Why Apple's Extensibility Matters for Marketers

Even in the face of no new hardware introductions, there were many highlights from yesterday’s WWDC kickoff, among them OSX and iOS UI and functionality updates as well as Apple creating a new programming language to make development on Apple’s ecosystem easier and more powerful.

One under-the-hood feature that received limited airtime during the keynote but stands to be an important one from a marketing standpoint is what Apple is calling “extensibility” - the ability for apps to share information between them. In the current iOS model, apps have a layer of security - a “sandbox” - around them that keeps them isolated and protected, and keeps them from affecting other apps or the OS itself (hence no virus or malware software needing to be run on iOS devices.) In iOS 8, the addition of extensibility provides a safe and secure way to share information between apps, allowing them to reach out to each other and integrate content and functionality. One of the keynote examples was being able to open the Photos app on your phone but then call up a third party filter (VSCO Cam) within the Photos app itself to edit a photo. In the current iOS model, you would have to open the third party app, make your edits, save the photo to the photo gallery, then open Photos and find the edited photo to do any additional edits.

For marketers, the power of extensibility shines when a brand can insert functionality and/or information into a popular app on the phone. For example, an airline brand could create a “destination highlights” piece of functionality that can be called when someone is organizing a vacation in the well-known TripIt app. The brand can effectively leverage the popularity of an existing app and use this as a channel to promote their brand with added functionality and relevant content.

Extensibility also allows for the creation of “widgets”. These are snippets of functionality that can be added to the iOS Notification Center to push specific content. In yesterday’s keynote an Ebay widget was shown that allowed the user to not only follow an item she is bidding on, but to also up her bid if necessary - all from the lock screen and without requiring the user to enter a lock code or password. Another demo showed an ESPN widget that pushes scores from a personalized set of sports teams to the user’s home/lock screen. The power here is that the user’s screen becomes a direct channel for brands even when the phone is locked. Think customized push messages that can contain specific content and functionality that is relevant to the user. So a CPG coffee brand could send a beautiful daily image that captures the essence of “morning", or an outdoor or ski brand could provide daily snow condition updates for mountains in the area.

Again, it is important to focus on lightweight and useful content/functionality that will help keep your brand top of mind. And to be fair, this type of functionality has been available on Android for many years, and can be seen in the innovative tile interface on Windows Phone - another case where Apple didn’t invent the capability but has attempted to perfect it.

iOS 8 will be released this Fall, but iOS developers have early access to all the new iOS 8 functionality as of yesterday, so it is not too early to be talking to your teams and agencies about creative ways to leverage Apple’s extensibility elements for your brand.

Image credit: Apple Inc.

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