Apple Tunes Up Siri & Cloud Services
Apple's cloud services, including Siri, were in the spotlight at the company's annual spring product launch today, where it unveiled a new music speaker to rival Amazon Echo and added cloud services support in the upcoming new version of its iOS iPhone operating system.
Apple Inc.'s cloud-based streaming service, Apple Music, was a pillar of the news. CEO Tim Cook said the service now has 27 million paying subscribers, up from 20 million subscribers in December and 13 million a bit more than a year ago.
Impressive growth -- but that still puts it half the size of Spotify, with more than 50 million subscribers as of March.
The biggest new feature for Apple Music is new hardware -- Apple introduced the HomePod, a new speaker to compete with the Amazon Echo, for listening to Apple Music.
Philip Schiller, Apple senior vice president for worldwide marketing, said the HomePod -- shipping in December, priced at $349 -- is designed to combine the audio quality of wireless speakers like Sonos and the brains of smart speakers like the Amazon Echo.
"Just like the iPod reinvented music in our pocket, the HomePod is going to reinvent music in our homes," Schiller said.
The HomePod is less than 7" tall, covered with acoustic mesh fabric and available in black or white.
It's designed to offer great audio quality with both loud and quiet music. Onboard intelligence provides "spatial awareness," so it sounds great on a table, shelf, or corner, Schiller said.
And it's not just a speaker; the HomePod is a smart device, like the Echo. The HomePod integrates with Siri. Users can ask questions, ask the HomePod to read the news and -- with HomeKit integration -- order the HomePod to open the blinds, adjust the room temperature and do it from anywhere in the world over an iPhone app.
Apple's biggest cloud endpoint -- and its biggest product -- is the iPhone. Apple on Monday unveiled iOS 11, the new version of the phone's operating system, which is available immediately in developer preview and to all users as a free upgrade in the fall.
Apple upgraded Apple Pay to support person-to-person payments and the ability to send payment as part of the Messages app.
Siri got upgrades too: a new voice and a new visual interface.
A new translation feature allows users to speak a sentence in one language and have Siri's voice translate it to another. It supports English, Chinese, French, German, Italian and Spanish, with more to come.
SiriKit gets expanded to allow additional categories of third-party apps to build in support, including task management, notes and banking apps. Craig Federighi, Apple senior vice president of software engineering, demonstrated Siri working with task management apps OmniFocus and Things 3, note-taking app Evernote and the Citi Mobile banking app from Citi.
Siri will learn user interests to fine tune information offered. For example, if a user searches on Reykjavic in Safari, Siri will in the future surface news about Iceland in headlines and suggest Icelandic place names in the keyboard suggestions in Messages, Federighi said.
Similarly, if a user gets a message from someone asking for money, Siri will suggest the Apple Pay app with the amount automatically entered as a suggestion.
Apple Maps also gets an update, including detailed floor plans of malls and large airports in large cities.
iMacs, virtual reality and augmented reality
Virtual reality and augmented reality were focuses of the announcements.
Apple refreshed the iMac line, adding high-end processor and graphics to make them capable of being used for virtual reality content creation.
Lauren Ridge, a programmer with Epic Games, did an impressive demonstration, walking around a virtual landscape on another world, joined by Darth Vader and a couple of spaceships from the Star Wars universe. She used hand gestures to manipulate virtual objects, and even make herself giant-sized to better manage creation.
As part of the iOS upgrade, Apple introduced ARKit, to allow developers to build augmented reality apps for the iPhone and iPad.
Alasdair Coull, AR and VR supervisor for AR production studio Wingnut AR, came on stage to demonstrate an augmented reality scene that appeared to play out on a real-life tabletop. Viewed through an iPad, the tabletop seemed to be transformed into a frontier outpost on an alien planet, which was attacked by spaceships.
Wingnut AR was founded by Peter Jackson, producer of the Lord of the Rings movies.
The Apple Watch is another major hardware endpoint for Apple cloud services. The company showed off the new version of the watch operating system. It includes new watch faces, powered by Siri, to show relevant information as it's needed.
"Throughout the day, whenever you raise your wrist, you'll see information relevant to you," said Kevin Lynch, Apple vice president of technology.
The watchface will display cards showing transit times, upcoming appointments, movie times, the sunrise and sunset and more.
The Watch will be able to connect wirelesssly to gym equipment from manufacturers representing 80% of the equipment in gyms today, including StairMaster, Schwynn, LifeFitness, Matrix, Cybex and more. Users can connect just by tapping the watch to the equipment.
WatchOS 4 improves pairing with Apple Music and AirPods, improving the ability for users to sync music to their watches and leave their iPhones at home when they exercise. WatchOS 4 adds support for multiple playlists.
Other connectivity features include continuous glucose monitoring, connectivity to smart tennis racket for swing analysis and connectivity to smart surfboard to see the height of waves and calories burned surfing.
Apple's services business -- that is, cloud services -- are a fast-growing part of Apple's business. Services include the App Store, Apple Music, Apple Pay and iCloud. In the most recent financial quarter, ending April 1, services revenue was up a healthy 17.5%, to $7.04 billion, Reuters reported.
The company reported a surprise fall in iPhone sales for its second quarter, ending last month, possibly indicative of customers waiting for a 10th anniversary edition of the company's most important product later this year. Apple sold 50.76 million iPhones in its fiscal second quarter ending April 1, down from 51.19 million a year earlier. But iPhone revenues were up 1.2%.
The iPad, which was supposedly going to revolutionize computing, has stalled. Following its launch in 2010, sales peaked at 26 million units in the fourth quarter of 2013, and the company sold 8.9 million units in the first quarter of 2017. Apple introduced new iPads on Monday.
And wearables has been a tough market for every vendor, including Apple, CEO Tim Cook said on the company's most recent earnings call. Still, Apple's wearables business has grown to be the size of a Fortune 500 company, including the Apple Watch and AirPods and Beats headphones, Cook said on the earnings call.
Despite challenges, net income for Apple was up to $11.03 billion, and revenue was up 4.6% to $52.9 billion in the most recent quarter.
Enterprise vendors are partnering with Apple on cloud services. Cisco piggybacked on Apple's announcement Monday, announcing optimized support for for Apple devices on Cisco networks. Cisco previously announced a "fast lane" for business critical apps on iPhones and iPads, to give business apps priority over networks to those devices. Now it's extending that support to MacOS on the desktop.
And Cisco is broadening integration of Cisco Spark and Cisco WebEx meetings with iOS and Safari. Users will be able to tap to join meetings from the iOS calendar or meeting notifications; share screens from iOS devices; and join on Safari with full audio, video and presentation capabilities.
Cisco announced a partnership with Apple in fall 2015, with an enterprise "fast lane" to prioritize business traffic to optimize Cisco networks for enterprise apps running on iPhones and iPads. (See Apple & Cisco Plot an Enterprise Fast Lane.)
SAP SE announced an Apple partnership in February, announcing iPhone and iPad endpoint applications. The SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS is a set of tools for building SAP client applications for iPhone and iPad. SAP is also offering SAP Academy for iOs for training for developers to build iOS apps. (See SAP Floats Apple Partnership, New Cloud Services.)
IBM announced a partnership with Apple on cloud computing in 2014, with Apple providing iPhones, iPads and support for those devices, while IBM providing enterprise expertise, specifically 100 apps for vertical industries, as well as security, analytics and cloud support. (See Analytics, Security Key to Apple, IBM Tie-Up.)
The two companies followed up early last year with IBM support for Apple's Swift programming language in the cloud. (See IBM, Apple Tie-Up Moving Into Cloud.)
— Mitch Wagner Editor, Enterprise Cloud News
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