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Fast Forward: What Are ‘App Clips’?

And Other Highlights from Apple’s WWDC Events for Brands

Editor’s note: This is an abridged edition of our Fast Forward newsletter. For the full version, please contact our VP of Client Services, Josh Mallalieu (josh@ipglab.com) to send a request.

On Monday, Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) with a pre-recorded keynote address. Thanks to Covid-19, the WWDC event this year switched to an entirely online format, allowing more developers around the world to participate virtually.

The event itself was well produced, with seamless 3D-animated transitions between different sections and speakers as the set hopped between various spots on a vacant Apple Park campus in Cupertino. A short Production Health & Safety report was added at the end credits to denote the safety precautions taken during the production.

Throughout the nearly 2-hour keynote, Apple unveiled many expected updates to its software and OS suite, along with a few unexpected announcements. Overall, they presented a continuous shift to bring their mobile OSs together with macOS while continuing to prioritize contextual functionality over individual apps. Here are some must-know highlights for all brand marketers.

A Whole New World for App Discovery

What Apple Announced

If there’s one thing that all marketers need to know about this WWDC event, it’s the introduction of App Clips in the new iOS and iPadOS. Similar to the mini-apps that can be found on WeChat and, soon, Snapchat, App Clips is essentially a small part of an app that is isolated to serve specific use cases. Unbundling apps by function, they are meant to be small and lightweight so that users can launch them with just one tap without having to download the full app. There are options for developers to integrate with Apple Pay and Sign-In with Apple to ensure a smooth experience. Notifications from App Clips will be available for 8 hours after initial use, which was previously impossible to do without users downloading the full app. Once a user uses a particular App Clip, there will be a one-tap option to download the full app from the App Store.

From L to R: App Clips, New Widgets, and App Library

What truly elevates App Clips, however, is the strategic shift that they bring to app discovery. There are a variety of ways that an App Clip could be triggered, such as by scanning a special App Clip code, which encodes a URL and incorporates an NFC tag, so the code can be tapped on or scanned by the camera. App Clips can also be activated via web banners in Safari, links in Messages, and on place cards in the native Maps app. A new location verification API will also make sure that the right App Clip is served at the right locations. With a variety of ways to surface App Clips, Apple is rewriting the rules on app discovery by putting contextually relevant app functions above all to ensure a more fluid user experience. This may also prove suitable to surface apps for the impending Apple Glasses and other wearable devices Apple may develop.

This new approach to app discovery is also reflected in some of the other updates that Apple announced for iOS 14, including the introduction of App Library — which automatically files all the underused apps into different folders by categories and tucks them away into an app directory — and revamped Widgets, which now come in various sizes and can be placed on the homescreen alongside the regular app icons to provide scannable information without having to open an app. There’s also a new “Smart Stack” widget that sits on the homescreen and automatically shows relevant apps based on the time of day and user habits, further emphasizing the contextually relevant approach to apps.

Similarly, in the new watchOS, users can also share the custom Watch Faces they have created to promote certain Apple Watch apps via social or messaging apps. Like App Clips, it exists somewhat outside the traditional App ecosystem, and presents a new way for people to discover and share watchOS apps.

Why This Is Important for Brands

App discovery and barriers to app downloads have long been an issue for brands that wish to conquer the valuable real estate on smartphone screens. Research has long shown that even though “there is an app for everything,” it’s difficult to convince users to download a new app, as app usage is often heavily concentrated in a few favorites. App Clips offer a nimble workaround to this conundrum by allowing brands to surface only the relevant information and digital services from their apps to customers right when they need it in a simple, no-fuss way.

In particular, the robust support for offline activations via QR codes and NFC tags makes this new feature a great way for restaurants, retailers, hotels, and many other brick-and-mortar businesses to provide customers with the digital services they need in an offline environment, be it checking out a digital menu for ordering takeout, getting price comparisons while shopping in-store, or self-checking in or out of a hotel. Even those without a branded app should reconsider building an app so that they could make some of the web-based digital services and experiences more accessible via App Clips, for the latter’s user experience will be a lot more frictionless than directing customers to navigate through your website for the same functions.

Intentional or not, this approach is also incredibly relevant for activating a connected brand experience as we enter the post-Covid-19 recovery phase. Before a vaccine becomes widely available, consumers will be understandably wary of touching public surfaces. App Clips will allow businesses to transport their in-store digital experience from shared devices onto individual smartphones, enabling customers to effortlessly and contactlessly activate a part of your brand’s app that can complete or enrich the offline experience. For example, banks could use it to create a contactless ATM, while a movie theater could use it to replace digital ticket kiosks. The burden of app discovery has been magically transformed into a contextually relevant summons, and all consumer-facing brands would be smart to enable this functionality to better serve their customers.

Doubling Down on the Privacy Crusade

What Apple Announced

While App Clips and the revamped Widgets represent a strategic shift to app discovery, the new privacy features Apple announced on Monday unwaveringly stuck to Apple’s well-established strategy around user privacy and data security — leveraging its industry-leading privacy protection features as a differentiation point against its competitors whose business models are predicated on selling targeted ads.

With a slew of new features introduced to reinforce user privacy on Apple devices, a common theme of granting control through better transparency emerges. With a new “privacy report button” in Safari for macOS, users can see what information each webpage is tracking with one simple click. In addition, Apple will also start requiring developers to disclose the types of data their apps collect and for what purpose, which will be presented in simplified boxes, similar to food nutrition labels, that will be featured in the App Store. By offering users better access to information on how their data is being collected by apps and websites, Apple empowers the consumers to take action and stay informed.

Besides these transparency-oriented features, some other notable privacy features include a new “Approximate Location” privacy feature that prevents apps from extrapolating your precise location, and an extension of the intelligent tracking prevention feature from Safari to apps, which means now apps won’t be able to cross-track you without asking permission.

Another important weapon in Apple’s privacy arsenal is the “Sign in with Apple” feature that has been rolling out since last fall, that helps Apple users bypass other single sign-on (SSO) options provided by the likes of Facebook and Google, and limit the amount of their personal info being shared across apps. Apple says over 200 million accounts have been created using this feature, and it is two times more likely to be chosen by new Kayak users. To expand upon it, Apple is now allowing users to convert their existing accounts to “Sign in with Apple” accounts.

Why This Is Important for Brand Marketers

As Apple continues its relentless crusade against privacy infringement and data misuse, awareness of data privacy issues will continue to grow among consumers, especially Apple users. To keep up with consumer expectations, brands will need to reevaluate their data collection practices and get ready to become more candid with consumers. If your brand’s website or apps are collecting certain types of user data, then you better have a simple explanation for justifying that through added value such as personalized offers or continuity of services.

Apple’s consistent emphasis on shutting down cross-site and cross-app tracking with preventive features in apps and Safari will further raise consumer awareness around this issue. Consumers have long complained about the “creepy ads that follow you around,” and reducing cross-site/app tracking would help eliminate this very conspicuous manifestation of data tracking. For brands, it is more important than ever to be transparent and find better ways to reach potential customers and deliver omnichannel experiences.

In our recent piece on ethical data use, we recommended not only keeping everything legal and above-the-board, but going one step further to proactively establish a guideline for ethical data usage that you diligently adhere to. No two companies have the same code of conduct; similarly, companies should be free to come up with their own ethical guidelines regarding data privacy based on their respective business objectives and regional cultures.

That being said, some universal principles — transparency, accountability, and data minimization — apply to most brands and should be enforced rigorously to earn the invaluable consumer trust and build brand equity. At the end of the day, being more transparent and mindful with your data collection, as Apple suggested, is a good place to start.

New Mobility Features Boost Maps & CarPlay

What Apple Announced

Amidst all the new features that were unveiled with the new OSs, some of the new mobility features stood out as they significantly improved Apple’s Maps and CarPlay experiences. Following its efforts to redesign the built-in Maps for the US earlier this year, Apple announced it is gearing up to bring the new Maps to Canada, UK, and Ireland this year with the new iOS. Embracing multimodal mobility and low carbon footprint lifestyle, Apple added a new cycling option for routing in the Maps navigation, starting in cities like New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Beijing, and Shanghai. And a new routing option for electric vehicles (EVs) has also been added to Maps, highlighting routes with compatible EV charging stations and estimated travel ranges for drivers with models from BMW and Ford, with support for more brands to come.

In terms of CarPlay, which Apple says is now available on 97% of the new cars in the U.S. and 80% of all new cars worldwide, new customizable wallpaper options are now available along with new app categories, including parking, EV charging, and shortcuts for food ordering. In addition, a new digital car key feature will now allow car owners to turn their iPhones into car keys and share it digitally with other iPhone users via iMessage. In the on-stage demo, Apple showcased this new feature with a 2021 BMW 5 series model that is being released next month. Users can unlock the car with one tap, and place the phone on the in-car charger with a push to start the car. This feature uses the CarConnectivity standard and Apple’s proprietary U1 chip will eventually make it possible for users to unlock the car without taking the phone out of their pockets. Support for Apple Watch and other car models will be added next year.

Why This Is Important for Auto and Mobility Brands

As Apple doubles down on multimodal transportation with new cycling and EV options, Maps is starting to become a good-enough alternative to Google Maps, and for many iPhone users, the driving experience is increasingly dependent on CarPlay and Maps, with those two being the default options on iOS. All the possible integrations, whether via compatible EV routing or the digital CarKey, are all things that auto and mobility brands need to consider to ensure their business models and marketing communications are compatible with these new iOS mobility features to keep up with the expectation of iPhone users, which takes up 59% of the U.S. smartphone market share and over-indexes in affluent households.

Other Notable Announcements for Brands

Because Apple announced numerous new software features and we couldn’t possibly cover everything in this newsletter, here are some other highlights that could be of interest to brands:

  • Siri gets a refreshed UI design and some new features. Instead of a full-screen takeover when summoned, Siri will now appear as an animated icon at the bottom of the screen. Siri can now push results for weather, reminders, and other information pulled from apps over the top of the screen as notification. It can now also be used to send voice messages via Messages. Overall, this is not a significant update for Siri, which continues to lag behind Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa in terms of functionality and brand-friendliness.
  • A revamped Podcast app brings new curated suggestions, letting users easily discover new podcasts (or a particular episode from a podcast) that they will love based on their interests. This item was leaked last week and has been proven true, although Apple didn’t spend any time on this during the keynote. As the podcasting era continues to grow in audience and content quality, it is time for brands to start exploring opportunities in podcast advertising and creating branded podcasts to reach the audience segments that are hard to reach via traditional ad-supported media channels.
  • Another important update that Apple opted not to feature in its keynote was the updated ARKit. The new ARKit 4 introduces Location Anchors, which allows developers to place AR experiences, like life‑size art installations or navigational directions, at a specific point in the world. Similar to the Local Lenses that Snapchat just debuted earlier this month, this new ARKit feature enables brands to create AR experiences tied to a physical location such as a storefront or an event venue to unlock engaging, location-specific interactive experiences.
  • The AirPods Pro gains a new Spatial Audio feature. Using the built-in accelerometer and other motion sensors on the phone to monitor a user’s head motions, this new feature can deliver “movie theater-grade” surround sound experiences. This is obviously notable for entertainment brands, but it is also noteworthy for the potential that Apple could incorporate the head-motion-tracking tech into developing audio AR experiences down the road.
  • The new Maps app gets a new Guides feature, which features editorial content around local recommendations to bolster discovery of new places for users. Apple unveiled three brands it is working with to curate the local guides — Louis Vuitton, Zagat, AllTrails. It is interesting to see LV, a luxury brand, showing up here as a content curator, but its inclusion also makes sense considering LV has been making city travel guides for its target audience for years. Increasingly, we are seeing new opportunities popping up for brands to leverage their branded content to infiltrate digital spaces that are typically ad-free. AirBnb’s upcoming shows for Apple TV+ are also a good example of this trend of brands using lifestyle media content to earn eyeballs.
  • As usual, the new iOS and watchOS will bring a host of new health and fitness features. First up, the Activity app has been renamed Fitness, aptly narrowing its focus. The Workout feature can now track dancing as a type of exercise. The new watchOS added a new Sleep tracking feature that has been in the works for a long time. If you’re a wellness brand that offers services related to dancing or sleeping, this is the chance for you to integrate. The new Wind Down feature, designed to help users get ready for bed, present a unique space for apps to offer services such as meditation and calming audio.
  • Curiously, Apple decided not to mention on stage the contact-tracing framework it is working on in collaboration with Google to help combat Covid-19. However, it did unveil a cute countdown feature for hand-washing on Apple Watch that uses ambient cues, such as wrist motions and the sound of running water, to ensure users are washing their hands for a long enough time. While largely inconsequential in comparison to the other big announcements on Monday, this timely new feature gives us an interesting glimpse into how the future of ambient computing could develop on wearable devices.

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 Josh Mallalieu (josh@ipglab.com).

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The media futures agency of IPG Mediabrands

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