Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is one of the most anticipated events of the year for anyone interested in technology. Whether you work in the technology industry or are an avid spectator, products and innovations revealed at WWDC will impact you sometime in the future. Maybe your iPhone or Apple TV gets an upgrade. Maybe new technology is out there that can be applied to your android device. Maybe advanced technology will help change the world if Apple has anything to do with it. Either way, all eyes were on the conference last week.
By now, everyone has likely heard about the forthcoming HomePod. Those who care, know about the iMac Pro and iPad hardware updates. As developers, we were most interested in the updates to come with iOS11, due in the fall. Hiya attended the conference, held in San Jose, California, from June 5-9. On our way, we also stopped by the Apple Campus in Cupertino to visit a former Hiya intern and picked up some sweet swag! In this blog, we will summarize a few WWDC key takeaways that are relevant to Hiya and how we operate.
For those unaware, CallKit is the platform on which Hiya is able to fully operate on iPhones and it was released with iOS10. A feature of CallKit named CallDirectory is how we identify and block calls in real-time. This is our life-force. Thankfully, iOS11 will bring improvements to CallDirectory. There will be fixes to known bugs and Apple has made many changes to improve performance and increase stability. This is critical for the user experience. Those moments when, all of a sudden, Hiya isn’t identifying or blocking any calls could be traced back to CallDirectory functionality. When CallDirectory doesn’t work, Hiya can’t work.
Apple has also added some nice features to the CallDirectory APIs, namely the ability to incrementally add or remove numbers from the identified and blocked lists. This should help speed things up when you just want to add a new blocked number. In the previous version, our app would have to reload the entire list of numbers (over 200,000 numbers in many cases), which could take quite a while on older iPhones.
SMS and MMS Identity Lookup
With iOS10, call identification and blocking apps (like Hiya) have not been able to identify or block incoming text messages. This has been a common complaint amongst our users that we have no control over. SMS spam is a huge problem, especially outside of the US, and this is one problem that Hiya has wanted to solve for a long time. Thankfully, with iOS11, apps will be allowed to analyze incoming text messages. By knowing the sender’s phone number and message content, Hiya will be able to detect if a text message is spam and either allow it to come through or block it for you. (Note: Apps will only be able to analyze unknown numbers, not numbers in your contacts or sent through iMessage).
When an unknown text message comes in, apps with IdentityLookup extensions will have to make a real-time decision to allow or block the message — without using the Internet or communicating with their parent app! I know this sounds strange, but it’s done to protect the privacy of the user. Often you can identify spam by comparing the incoming number to a known list of spam numbers, or perhaps your app contains a special algorithm to detect spam based on the contents of the incoming message (Things like “Sale!!!”, “Click here, hurry!”, “There is a problem with your bank account”). Apps will have to get really creative here.
This solution, however, is not ideal since you often need to use the most up-to-date spam lists or information on well known scams, which might not be available to the app extension at the time the SMS comes in. All hope is not lost though. Apps will have the option to say “I don’t have enough information to make this decision”, in which case iOS will defer to Hiya’s server to make the final decision on whether to allow or block the message. All of this is done in an anonymous way that makes it impossible to match up SMS data with individual users.
Again, this is good news for users, but as with call blocking, Hiya users will not be able to see the benefit that Hiya provides since Apple just silently blocks the messages without notifying the user. The identification and blocking ultimately happens behind the scenes of iOS and we can’t tell you what a great job we did. If you don’t see all of the content we’ve blocked, how do you know when we’re adding value?
A new design is coming to the Message App Store and Apple is stepping up to compete with the likes of Venmo and Paypal with person-to-person payment (via text!). What intrigued us most was the Business Chat feature. It’s currently in beta and not going live until next year. With that said, what we’ve seen so far is very impressive. Businesses can connect to customers through iMessage and, more positively, customers can connect to businesses through iMessage (just think of the efficiency and no more time spent on hold waiting for a live person). To validate that you are texting with a legitimate company (not a spammer), iMessage will add a check mark next to the business name to confirm the business. Additionally, when you’re surfing Safari, or using Siri or Maps, an iMessage icon will appear alongside business names so you know you can message them for support.
From a developer’s perspective, it is both intriguing yet complicated. Business chat currently works only with the following enterprise-class customer service platforms: Salesforce, LivePerson, Genesys, and Nuance, and it remains to be seen what kind of support we can expect for smaller CS platforms and other 3rd party developers. However, there’s potential opportunity once (if??) Apple makes Business Chat available to smaller businesses. We’ll just have to wait and see.
The App Store is getting a redesign! Each day, there will be a new “Today” view that will feature new apps. Additionally, and more relevant for Hiya, is the fact that the App Store will separate gaming apps vs. non gaming apps.
Machine Learning Software Development Kit (SDK)
One of the other intriguing additions to iOS11 is the introduction of the Core ML SDK. With Core ML, developers can easily download existing ML (machine learning) models and integrate them into their apps. Core ML makes it easy to load a trained model and make data predictions based on that model. This could come in handy for say, analyzing a text message to determine if it’s spam or scam.
WWDC was a great success and the upcoming iOS11 comes with much anticipation. Hopefully, it will make apps easier for both developers and consumers.