App Development

Apple Announces Its Role in the AI Race: Executive Insights from WWDC 2024

While last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference revolved around a new hardware platform — Apple Vision Pro and spatial computing — the biggest news Apple announced in its WWDC 2024 keynote is “Apple Intelligence,” Cupertino’s response to its frenemies’ recent pickaxe swings in the AI gold rush.

On the surface, Apple Intelligence may appear a safe play for the perennial category creator — it’s not a sleek new device or Apple-branded LLM with trillions of parameters. But the current AI field is disjointed. It’s crowded. And, yes, sometimes it’s over-hyped. So, in short, Apple is responding by:

a) embracing key partnerships (namely, with OpenAI/ChatGPT) and further breaking down the “walled garden” that Apple classically created with iOS, making a play to be the centralized command hub for an increasingly AI-enabled world,

b) attempting to make certain third-party players disappear from the crowd,

c) shifting the AI hype cycle into a more practical paradigm — one that ​​focuses on what AI/ML enables in context rather than the cool factor of AI tools themselves — which may just redefine how we interact with generative technology and the world around us, and

d) differentiating themselves by introducing and emphasizing privacy at the core of their technology.

In light of these paradigm shifts, executives inspecting their digital strategy should consider several key strategic approaches. We’ll provide the necessary background and context further below, but here’s the TLDR:

6 Recommendations for Executives Based on Apple’s WWDC Announcements

Here’s what’s coming and how you can get ahead now:

1. Prepare for a Multimodal, Voice-First Future

Apple’s WWDC announcements painted a future portrait of seamless transitions between devices and modalities, breaking down today’s traditional silos. By announcing its coming enhancements to Siri, Apple greatly accelerated the mass adoption of voice technology. Voice interfaces will be an increasingly common entry point into every app and AI-enabled experience, as it’s our fastest and most natural mode of communication (see WillowTree President Tobias Dengel’s WSJ bestseller, The Sound of the Future: The Coming Age of Voice Technology).

But don’t stop there: Apple Intelligence sets the stage for a broader multimodal experience that combines voice, visual, touch, and gestural interactions in a fluid chain. Encourage designers and developers to think beyond voice-only interactions and consider how other modalities can complement and enhance the overall user experience.

2. Develop Your App Intents Strategy Now

Make sure your app’s content and actions data are discoverable for integration into system experiences like Spotlight, widgets, and controls by identifying and configuring App Intents.

As Siri's enhanced action capabilities powered by Apple Intelligence become available, you will be a step ahead in surfacing your app data and context for integration into the technology's multimodal experiences.

3. Determine Multiple Entry Points Into Your App

Delve deep into your user interface strategies to ensure your app isn’t just present on a device but it’s readily accessible and intuitively interactive in a variety of paradigms. Customizations for the Control Center in iOS or interactive widgets for watchOS or expanded accessibility features across devices could mean the difference between occasional usage and integration into a daily routine.

Look for actions or data that users access frequently or at a glance — or by nodding their head while wearing AirPods — and consider how that fits into the broader user journey. If an action is typically performed independently of additional actions within the app, it’s likely a good candidate for this type of interaction. Likewise, look for ways to integrate voice into your existing systems so you're ready for use cases where speaking and hearing offer the most frictionless user experience.

4. Revisit Your Personalization Strategy

Apple is preparing to set a new precedent around user expectations — from personalized app experiences to prioritized push notifications. Avoid being left in the dust.

Now more than ever, reevaluate your digital marketing strategy against the backdrop of platform-owned personalization capabilities. Assess whether previous investments still yield expected outcomes or if a pivot is warranted to leverage platform tools without ceding strategic advantages. An app that feels tailor-made not just in look but in content relevance can foster a deeper connection with users.

5. Take Advantage of Major Platform Design Upgrades

Apple is for the first time enabling Control Center integration for third parties, and allowing users to resize, customize, and otherwise “redesign” many of the digital experiences we’ve come to think of as static. This also means you’ll have to loosen your grip on the app icon that perfectly captures your brand colors and prepare for iOS 18, a world where your users can customize their iPhone or iPad home screen (including your app icon) to present in dark mode or to be tinted a single color.

There are plenty of silver linings: for instance, you can upload your own app icon variants for light mode, dark mode, and color tints, to maintain some semblance of control despite the new home screen customization capabilities. But parsing Apple’s myriad design upgrades will be important for brand-conscious business leaders.

6. Identify Vision Pro B2E Use Cases for Interactive Learning

Finally available in visionOS 2, Enterprise APIs give developers enhanced access to the Apple Vision Pro’s cameras for object tracking, barcode/QR code scanning, and more. This tech harbors profound implications for workforce development, training efficiency, and the transformation of internal operations. The era of cumbersome manuals and static training modules will give way to interactive, real-time learning experiences with Vision Pro.

The potential is palpable: from generative AI in healthcare simulating surgery for physicians to QSR food prep training with augmented overlays, this is the enterprise angle, suggesting potential application across myriad domains — from field technicians’ “fleet of iPads" to custom solutions for automotive clients.

Identify use cases now and develop a viable B2E product roadmap.

Those were our big, actionable takeaways (check my colleague Andrew Carter's robust rundown for a more technical perspective on some of these shifts, as well as a deep-dive on Our Favorite iOS App Developer Tools). Here’s some deeper context and a few big picture reasons why we’re recommending the six short-term actions above.

WWDC Context: What We Saw and What It Means

A Tectonic Shift Toward Multimodal Integration

What We Saw: About an hour into the keynote (without once mentioning “artificial intelligence”) came the announcement of Apple Intelligence technology. This personal intelligence system stretches across iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple wearables, and draws from their interrelated operating systems — iOS, watchOS, visionOS, tvOS, etc. — while seamlessly (it seems) leveraging ChatGPT for broader world knowledge when necessary.

An evolved Siri now acts as a conversational AI assistant, leveraging voice technology and multimodal UI, and combining the power of generative models with personal context to create language and images, take action across apps, and simplify and accelerate everyday tasks: essentially acting as a personal concierge across your entire digital ecosystem.

Here’s a quick demo of Apple Intelligence, queued up to its core multimodal AI capability: ​​

What It Means: We continue to see indicators that the future will not be confined to any single modality – touch, typing, voice, eye tracking, or motion control – or siloed experiences within individual applications or devices — phones, tablets, laptops, wearables, or fully immersive helmet-goggles. Apple is aiming for a fluid journey across all of the above.

Experiences driven by your personal context (think: your photos, your calendar, your app behaviors, your work emails, your texts with your spouse) are set to become the new gold standard, placing greater demands on brands to deliver individualized services that play nicely with Apple’s role as a central concierge.

In short, we may have just witnessed a lowkey evolution of the industry, indicating that businesses must now pivot toward facilitating experiences where users can gracefully transition between modalities and across a spectrum of devices.

The bulk of our article speaks to this central issue and tactical actions you can take now in the short term to be ready for a long-term future with a healthy runway. But first, here are a few other big, overlapping circles on the Venn Diagram for WWDC Day 1:

New Apple Vision Pro Capabilities for B2E Use Cases

What We Saw: Until today, third-party app developers could only access high-level, basic camera data (like skeletal coordinates of the user’s hand or a 3D mesh of their environment). In one of the most significant updates for visionOS developers, new Enterprise APIs “grant enhanced sensor access and increased control…[including] the main camera, spatial barcode and QR code scanning, the Apple Neural Engine, and more.”

What It Means: Native Vision Pro apps can now identify and track objects in the field of vision, including distinct barcoded products, repair parts, or pizza ingredients. This enhanced access will only be available for internal enterprise applications (for now), not consumer apps distributed through the public-facing App Store.

Still, the internal use cases for spatial computing — from inventory/fleet management to data access to remote collaboration — just became exponentially greater, and the era of cumbersome manuals and static training modules will likely give way to interactive, real-time employee learning experiences with Vision Pro.

Native Functionality Threats to Third-Party Apps and Brands

What We Saw: Apple iOS 18 announcements included a continued evolution to native functionality: Apple Passwords app to rival 1Password, Writing Tools capabilities to rival Grammarly, and Apple Maps hiking features to rival AllTrails.

Mail categorization updates and push notification features like “Reduce Interruptions” aren’t novel (Gmail shifted to inbox categories back in 2013), but they continue the trend of prioritizing the most important and relevant communication while segmenting and filtering brand marketing messages. Combine all this with Apple’s aspirational role as a concierge…

What It Means: All of this evolution comes at a price, especially for third-party applications and brand marketing. Making more and broader requests of a supercharged Siri likely means less direct brand interaction within individual apps and messaging channels.

And with Apple having already enhanced or replaced certain third-party platforms with native functionalities — be it through Apple Pay, integrated health features on the Apple Watch, or advanced photo organization in the Photos app — there is a significant risk that certain third-party apps offering similar services may become redundant.

Brands must heed these developments closely as they portend a narrowing window of opportunity for third-party apps to carve out their niche before potentially being overtaken by Apple’s ever-expanding repertoire of built-in features.

Privacy Concerns and Adoption Speed (aka, It Won’t Happen Overnight)

What We Saw: The announcement of Apple Intelligence emphasized privacy at its core, introducing Private Cloud Compute as “a brand new standard for privacy in AI” in which the system prioritizes on-device processing but can fall back on server-based models that run on dedicated Apple silicon servers for larger computational needs. It also offers sufficient transparency for independent auditing of these security measures.

In terms of timing, Apple Intelligence won’t be available in beta until the fall, and then only on the newest generation of devices.

What It Means: Privacy and responsible AI are the elephants in the room. Some big products (the Rabbit R1) and technologies (Google AI Overviews) ended up being vaporware or marred by problematic rollouts.

Apple tends to put its money where its mouth is, and nearly every iteration of iOS since iOS 5 has enabled more flexibility, interoperability, and integration between third-party apps, safely and securely brokered by iOS. But we’ll just have to wait and see how advanced and frictionless this is and whether Apple’s bold privacy claims hold true once the technology gets into many human hands. That’s the real bar to clear.

Beyond that, it’ll take time for the market to catch up. Your users might have the newest iPhone 15 Pro but an ancient iPad and no Apple Watch or Vision Pro, so the cross-device paradigm shift won’t immediately come to fruition for most consumers.

Taking advantage of this lead time is essential, however, and for savvy business leaders the work starts now to prepare for the inevitable shifts ahead.


For those reading between the lines amid a relatively understated WWDC, Apple announced that major changes are coming. But there’s some runway, so you can get ahead of these changes now. Whether that entails exploiting new business-to-employee interfaces or discerning fresh consumer touchpoints, the objective remains clear: facilitate fluidity across devices and personal contexts while safeguarding your app’s unique value propositions against native functionalities.

Apple’s keynote presentation of a multi-device, personalized, AI/ML-enabled ecosystem provides a roadmap. Real-world "limitations" will offer breathing space for strategizing — a chance to choose to stay on the cutting edge without rushing heedlessly.

As WillowTree and others in the industry navigate this landscape in the coming months, leveraging insights from Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference 2024 will be paramount in steering toward innovation, growth, and leadership in digital product development.

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