Apple (AAPL) announced a slew of product updates at this year's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) and while we generally believe this annual event to be incremental in nature, we felt this year's announcements represented the largest leap we've seen quite some time. While we can't touch on every single feature coming to the company's devices, we will highlight the most notable ones that we believe serve to increase the attractiveness (and stickiness) of the company's ecosystem.
Starting with the iPhone, iOS 14 will make the company's flagship handset more customizable than ever before. Of note, the new OS will provide users the ability to embed widgets right on the home screen, making information more accessible than ever.
In addition to placing widgets on the home screen, users can now declutter their home pages with the App Library, a new feature that will allows users the ability to hide infrequently used home pages or automatically organize apps based on category or what Apple's algorithms think users may need next.
Another featuring coming to the iPhone is picture-in-picture. This has been an iPad feature for some time, but the team is now bringing it the iPhone, allowing users switch apps, while continuing to view videos (or just keep the audio playing) in a small window on the bottom of the screen (if you've ever tried listening to YouTube and been frustrated when the audio cuts out the moment you switch apps, this feature is for you).
Moreover, while less core to the daily user experience, a new feature called "App Clips" is a notable update that will no doubt change how users discover new products and services as we navigate through an increasingly digital world. Unlike the way we do things now, where users must download a specific app, sign-up and then navigate their way to the part of the app they actually need (such as the payment page) -- a really inefficient process when you need something in the moment -- App Clips will use the phone's built in Near-field communication (NFC) chip to pull up just the section of the app needed to interact in the moment (even if users don't have the app installed). We believe the addition of this feature makes it even clearer as to why developers must take advantage of Apple's unprecedented reach (via its installed base) and create App Store apps.
Other updates include a re-imagined iMessage experience, less intrusive Siri integration, translation features, new Apple Maps features such as the traveling via bicycles or mapping an electric vehicle friendly route, the ability to unlock one's car with an iPhone via digital keys (depending on the automotive OEM's features) more customizable "Memojis".
While the iPhone is the most important device for the company, given its share of overall revenue and its status as the gateway into Apple's ecosystem, every device got an update. In our view, the iPad continues to progress in such a way that it can replace the traditional laptop for most users (especially since gaining trackpad support a short time ago).
Building on this new way to interact with the device, Apple introduced a feature called "Scribble," which will allows users the ability to use the Apple Pencil to hand write notes that will then be converted into type, allowing it to be copy and pasted and searchable. The new iPad OS will also take many of the new iPhone OS features, such as a revamped Siri interface and further customize them to realize the full potential of the iPad. While additional features are a bit more technical in nature, such as improved search features and a more efficient Photos app, we believe the overall result as a more intuitive, less intrusive and easy to use interface. For example, Search has been re-imagined to allow users the ability to search everything from apps, to in app searches or web searches all at the same time from the same place.
Of course, the Apple Watch also saw some love today as Apple announced new health tracking features, the most notable of which is Sleep Tracking (though new activities such as dancing, core training, functional strength training and cool down routines are also now able to be tracked and factored into activity levels). On the Sleep Tracking feature, in true Apple fashion, the company is taking a "holistic" view on sleep tracking, implementing features that not only track sleep but also help users create an end of the day, "Wind Down" routine to help users mentally decompress and prepare for bedtime.
Another notable feature given the current state of the world is "Handwashing," a new feature that will automatically detect when the wearer begins washing their hands, prompting a countdown that will help ensure users wash their hands for the optimal amount of time. The watch is also more customizable than ever, as users are getting more control over the various faces and the ability share face designs, via a feature called "Face Sharing," a pretty cool addition that lets users create watch faces that best suit their needs.
Now of course, while Apple's devices are best-in-class, we have long said that the thing that truly separates this company from other mega cap tech names is privacy, so we would be remiss if we didn't address the updates on this front. Up first, Apple reaffirmed its commitment to "data minimization" and "on-device intelligence." While data minimization means Apple and third party companies will collect as little personal information as possible, on-device intelligence means Apple avoids data collection by processing as much information on the local device as possible (not everything needs to be sent to the cloud after all).
Security protections of course continue to be a core feature of Apple products and services and for that data that does ultimately need to be collected, Apple reaffirmed its commitment to transparency and control. One way this is all put together is the "Sign-in with Apple" button a feature management called out, noting that users of the travel site "Kayak" have been shown to be two-times more likely to choose the "Sign-in with Apple" button vs. competing sign-in options. such as "Sign-in with Facebook (FB) " or Google (GOOGL) thanks to the trust Apple has been able to establish with users. We expect this sign-in method to gain popularity in the coming year as developers will be able to allow users to switch sign-in buttons from those third party providers (such as Facebook or Google) to Sign-in with Apple.
Location tracking is also seeing an update, allowing users to share their approximate location (often more than enough for most apps to function properly), rather than providing a specific location (or none at all). Users will also be alerted to any apps using the camera or microphone via a small alert at the top of the screen. App/web tracking is also going to become more transparent as Apple requires developers to ask for permission before tracking users. Finally, one of the more notable and upfront ways Apple is attempting to increase privacy is via in-App Store disclosure that tell users exactly what information the App uses, even before they download it -- the comparison used by management was a nutrition label; just as you know what's in the food before you buy it, the App store will now tell you everything you need to know about App privacy even before the App is downloaded.
Last but not least, the company's desktop and laptop line will also get a revamp via the newest operating system "Big Sur." While the updates on this front were more incremental in nature, like every other OS update at WWDC, the main take away is a new look (though still very much on par with the design principals we've come to expect from Apple) and an ongoing focus on consistency across product platforms. One example of the increased consistency across devices is the introduction of the control center to OS, which provides users many of the same features they've had for years on iPhone and iPad devices. Widgets and notifications will also get a redesign that will be very familiar to iOS users. Many apps will also see updates in the upcoming operating system.
Finally, management confirmed that it does indeed plan to bring its silicon design in-house (something we previously called out in our Weekly Roundup, here), stating "while we continue to believe the services segment to be the most important factor from a revenue growth, multiple expansion and margin expansion point of view, we believe the move (should it be confirmed) to be an incremental positive as it should be somewhat accretive to hardware margins and provides Apple increase control over its supply chain."
Speaking on the change, Tim Cook noted that changes this big are done for one reason, "so we (Apple) can make much better products," adding that this transition is what will allow Apple to bring some of its visions for the future to life.
One of the reasons Apple devices run so smooth is because the hardware and software are both designed by Apple. Seeing as the silicon is at the heart of the company's hardware, we believe this move will allow the company to keep pumping out best-in-class products year after year.
All in, this year's WWDC got off to a fantastic start and while the event had a lot to live up to given the incredible strength shares have seen this year, we believe it largely met investor expectations. With all devices becoming more closely integrated and therefore making the transition from one device to another more seamless than ever (and as a result increasing the switching costs of moving away from the Apple ecosystem, for example, the Apple ecosystem is as "sticky" as ever), we believe the company to be firing on all cylinders ahead of the anticipated iPhone 5G announcement later this year. This event once again causes us to reaffirm our view that Apple is a company/stock to be owned, not traded. Additional details and a replay of the event can be found here.