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June 11, 2012, 3:59 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

Three takeaways for news orgs from Apple’s WWDC keynote

A smarter Siri, new maps, and a replacement for loyalty cards.

Today’s Apple keynote at its Worldwide Developers Conference featured some pretty remarkable announcements. (That new MacBook Pro with a Retina display looks tremendously foxy and may be the only thing on the market that can eat into MacBook Air sales.) But there weren’t any reveals likely to have a big impact on news organizations, like the announcements at previous events of Newsstand or Apple’s subscription model for iOS apps. (Here’s a roundup from The Verge of all today’s announcements.)

Still, there were a few items that news organizations should probably pay attention to in iOS6, the next version of Apple’s phone-and-tablet software, out sometime this fall. (One was only briefly mentioned: a redesign of Apple’s app and book stores, which will likely have an impact on your work’s discoverability. We just don’t know enough yet to know what that impact will be.) Here are three worth knowing about:

Siri: Prepare for people to talk to your app

Siri, Apple’s conversational voice assistant, is expanding to a new device, the iPad. But more importantly, it’s also learning from apps. Apple showed off integration on topics like sports (“What’s the score of the Giants game?”) and movies (“What’s playing at the Kendall Square Theaters?”) and noted that Siri can now launch apps (“Launch Angry Birds”).

Now, it’s unclear how much further app-by-app integration can go; the rest of WWDC is under NDA, and it will probably still be another development cycle before things can get really specific. But at the very least, news orgs should start brainstorming about the kinds of integration they’d like to see:

New York Times, what’s the latest in Syria? Does Paul Krugman have a new blog post?

NPR, what’s the NPR affiliate in Pocatello? And when does Wait Wait air here?

WSJ Live, has Markets Hub started yet? And what’s AAPL trading at?

CNN, where is Wolf Blitzer right now? He owes me money.

It’s worth asking these questions now, both because these changes are coming and because it’s a useful exercise at contemplating the questions your app can provide answers for. Siri, when fully built out, could be a way to strengthen brand relationships and make news organizations news appliances in addition to media outlets.

And if I was a really big player — say, the Times, Journal, or CNN — I’d be inquiring with my friends in Cupertino about when they can be the first news organization to join the likes of Yelp, OpenTable, and Rotten Tomatoes as special Siri partners.

Passbook: A new kind of loyalty card

Passbook was a curveball, an app not on the rumormongers’ radar. It’s essentially a wallet-replacement, but in the holder-of-little-scraps-of-paper-and-plastic sense, not in the cash-money sense. Your Starbucks card, your Apple Store gift card, your Amtrak ticket, your boarding pass — Passbook can hold all those in a single app. And it’s got what looks like a smart set of features (like geolocation, letting you know when you’re near a Starbucks if you have a card).

While it doesn’t come with an payment mechanism attached (as Square’s Pay with Square product does), you can easily imagine that getting tied into iOS 7 this time next year.

But for the moment, it looks like an excellent tool for news orgs that are experimenting with membership models. Say you’re a local NPR affiliate and your membership program gives listeners a 15 percent discount at your local dry cleaners. Add Passbook to your iPhone app (there’s an API) and (a) you get an easy way for your members to use their privileges and (b) you get a tool that reminds them when they’re in membership-friendly stores or situations. And — at least from what we can tell from today’s keynote, details TBA — there’s no apparent financial cut for Apple here. Definitely a place for membership-oriented outlets to explore.

Maps: Meet the new boss

News orgs that use maps in their apps — not many, but a number that could increase as news orgs get smarter about using location data to channel news flows — will want to make sure to adopt Apple’s new mapping APIs, which replace Google’s. The advantages of Apple’s setup don’t seem extraordinary for the moment — better representation of place information is the one that stood out to me — but this is where Apple’s going to be putting its energy going forward and there’s no reason to fight it.

Finally, one note that doesn’t apply to news organizations as much as to the journalists who work for them: Apple’s integrating dictation into OS X Mountain Lion, the next version of its Mac operating system, due next month. That’ll be music to the ears of many a hack, particularly those with carpal tunnel.

POSTED     June 11, 2012, 3:59 p.m.
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