Apple Watch got a new operating system, and some additional useful features including the exercise app now offering custom exercise modes for wheelchair users. Apple TV got some Siri tweaks, the ability to search within YouTube, and even a single sign-on mode so you no longer have to spend hours with your web browser entering access codes for each of a zillion different TV Anywhere apps that come with your cable bundle.
OS X got renamed macOS, and the new version, Sierra, will enter open beta in July. The handiest new feature to come with it is a universal copy and paste mode, so you can copy text on your iPhone and then paste it on your desktop, or vice versa.
iOS announced version 10 is launching soon, which they called their “biggest release ever.” But then, every one of them is that, isn’t it? There was plenty of new stuff there about Siri, photos, a “Memories” mode that assembles movies automatically from photos and videos (the way Google Photos has already been doing for a couple of years now). Siri and Maps have been opened to developers, so they can interface with and control third-party apps.
HomeKit added new home automation categories, a new all-in-one-place control app called “Home,” new control center/lockscreen options, and encrypted remote access. iOS 10 will also add voicemail transcription and APIs for third party information providers and VOIP services. Messages gets rich links (like Hangouts already had), larger emoji, emoji predictions, automatic emoji replacement in messages, and animated speech balloon effects.
Cook also spent a lot of time discussing how sensitive to user privacy Apple was being, with end-to-end encryption on any app that involved sending data in, and keeping things like facial and voice recognition on users’ devices so that stuff doesn’t go into the cloud. It will also be implementing differential privacy for apps that do send information to the cloud for processing—a method for anonymizing such data to make it harder to identify individual users. Not exactly a surprise given the Apple privacy controversy of the last few months. There was also some discussion of a new programming language and environment called Swift that Apple was releasing for free to help encourage kids to learn to program.
The only thing that really involved e-reading in any respect was the changes to the iOS News app, in which the app gained a lot more personalization features, including the ability to generate a custom news feed for users based on what they read themselves. It will also offer magazine subscriptions and breaking news notifications within the app. Even that only took a couple of minutes to go over.
All of these new gimmicks are improvements, make no mistake, but the most interesting thing to me was what Apple said about iBooks. Which is…nothing whatsoever. Apparently iBooks is now yesterday’s news—a bit of a comedown when you consider that it was one of the biggest features of the original iPad presentation. In fact, the whole reason agency pricing hit when it did was Apple exec Eddy Cue frantically scurrying around behind the scenes to get as many of the Big Six publishers on board as he could before the iPad launch presentation. Back in those days, Apple really thought it was going to conquer the e-book market by torpedoing Amazon’s right to discount e-books.
After that conquest entirely failed to materialize, iBooks mysteriously disappeared from Apple presentations. It’s still there, and for all I know the app may be getting incrementally improved just like all the other apps Apple doesn’t see fit to mention in its presentations. But if so, it’s not important enough to Apple to mention—or else Apple doesn’t think it’s that important to its users and developers. They can spend twenty minutes showing how awesome the new iOS 10 Messages app is, but not a thing for iBooks.
I think this just drives home the point that Apple simply isn’t interested in e-books anymore. They’ve already got the store set up, and presumably it pays for itself in the number of people who do buy e-books from it, so they might as well keep it going—it’s a nice thing to have available for people who do own Apple devices, after all—but it’s no longer being presented as one of the raisons d’être for buying an Apple mobile device. Perhaps they view trying to compete directly with Amazon as just throwing good money after bad. Did getting their hands slapped by the appeals court and ignored by the Supreme Court for masterminding agency pricing simply kill their e-book enthusiasm?
Or perhaps they know that their users don’t care very much about e-books, either. If you consider that they probably spent the most time covering things they knew were the most popular with users, the twenty minutes they spent on iOS 10 Messages—longer than they spent on just about any other single subject in the presentation— is particularly telling.
Perhaps e-books have become one of those things that people take for granted now? They exist and people buy them, but they’re no longer exciting? That’s possibly the best spin we could put on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right explanation. In any event, Apple isn’t covering them at this event, and there’s no sign they’re trying to take any e-book business away from Amazon.