Not much has changed in iOS in the past 5 years. There have been new features, visual improvements and some genuinely useful platform advancements (Universal Links, Spotlight search, Siri, Extensions etc..), but the fundamentals of how we use iOS have remained unchanged. You open an app, do a thing, and then close the app. 2016 will be the year that this begins to change. iOS 10 ties together many of the incremental improvements from iOS 7–9 and makes clear the vision of a smarter, more connected device.

The overarching theme of WWDC this year was increasing the ways and places that developers can reach users across the iOS operating system. This was manifested in new APIs for Siri, Messages and Maps as well as advancements in Spotlight and continued promises of global indexing for content, whether users have the app installed or not.

Siri finding tables available from OpenTable.

Teaching users, and developers to 'think outside of the app'

By introducing tools and creating great examples in the Operating System of interacting with services outside of the walls of their apps, users will begin to expect their favorite apps and services to be available everywhere. Developers will quickly oblige. This changes the way developers will need to think about building products for mobile— you can no longer build a weighty 'brand experience', but rather own a fragment of the user's overall journey, that may well be placed into somebody else's interface.

These features require addressability and index-ability of content inside of apps, great deep linking support and the ability for an app to act as a 'data provider' for other services on the device. Support for Universal Links will be accelerated as the opportunity to gain additional interactions in your app becomes real.

Less is more

Another example of iOS 10 separating the functionality of your app from your entire 'app experience' is the improvements to 3D Touch. In iOS 10, 3D touch becomes a rich way for users to interact with small sets of functionality— seeing maps, laid out data and actions in a peek card rather than simply lists of links. All of these together really are going to change the way that developers have to build apps.

Activity App now makes all your data and activity available to 3D touch as well as Siri.

Siri is ready to make iOS smart

Siri has claimed for years to make your phone 'smart', but frankly more times than not it pretty much just got it wrong. When it did get it right, the hooks into actually 'taking action' were missing or shallow— it could show you restaurants, but couldn't link you to table reservations. It could show you game schedules, but couldn't get you tickets etc.. This made Siri, along with almost all other assistant services until recently, an information provider, but not a place where you can take action. The cognitive load of figuring out the next action was still on the user and as such, it was really just a search app, built into the OS.

With iOS 10, Siri becomes much more action-oriented and has far better hooks into content in the apps on your phone (and some that are not, through special partnerships.) This will allow Siri to send you on your way into the next step of your journey— this is the feature that will make the experience feel 'smart' and connected.

Discoverability remains as hard as ever

iOS 10 lays the groundwork for a very different app ecosystem, but failed to make progress on one of the hardest issues for developers & users alike, today. Discoverability. All of this functionality requires the user to have the app installed, but how do users discover new apps? It's an undebated statement that discovery in the App Store is lacking and it appears that in iOS 10, with the exception of a few partners that have been included directly in Siri, none of these hooks will help with more contextual, personalized discovery.

Apple is now lagging seriously behind Google in organic discovery of apps, where Instant Apps later this year will bring about truly organic discovery of apps through the content inside of them, and likely pose a large challenge to Facebook's app install ad business.

A Button-shaped hole in iOS experience

Apple declared that our phones should be a smart interconnected-web of apps and created great tools for doing this in Apple-controlled properties (Messages, Siri, Maps) but offered no advancements in connecting to one-another. As developers increasingly think about content in their apps as deeply discoverable and build into this model, acquiring users from contextually relevant settings across the app ecosystem is a no-brainer, and that's where Button is focused & already works with many of the top mobile commerce companies today. I can't wait to see what the connected app ecosystem looks like 1 year from now.