Apple’s upcoming iMessage update has created quite the media buzz before its fall debut. While cosmetic changes like bigger emojis and invisible ink have garnered interest, none of these flashy new features are groundbreaking.
As iMessage’s fun features aim for parity with competitors like WhatsApp and Snapchat, there is a much more important change coming. With iOS 10, iMessage will stop being just an app and become a platform instead, and that development will have a huge impact on the way businesses communicate with their customers.
The Coming iMessage Revolution
So what will this new platform mean for the way people interact with businesses? Imagine a user messages his spouse about dinner plans. He searches for a local takeout restaurant and places the order from right there in the thread. There’s no need to open another app — when he arrives at home, the meal is ready.
This will also open the door to strong encryption for all. While encryption of messages is nothing new, it requires you to use a specific app or have specialist knowledge. It won’t be long before developers push this app-specific feature into iMessage.
As is usually the case with Apple, they’re not the first to do this: WeChat and Facebook Messenger both offer APIs. For users who divide time between the U.S. and China, for example, this development is long overdue. As one venture capitalist told The Economist, leaving WeChat behind when flying to Silicon Valley feels like “stepping back in time.”
A Unique Opportunity
Now that iMessage is allowing developers access, enterprises can’t afford to miss out. Here are some of the business benefits provided by this update:
- The one-platform experience: WeChat is an essential part of a Chinese user’s everyday life. People use it for banking, buying products online, and even keeping tabs on celebrity updates. Soon, iMessage apps will offer the same value to consumers worldwide.People already spend a lot of time in their messages app; with the new iMessage, that could become almost the entirety of their phone usage. Companies that don’t offer a one-platform experience could be outmaneuvered by competition.
- Automatic SMS: IMessage has one major advantage over products like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp: It plugs into the SMS network automatically. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp each have about a billion global users. IMessage is close, but when you include the 2.5 billion smartphones worldwide (all of which use SMS), iMessage’s network is much larger.Every app plugged into iMessage will be able to access that broader network, vastly increasing the potential opportunities. It’s a huge advantage for Apple’s product, and it’s likely to be attractive to developers.
- Apple’s money advantage: Android may be installed on more phones than iOS — 52.6 percent of Americans with smartphones use Google’s system — but Apple is where people make their money. While the average iPhone user spent $52 in the App Store in 2015, the estimate for Google Play was just $5.70. That divergence is what draws developers to Apple.
The challenge lies in beating the odds because not all of those apps have staying power. Just 3.2 percent of iPhone apps are still being used a month after they’re downloaded, but iMessage may shake up those statistics. By allowing developers to incorporate apps into users’ existing workflows, the new iMessage creates a host of new opportunities for developers.
There are five steps business leaders should take to ensure they position their product for iMessage success:
1. Ensure compatibility. New Apple operating systems often don’t gel with older versions of apps, and businesses will need to perform a lot of compatibility testing to avoid unnecessary delays. That means being prepared on day one.
It doesn’t matter which recent iPhone or iPad consumers have in their hands; the app should work without issue. Don’t let this new release send your product and app store reviews backward.
2. Choose between a standalone or existing tool. The second step is to figure out whether it makes more sense to develop a standalone application or integrate with iMessage. How will users interact with the service? For instance, Spotify and other music services probably won’t need to build an iMessage application, but it’s easy to see how a food delivery service could benefit from integrating its product.
Take some time to evaluate these possible routes. Do people communicate about your product before interacting with it? Gear your software — whatever the platform — to match customer behavior, not the latest trend.
3. Start small. Don’t invest millions of dollars in a three-year project. Start small. Then, if you gain traction, invest more resources. It could turn out that the new iMessage apps are hamstrung by Apple’s restrictions and nobody wants to use them.
Don’t harm your existing business by aggressively pursuing a new product. Each time there’s a new platform on which to build software, you should treat its development as a whole new product. Don’t assume it’s anything close to free.
4. Be patient. Christmas is the boom time for app purchases, but this new operating system will arrive about three months before. That means there’s plenty of time to beta test, fix bugs, and launch later in the year with minimal risk.
It’s tempting to try to ship a complete product, given the size and timing of this new opportunity. However, your company’s success will occur over a much longer term. Don’t deliver a bad product for the sake of being present in a new market.
5. Gather feedback. Do existing customers want a messaging app integration? Are they already using your software on their iPhones or somewhere else? Would they be upset if the product started appearing in their iMessage threads?
These are all important questions that need an answer. Don’t assume that customers’ needs match up to your desire for a new project. Talk to them, and establish a firm base for success based on demand.
This iMessage update may be recognized as the starting gun for major advancement in communications, even if it’s not original. The integrated app experience in messaging is going global and mainstream. Businesses that embrace it strategically will prosper.
The iOS 10 iMessage Update Will Change How We Communicate With Consumers