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Apple Reinvents Mobile UC

With Apple rumored to be extending the interval for major product upgrades from two to three years, this year was expected to be a second "off-year" for the gang from Cupertino. However, Apple is not letting up on software developments, as it showed yesterday at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

In the opening keynotes, Apple CEO Tim Cook and his team introduced a stream of significant upgrades and new capabilities for watchOS, tvOS, macOS, and iOS -- so many, in fact, that it was difficult to keep up. However, if there was one central theme to these upgrades, it was making all of the elements of the Apple ecosystem work together better (which is particularly evident in all of the new capabilities being integrated into Apple Maps).

One significant upgrade is to Mac OS X, which has been renamed "macOS," the first version of which is called Sierra. As expected, there were a slew of new capabilities for iOS 10, the next release of the iPhone/iPad operating system. Both are due out in the fall, but previews are currently being featured on Apple's website.

With Sierra, Siri will finally be coming to Macs, as will Apply Pay. You will be able to make an Apple Pay payment on your Mac and authenticate using the TouchID sensor on your associated iPhone. Taking a page from Microsoft's Windows 10, your Apple Watch will be now able to unlock your Mac automatically rather than requiring you to enter a password.

As usual, the big stuff centered around iOS, and particularly, efforts to open up Siri to developers. Giving developers access to Siri along with APIs to access key elements of the address book and dialer app will create the greatest opportunity for UC to finally start working smoothly on iOS devices. Users will be able to place the call themselves by clicking on an address book entry or ask Siri to "Call Jack on Skype" or just "Skype Jack."

As we've noted many times, mobile UC that requires a separate app has been a total non-starter. With these new APIs, developers will be able to create apps that will allow users to make and receive VoIP calls directly from the enhanced address book. With the new APIs, users of any VoIP app will be able to place calls directly through the address book rather than with a separate app, putting an end to the "separate app" dilemma that has left mobile UC as little more than a demo capability. Those calls will also be tracked in the phone app's Recent and Favorites folders.

The process of receiving calls will improve as well. Today when you receive a call in a voice app like Skype or WhatsApp, you get a notification on the lock screen. With the new APIs, calls received in those apps will be able to get an alert like you see in the image to the right with the ability to answer with a swipe. The contact card is also enhanced and will remember which service you prefer to call each contact.

Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of Software Engineering, did make mention of the partnership announced last August between Apple and Cisco, talking about how calls to a Cisco user's business number could now be handled the same way as calls to that user's personal cell number. However, as these APIs are apparently open to all developers, it is unclear whether Apple has given Cisco any special advantage over other VoIP apps or any other UC solution, other than possibly a few months head start in development. )

Apple will also include voicemail transcription, which is great because I don't think my son, like many of his generation, has ever listened to a voicemail message.

Siri will also be available to other text applications like WhatsApp or WeChat. Apple is adding another level of artificial intelligence to Siri, incorporating what is called Long short-term memory (LSTM) that can be applied to contacts, calendar entries, and recent activities. Microsoft has been talking about its analytics as of late, as has IBM with its Watson program, so it seems Apple is getting on the same page. The result will be a Siri that is more intuitive in what you want to say or do next.

There were so many pieces to the announcements that you will likely need a few hours to digest them; you can view the two-hour keynote here. As developments in the mobile device market have slowed to a crawl, the battle is clearly shifting to software, which has long been Apple's forte.

For UC suppliers, opening key APIs in the dial app provides the first real possibility to deliver a mobile UC experience of which users may actually take advantage. Frankly, I had stopped paying attention to any of the mobile UC announcements, as all of the vendors had essentially been boxed out from the ability to deliver anything close to an acceptable user experience.

With these new APIs, Apple has opened a whole new competition in mobile UC that will at long last give UC vendors the opportunity to integrate meaningful mobile capabilities into their products and develop some real product differentiation.

"Creativity" will be the differentiator in mobile UC going forward, and I, for one, am dying to see what they can come up with.

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