however, many of Apple’s seemingly minor updates today are all aiming to further enhance Apple’s overall ecosystem while setting it up for the AR future. Some of the new features have clear use cases for brands, while others may impact user behaviors in unexpected ways.

If you are keen to learn more about Apple’s latest announcements and their marketing implications, or simply to chat broadly about how to adapt to changing user behaviors and future-proof your brand strategies, the Lab is here to help. You can start a conversation by reaching out to Josh Mallalieu (josh@ipglab.com).

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Richard Yao

Richard Yao

Manager of Strategy & Content, IPG Media Lab