Apple’s 2017 WWDC – The 4 key takeaways for publishers

Apple’s team finally took to the stage once again during Monday’s WWDC 2017 keynote. Let’s have a look at how Cupertino’s latest batch of updates will affect publishers

#1: Advertising once again on the chopping block

Dwindling ad revenues have become a recurring theme over the past months, as Google and Facebook keep taking the lion’s share of advertising dollars. Apple’s latest announcements are no departure from this trend.

First, Apple is aiming at autoplaying videos, found across scores of websites, including leading publishers. Safari’s latest update will “learn” over time which sites should have autoplay (think of your main video providers like YouTube, Vimeo,..) and which should not. Chrome is headed in the same direction, too. And with both browsers making up over 65% of worldwide web traffic, a massive loss of ad revenue from autoplay commercials is to be anticipated.

Second is Safari’s “Intelligent Tracking Prevention”, to reduce cross-site user tracking, a common ad-industry practice (remember looking at an item on Amazon, before seeing ads for it on other websites in the following days? That’s cross-site tracking). Preventing this through third-party extensions is already commonplace, but this is the first time such a feature is integrated within a browser. This will further lead to fewer advertisement dollars for publishers, especially when combined with Google’s recent announcement that Chrome will soon feature active ad-blocking.

With Apple (and Google) going after publisher’s ad dollars, content creators will have to rely on other sources of revenue, which will certainly strengthen the current trend towards paid-for content.

#2: Bad news for old and inactive apps

32-bit apps have become increasingly rare (Apple switched to a 64-bit mobile system with 2013’s iOS7), and Apple will withdraw support for them in the next iOS release, meaning these apps will stop working altogether. Remember that old e-reader of yours, which hasn’t had a new version in years? Now may be the time to update it.

In parallel, the latest version of Apple’s mobile OS will have the ability to automatically delete unused apps to optimise storage. The apps will stay greyed-out on the user’s screen, indicating to users that they will have to re-download them before using them again. All the apps’ data will remain stored on the device though, so once the apps are back on the device, they will resume working as if they had never been removed.

This is another step in the direction of an app-lighter future, where users’ homescreens aren’t clogged by dozens of unused icons. And it makes sense, after all, most people only use three apps on their devices. And as Web-based apps get better and better, now may be the time for publisher to think about better website design, and web-based e-readers.

#3: Apple News gets updates, but still no date on international expansion

As Apple repositions Siri from a voice-command tool into a full-blow personal assistant, some information regarding Apple News made its way into Monday’s presentation: Siri will now look at users’ browsing patterns in Safari, and suggest Apple News stories that might be relevant to them. It’s a step towards personalised newspaper notifications, something we expect to become the industry’s standard in the years to come.

No data was released on a potential expansion of Apple News beyond its current geographical presence (US, UK and Australia). To get fast-loading news, the rest of the world will have to keep relying on Facebook Instant Articles or Google AMP.

#4: A whole new App Store

When it’s launched next Fall, iOS11 will come with a completely revamped App Store. The new version will now open on a “Today” page, featuring a new application every day. This means publishers could potentially get a massive bump in product exposure, even though the terms of such a featuring remain unclear at the moment.

Available in-App purchases and their pricing will now be listed on the app’s page, meaning users will know what transactions they are expected to perform, before even downloading the app. This will be an opportunity for publishers to feature a clear pricing visible from the get-go, and may introduce more competition between news providers’ in-app contents.

Finally, as a logical step within Apple’s strengthened focus on user experience, app reviews will gain in importance on the Store. Not only will ratings gain visual importance, publishers will also have the ability to reset app ratings when releasing a new version. This will mean two things: reviews will now gain in relevance, as they pertain to more current version of the apps; and publishers will be able go to the market faster, without the risk of early bad reviews hurting their content on the long term.

It has been a while since a WWDC had such an impact on the publishing industry, and between these four topics, the latest keynote from Cupertino will definitely require the publishing industry to keep re-thinking its approach to mobile publishing. But isn’t that what the mobile age is all about?