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Apple WWDC 2017: Top takeaways for enterprise development teams

Grant Gross Reporter, Freelance
WWDC 2017

Apple gave enterprise developers a few things to nibble on during its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last week, but dev teams working on or considering augmented reality got the most to sink their teeth into. 

Apple's ARKit, a new SDK that allows developers to build augmented-reality (AR) apps for the iPhone and iPad, generated a lot of the buzz. ARKit, available now in the iOS 11 and Xcode 9 betas, will allow developers to design apps that, as Apple says, blend digital objects and information with "the environment around you."

Enterprise announcements at WWDC were somewhat limited, but "the building blocks of some future enterprise things did appear," said Michael Facemire, a software development analyst at Forrester.

Here is a rundown of the announcements from WWDC 2017 that enterprise developers should start thinking about.


ARKit: AR for the masses?

ARKit was one of those blocks. "While we’re still very early in the maturity of AR, this is a good first step to get people thinking and using the technology," Facemire said.

Apple analyst Gene Munster, founder of VC firm Loup Ventures, had a more bullish take on smartphone AR. ARKit was the most important announcement of the first-day keynote at WWDC, he wrote in a blog post. The software kit "instantly creates" a base of several hundred million Apple device users, he noted.

"We believe AR will be the core technology that eventually replaces the smartphone," he added. "[The announcement] lays the groundwork for Apple to succeed in that future as ARKit represents the first tangible commitment from Apple to establish itself as the leader in the race to build a dominant AR-driven OS."

Apple has the "horsepower" to become the largest seller of AR devices, added Adam Fingerman, chief experience officer and co-founder of ArcTouch, a custom app developer for the mobile and Internet-of-Things markets.

ARKit, combined with Apple's App Store, "shows that they have an ecosystem in place to create viable business models for developers," he said. Facebook's AR Studio, announced in April, funnels developers onto its own platform, but "Apple's approach is to let thousand and thousands and millions of apps bloom," Fingerman added.

ARKit will create several possibilities in the consumer and gaming markets—the popular Pokémon GO uses AR—but there's "tremendous opportunity" for the technology in the enterprise, Fingerman said.

AR can be used for training employees—think of the possibilities for airplane and other mechanics. It also has a huge potential benefit for salespeople, particularly those who sell large, hard-to-move objects such as medical equipment, he said. 

The ARKit announcement will attach many developers, although it's unclear how users will embrace AR on smartphones and tablets without an ability to manipulate the AR environment with their gestures, said Yiwen Rong, vice president of product development at uSens, which makes gesture-tracking software.

AR demands precision hand-tracking technology to reach its fullest capabilities, Rong said. Still, developers are "super excited" about ARKit, and because new devices incorporate better cameras, they will enable better AR experiences, he said.

One of the great benefits of Apple's AR push is a streamlined and uniform device environment, as opposed to the unending list of Android devices, Rong said. Hardware-sensitive AR apps will work better when developers understand the hardware their apps will run on, and Apple's announcement can push AR forward on mobile devices in a way that Android could not, he said.

AR developers will be attached to the hundreds of millions of iPhone users. But he still sees a major smartphone AR market as remaining a couple of years away. Apple's ARKit announcement is "hour zero of day one of cellphone AR," he said.

Siri gets smarter with SiriKit and CoreML

Also during WWDC, Apple announced SiriKit and CoreML, tools to allow developers to build smart apps for the company's devices. SiriKit, however, limits the types of machine-learning apps it will allow developers to make, some critics noted.

SiriKit and CoreML both show some promise, Fingerman said, but ArcTouch's business customers haven't yet found many use cases for machine learning apps. 

There's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm over machine learning and artificial intelligence, but "not a lot of dollars are flowing toward it yet," he added. Apple, with the WWDC announcements, may create more awareness and market demand, however, he said.

Macs gets some love with Metal 2

While developers will probably like the new iPad Pro and iMac Pro, Apple announced Metal 2, its developer interface on the Mac platform. Apple also announced integration with game-distribution channel Steam, as well as the Unreal and Unity engines.

"The first version of Metal didn’t fail because it wasn’t functional, but because there was no ecosystem in place to support it," Forrester's Facemire said. Metal 2 will be "a welcome addition" not only for gaming developers but also for those who build high-performance video platforms, he said.

Apple brings it home with HomePod

Finally, Apple announced its HomePod device, a competitor to Amazon's Echo/Alexa home speaker and digital assistant and to the popular Sonos music streaming speakers. Along with HomePod, Apple had previously announced HomeKit for developers, a home-automation development kit.

While HomePod and HomeKit may be of limited interest to enterprise developers, companies with smart home visions can see a new pipeline for creating products, said Ben Fisher, founder and CEO of Magic & Co., a software consultancy.  

HomeKit has dropped an extensive certification process for developers that required authentication chips to be installed on custom hardware using the kit. 

"HomePod opens up a whole new ecosystem, allowing Apple Pay in people's homes," Fisher said. "Developers use Apple Pay extensively and now can develop apps that touch people’s home lives, potentially driving new revenue streams." 

What are the most interesting WWDC 2017 announcements for enterprise developers from your perspective? What is your team planning to run with? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image source: Flickr


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