What Apple’s iOS 9 Means To Marketers (Hint: Search And UX In Particular)
How does Apple's latest iteration of its mobile operating system affect marketers? Columnist Aaron Strout gains some insights from a UX guru and a specialist in SEO and Web analytics.
Over the last couple of years, I have railed against marketers creating mobile applications unless absolutely necessary. And while some like Starbucks and Walmart have done them well, there are thousands of others that go unused on millions of phone screens across the world.
The biggest hurdle is the fact that most people don’t use mobile apps unless one of three use cases is present:
- Rote activities (meaning stuff you do over and over again)
- Complex activities (requiring specialized UIs and technologies)
- Entertainment (especially when heavy graphics or processing speeds are necessary and/or lack of connectivity comes into play)
The other issue is that while mobile apps aren’t necessarily expensive to create (you can make one for as little as $25), the kind that most customers would expect from a Fortune 1000 company often cost north of $50,000–$75,000 to build.
And then there is the issue of creating/supporting multiple devices and operating systems. This can get expensive quickly.
Lastly, the biggest knock against any mobile apps, irrespective of meeting use cases or big budgets to support multiple versions of an app, has been the absence of searchability. All that rich data, all those keywords, and no search engine love and minimal discoverability.
But then along came iOS 9, Apple’s latest and greatest mobile operating system that has acknowledged the fact that ignoring search is a major shortcoming.
To learn more about the impact of iOS 9, I asked my colleagues at W2O Digital, Sri Nagubandi (head of SEO/Web analytics) and Andrew Korf (head of UX), for their insights on how Apple’s retooling of its mobile operating system impacts both a search and user experience, and more importantly, how those changes benefit marketers. (Disclosure: WCG, my employer, and W2O Digital are both part of W2O Group.)
Q&A On How iOS 9 Impacts Marketers
Q: How has Apple evolved its mobile operating system to allow for better search in mobile apps?
Nagubandi: There are a number of changes that Apple has put in play that are worth noting:
1. Search consists of several technologies, and iOS 9 introduces several APIs that help developers make their content available in the appropriate index on the device:
- Apple has added new methods and properties in the “NSUser Activity” class that allows for the indexing of activities performed in the app — such as when users visit a navigation point or view content.
- The “Core Spotlight” framework includes APIs that help developers ensure app-specific content is added to the on-device index. It also enables deep links into apps.
- Web markup lets you make related Web content searchable and helps you enrich the user’s search experience.
2. iOS uses several sources of information to determine relevancy and ranking:
- The frequency with which users view your content (which is captured through the use of NSUserActivity, described above).
- The amount of engagement users have with your content — measured by actions like when users tap a search result or appear to find information useful by spending time with it.
- In the case of marked-up Web content, iOS looks at the popularity of a URL and the amount of structured data available.
Q: Are there other things marketers should be doing to improve mobile app search results?
Nagubandi: Absolutely. There are six things I am recommending to our customers, which include:
- Improving the relevance of their search results by adopting the search-related APIs I described above.
- Creating an app with compelling content.
- Index only items that users are most likely to search for.
- Keep indexes up to date by removing and updating items as appropriate.
- Provide rich, relevant information about indexed items to encourage users to interact with them.
- Make it as fast as possible: minimize the delay between a user’s tap on a search result and the display of the content in your app.
As I mentioned up above, Apple also made some significant changes to the overall user experience in its latest mobile operating experience.
And while these changes are more subtle, they should be considered when building new mobile apps (or evolving existing apps), similar to tapping into native functionality of most smartphones like location services, accelerometer, calendar, address book, camera, etc.
Q: Andrew, what are the two or three UX changes in iOS 9 that marketers can tap into?
Korf: Other than search, which I know you covered with Sri, there are two other main changes that I’m excited about:
1. The first is multi-tasking with split-screen view. If you haven’t seen this yet, the way it works is that it allows users to access multiple apps at the same time.
As an example, users can have their calendar open while also using Facebook Messenger without losing the context of the conversation they were having in Messenger, or open Safari to review a restaurant at the same time they’re chatting about dinner plans with a friend.
Or for the gamers out there, they can now keep playing their favorite Endless Runner while Facetiming with their significant other. This xBox Live-like functionality opens up numerous new possibilities.
2. The second change I see as important is the system level “back button.” While seemingly small, this is actually a big improvement from a UX perspective.
An example of how this will improve the UX of your iPhone is the ability to step back from one app to the previous app using the device’s back button rather than needing to use the app switcher.
In the past, after you launched a restaurant review on Yelp from the Google app you had to double-click the home button to go back to Google. Now, you can simply tap the back back button to go back to Google and keep searching for other restaurants.
So there you have it. The big game-changer with iOS 9 is clearly search. It will be interesting to see how many marketers truly take advantage of this new functionality.
But don’t ignore some of the more subtle changes. While seemingly mundane, they can add a new level of collaboration/multitasking that could add new life and functionality. And the in-app back button just makes life easier.