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What Marketers Need to Know About Apple WWDC 2013

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Monday marked the beginning of Apple’s wildly popular Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). The WWDC Keynote has historically been the site of many new product launches – particularly centered around iOS – and this one has been no exception.

Most of the discussion so far has focused on shiny new hardware, and the dramatic aesthetic changes to iOS. Amid these high-profile announcements, Apple announced several developments that will specifically affect digital marketers.

iTunes Radio

Apple’s entry into the world of music streaming isn’t a surprise, but some of the details bear analysis. Like Pandora, iTunes Radio is based on channels (as opposed to Spotify’s playlist-based system) and will allow users to curate their own channels that stem from specific artists and songs. The service will be free for all iTunes users, and will be supported by display and audio ads served through the iAd platform. There will also be an ad-free paid option, tied to the existing iTunes Match service, for $24.99 per year.

There is already some skepticism about Apple’s ability to compete with Pandora – a product that has had 13 years to mature and develop a user base – but one should not underestimate the adoption boost that comes with being pre-installed with the OS. The iTunes music store has a massive user-base already; if Apple is able to leverage even part of that into iTunes Radio, they will be a very serious player in the streaming radio game.

iTunes Radio, and rumors of a future Apple ad exchange, represent a huge potential shift in momentum for iAd. This will be the first Apple-produced app that uses iAd, and will represent a massive influx in inventory, and visibility, for the platform.

Siri and Bing, Safari and Google

Those paying close attention during the keynote may have noticed a touch of schizophrenia when it came to Apple’s relationship with search. The new version of Safari in iOS 7 features a unified address/search bar, reminiscent of Chrome’s and powered by Google search. But when it came time to demo the new and improved version of Siri, Apple specifically called out that Siri’s web searches were powered by Bing.

So, what’s the story? Speculation is rampant. Regardless of Apple or Google’s motivations, the Siri-Bing partnership provides a potentially significant opportunity for Microsoft. Bing is still a substantial underdog in the world of search, but mobile search will undoubtedly play a key role in the future of that market. If Siri gains traction as an entry-point for search—as Apple clearly hopes it will—that may just be the opportunity Bing needs.

New Features of iOS 7

The iOS 7 SDK (software developers kit) is only available in beta, so many of the details on what new capabilities will be available to developers are still unknown. That said, we’ve seen some tantalizing hints that suggest future opportunities for innovative campaigns and technologies. Here’s a summary of what we know right now:

Bluetooth LE and iBeacons: Bluetooth LE (low-energy) is a technology that allows for tiny, long-lived, self-contained modules that can be found and communicated with through standard Bluetooth radios. This may not sound exciting if you’re used to thinking of Bluetooth as a connector for earphones, keyboards, and similar devices, but Bluetooth LE is an early step into one of the next big things in the digital space: spatial awareness.

Spatially aware applications can make use of simple Bluetooth beacons to detect what surrounds them, and to contextualize user behavior. For example, a beacon placed in a movie theater doorway could allow an app to automatically mute a phone when a user entered, and un-mute it upon their departure. Another example – and one that is often more exciting to marketers – is a beacon placed in an in-store display that would trigger a custom coupon for loyal customers, delivered seamlessly to their Apple Passbooks.

Startups like NewAer are already exploring a lot of these possibilities, and Apple’s move to support these new standards will be a welcome sight for them. Spatial awareness is on the horizon, and it will be a huge opportunity for the first companies that figure out how to use it well.

Barcode Scanning and Passbook: Apple continues to slowly push Passbook as a solution for digitally managing tickets, loyalty cards, coupons and the like. The new version of Passbook in iOS 7 has an interesting new feature: a “Scan Code” button. Though it’s not yet clear how the new feature will work, it seems likely that Apple will support some form of barcode or QR-based scanning to add new cards to the Passbook digital wallet.

Moreover, the new iOS SDK features a universally available function for utilizing the iPhone camera: barcode recognition. Essentially, any app that wants to will now be able to quickly add in support for barcode scanning. Plenty of iOS apps for barcode scanning already exist, but this move could indicate that Apple is eyeing barcode scanning as a core function of its devices.

Having an app on a stock iOS device that has the capability to scan and interpret QR codes would instantaneously lower the bar for adoption of QR scanning. A few Android phones have come with QR scanners pre-installed, but so far on the iPhone, the first step to having a user scan a code was telling them to download an application—a huge barrier to adoption. The key lies in how easy and seamless the process can be made for users.

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With this week’s announcements, Apple has shown us a large part of its plans for the next year. In a mobile market largely dominated by two players, even seemingly small moves by those companies can have a huge impact, affecting millions of consumers. As creators and innovators, it is incumbent on marketers to spot, understand and seize opportunities as they arise.

Cover photo via The Tech Block