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What Apple Hopes To Achieve With OS Refreshes

Apple’s iOS is getting a major upgrade to alleviate major pain points, improve the user experience, and make apps smarter as part of an effort to stay competitive with Facebook, Amazon and Google, analysts said.

But Apple still has a way to go, they noted.

In what CEO Tim Cook called iOS’s “biggest update yet,” the company opened up Siri and key iPhone apps, such as Maps and iMessage, to third-party developers to improve the apps’ usefulness and keep up with competing apps.

During its recent Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple also previewed enhancements to watchOS, tvOS and macOS (the new name for Apple’s computer OS). Those enhancements also add new features, improve ease of use, or eliminate pain points, such as the slow startup time of watchOS apps.

All OS upgrades will be available in the fall to consumers.

The changes come at a critical time for Apple, which recently posted its first quarterly revenue decline in 13 years. Analysts also expect iPhone unit sales to drop during the fiscal year ending September for the first time since the iPhone’s 2007 introduction.

Alexa beckons: In making Siri accessible to third-party app developers in iOS 10, Apple is making Siri more like Amazon’s Alexa, which controls third-party apps. The update will make it possible for consumers to make Uber reservations, check flight status, send payments, and the like by voice, or use Siri to launch non-Apple apps.

In opening up its Maps and iMessage apps to developers, Apple will enable Maps users to search for restaurants, then make a reservation via OpenTable , without leaving the Maps app. From within iMessage, users will be able to access apps to buy movie tickets, make a restaurant reservation, and make a payment via Apple Pay without leaving an instant-message conversation. iMessage has also been improved to keep up with other IM apps, letting users add photos, videos and animations to text messages as well as hand-write messages.

In other key advances to its platforms, Apple is also:

• adding facial, object and scene recognition to the iOS Photo app so that a person’s iPhone or iPad automatically places pictures of a certain person into one folder, places pictures taken at a certain location into a folder, and populates a folder with pictures taken with specific scenes in the background, such as beaches;

• bringing its Siri voice assistant and Apple Pay to Macs, with Siri upgraded to enable sophisticated queries, such as finding files sent by a particular person in the past week and searching the web for images of a particular subject;

• adding new document-sharing features to macOS, enabling users to save files on their desktop or in their documents folder and make them accessible from their other Apple devices via the Cloud;

• letting Macs automatically back up older files to the Cloud when disk space fills up, with the backed-up files available from the Cloud on demand;

• enhancing Siri voice control in tvOS so that Apple TV users can search for movies by topic and access a live stream in progress;

• providing a single sign-on feature for tvOS to let users sign up once to activate multiple services on Apple TV instead of going to a browser to enter an ID code to activate each service; and

• upgrading the Apple Music streaming-service app to provide “greater clarity and simplicity,” said senior VP Eddie Cue.

Thematic event: A major theme emerging from the flurry of iOS upgrades, said IDC VP Tom Mainelli, is that “Apple is opening up key features and capabilities — such as Maps, Siri, and Messages — to third-party developers, essentially creating new platforms within the iOS platform.”

The Home app, enabling control of all brands of HomeKit-certified devices from a single app, “was a long time coming and looks promising,” he added.

Said UBS analyst Steven Milunovich, “We recently asked if Apple gets platforms. Apparently it does, based on the litany of technologies being opened up to developers.”

For his part, Gartner research VP Brian Blau found the most important iOS advances coming from Apple’s willingness to let third-party developers integrate Siri and iMessage with their own apps and services. “That was the most impactful part of their announcements, but [they] were also somewhat underwhelming in that competitive smart conversational systems — such as messaging and assistant apps that have been demonstrated from Google, Facebook and Microsoft — are more advanced.” Apple, he said, “still has work to do to catch up.”

As for macOS updates, IDC’s Mainelli found Apple focusing on “making sure that Macs continue to play a key role for people who have multiple Apple devices.”

He pointed to little things, such as unlocking a Mac with your Apple Watch, and “bigger things, like universal clipboard where you can copy and paste content across devices.”

Such features “help drive better user experiences and is a key reason why Apple has largely bucked the negative PC trends of the last few years,” Mainelli said.