By Stephen Hackett
August 5, 2020 9:00 AM PT
The Hackett File: When Apple stumbles
With iOS 14 now humming along in beta form, many people (myself included) are excited about the possibilities of widgets. I’m excited to see what the developers of some of my favorite apps do with them over the coming months.
However, I can’t help but think that we’ll all suffer from a little Widget Madness before scaling back to what we find truly useful.
That’s not to say that I don’t think widgets will be popular and successful — I just think that there will see a spike in popularity before things level off.
Of course, not all technology that Apple ships does level off. Some things miss the mark with consumers and wither on the vine. Here are a few examples in recent history that come to mind for me.
With 2016’s iOS 10, Apple attempted to make Messages more than just a replacement for SMS that could sync between all of a user’s devices. That year, the company announced iMessage apps and sticker packs.
The first was a wide-ranging vision of what the iMessages app could become through the power of third-party applications being able to do their thing right inline with a text conversation. No longer would a user have to jump out to another app to schedule a meeting or order food or even play a game — they could do it all without leaving their conversation.
In his iOS 10 review, here’s what Federico Viticci wrote about the feature:
The stakes are high. For millions of users, their messaging app is a second Home screen – a highly personal, heavily curated gateway to contacts, private conversations, and shared memories. Messaging isn’t just texting anymore; it’s the touchstone of today’s mobile lifestyle, a condensation of everything smartphones have become.
Apple won’t pass up this opportunity. Not this time. In opening up their most used app, Apple hopes that developers will take iMessage further with new ways to share and enrich our conversations.
Apple’s hope was that the iMessage application could become a small home screen in and of itself, through the power of the iMessage App Store.
Today, that’s all still present, and third-party apps do often include iMessage apps, but most of them are in the one category that landed with consumers: stickers.
Even then, the expansion of stickers we saw in the early days of this feature has slowed down to a crawl. Emoji are more universal and easier to use, and have kept the high ground in this ridiculous war.
A year later, in 2017, Apple announced another addition to Messages: Animoji.
Powered by the TrueDepth camera in the then-new iPhone X, Animoji were designed to bring regular emoji to life … or at least a dozen of them.
The images mirrored the user’s face, making it easy to send custom responses to someone quickly, complete with audio. Any user running iOS 11 or newer could see them, but creating them required the iPhone X, so in a way, sending an Animoji to a friend was a pretty big flex there for a while.
In the years since, Apple has added additional characters, but I believe the feature has been passed by Memoji, which gives users the ability to create animated figures of their own faces. Again, Federico Viticci:
The most important addition to Animoji in iOS 12, however, isn’t the inclusion of new built-in characters. It’s the fact that you can now create an Animoji for yourself through a new mode called Memoji. I believe that this feature will singlehandedly convince existing iPhone X owners to upgrade to iOS 12. I also think it will turn out to be one of the most popular social functionalities bundled with iOS and Messages, perhaps second only to new emoji.
I can’t speak to how widely used Memoji are, but I bet they are way more popular than the original Animoji.
I think I’ve ganged up on iMessage enough for today, so let’s look at some other failure-to-launch features from Apple:
Apple Music Connect
In 2015, Apple announced Apple Music Connect, apparently having forgotten the nightmare that was iTunes Ping just five years earlier.
Connect was part of the original version of Apple Music, earning a mention in the press release about the service:
Artists and fans now have an incredible way to connect with one another directly in Apple Music with Connect. Through Connect, artists can share lyrics, backstage photos, videos or even release their latest song directly to fans directly from their iPhone. Fans can comment on or like anything an artist has posted, and share it via Messages, Facebook, Twitter and email. And when you comment, the artist can respond directly to you.
I think Apple was hoping that music lovers would see Apple Music as not just a streaming service, but a one-stop shop to keep up with their favorite artists. Right away, many found that turning the feature off made Apple Music a better app, and pretty quickly after launch, it was clear that most musicians (or rather, their publicists) were not super interested in the platform, deciding to stick with more mainstream — and vastly more popular — social media outlets.
It staggered on for a few years, before Apple killed it at the end of 2018.
Nah, I’m just kidding about writing this section. No one wants to relive that.
[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]