On June 7, Apple held its annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) for 2021.
And like previous WWDCs, WWDC 2021 was jam-packed with new and exciting features — some expected, some unexpected.
One of the most spectacular announcements of the eagerly awaited event was — not new M1X chips for its latest line of 16-inch MacBook Pros, as rumored — but FaceTime for all. Even Android and Windows-based devices!
Apple has now officially entered the fiercely competitive video conferencing market currently dominated by Zoom, Microsoft’s Teams, and Google’s Meet. The question is, given its technological prowess and vast user-base, could it overthrow them?
Apple’s ‘Walled Garden’
Apple’s iPhone is among the best-selling phones in the world. Its sleek Ultrabook, the MacBook Air, is the most popular laptop in the world. The Apple Watch is to smartwatches what the MacBook Air is to Ultrabooks. Apple’s iPad is arguably the most powerful tablet in the market.
All these much-loved products have garnered Apple more than 500 million users worldwide.
Apple might have started out as a hardware company, but today, it has its foot, rather tentacles, in every garden.
Apple designs and certainly excels at hardware, say, its devices. But it has also set foot and, thanks to its user-base, excelled at designing services for those devices, like Apple Music, Apple TV+, and Apple Fitness+.
Then, there is the App Store, Apple’s only gateway to the millions of apps out there, developed by developers worldwide for the millions of users logging every day into iOS, macOS, WatchOS, and iPadOS.
Garden is perhaps the apt term since Apple’s ecosystem is often referred to as a ‘walled garden.’
Once people step in, say, when they buy an iPhone, they find it hard to step out. This is because Apple’s apps are tightly integrated among its devices, always synced — and end-to-end encrypted — via iCloud.
In fact, the tight integration compels users to buy more Apple products to make full use of the synchronization. This is what so firmly binds Apple’s users to its rosy ecosystem. Every device has iMessage their stock messaging app, which is free and end-to-end encrypted. Or Apple Music, where your music and playlists and podcasts are synced across all devices. Or Notes. Or Reminders. Or email.
Apple’s Control and Competition
The fact is, Apple maintains control.
Of course, the App Store offers apps like Gmail and Google Maps, but those apps are not as tightly integrated with all devices, watch included, as Apple’s Mail and Maps.
Still, users have the choice to install an alternative from the App Store. And Apple charges the alternative’s developers as much as 30% on every purchase a user makes on that app.
Which is great. Until Apple realizes that it can make 100% by integrating the app’s features into its own!
If you have been an old-time Apple user, you might remember f.lux, an app on the Store that would alter your iPhone’s or Mac’s display to eliminate wavelengths of blue light that is known to harm your eyes.
The app f.lux was an instant hit, used by millions.
So far so good.
Then Apple integrated the feature in its own devices via a software update, calling it Night Shift.
And f.lux became forever defunct. Just like that.
On April 20, during its Spring Loaded event, Apple unveiled AirTags, an accessory that allows Apple users to keep track of anything, like keys, for instance, via Bluetooth. Given that they sync perfectly with Apple devices, AirTags are bound to be a sensation.
The problem is, that is exactly what a Tile does. Now that Apple has integrated the feature in its own device, it seems very unlikely that Apple users will choose Tile over Tags.
Tile is about to lose millions of users overnight. Just like that.
Could FaceTime’s latest update do the same to Zoom?
FaceTime vs. Zoom
In the last two years, video calls have become integral to our lives. Some even argue that since work from home will become the norm, so will they.
Through the bleak and, for some, lonely, time, video calls offered us an escape, a portal to reach out to our friends and relatives. They enabled us to collaborate with our colleagues without moving an inch.
Classes were conducted online. Even court hearings.
Most calls were made via Zoom, followed by Teams and Meet. Many devices were, of course, Apple’s. Why not use FaceTime instead?
Therefore, to convince people to make the jump, Apple is now introducing FaceTime to non-Apple devices as well.
Though not as you would expect.
While Apple released Apple Music on Google’s Play Store, it won’t release the FaceTime app. Instead, anyone with the link to the conference can join the conference via their browser. Whether it is Windows, Android, or any other platform or operating system, anyone can attend a FaceTime conference provided the call is initiated by an Apple device, and you have a browser to access the shared link.
In fact, just like Zoom, FaceTime can now have multiple participants on a call. It will also have spatial audio support, and voice isolation to silence background disturbances, and grid view to view all participants at once, and screen sharing via a new feature called SharePlay.
These are all really powerful additions.
Surely, millions of Apple users don’t have to rely on external apps to chat, collaborate, study, and prosecute online anymore? Instead, they can use FaceTime itself, making those apps redundant.
Surely, Zoom is about to lose millions of users overnight. Just like that, right?
Why Zoom Has Nothing to Worry About
Not only does Zoom have a dedicated app across all platforms, but it can also be accessed without one via a shared link by means of a browser.
Zoom ranks first among all video calling apps by a mile in more than 40 countries. After it went public in 2019, its valuation has gone up by 450%. Its revenue in the first quarter was in several billions.
And one could argue that the success is fully deserved.
A conference call on Zoom can be joined by 1000 people, if you pay, and it can be joined by 100 people, otherwise. Screens can not only be shared, but also recorded. It offers integrated chats per meeting. Participants can vote on polls and can also be muted.
The truth is, Apple simply is too late to the party.
Zoom pretty much pioneered the approach. It anticipated the need, delivered, and innovated, and adapted quickly when new needs emerged. Zoom’s domination is so great that it is often called the Google of video calls.
Apple’s FaceTime is nowhere near Zoom, let alone a match. Which is a massive disappointment — a failure, to put it more harshly — given Apple’s mega user-base. The things they could have done!
Still, it isn’t all bad for Apple.
Apple markets iMessage and FaceTime as apps to connect with friends and family, anyway. This is in stark contrast to Zoom and Teams, apps chiefly viewed as video calling software for enterprises. Apple’s latest updates could very well threaten Zoom’s reign, but perhaps only in a particular sphere.
While Zoom would be bothered by the decrease in the time spent, it shouldn’t be bothered enough to take the threat seriously.
Microsoft’s Teams, however, could give Zoom a run for its money. Most of the world’s desktops run on Windows. So do notebooks. And Microsoft is rumored to bring a slew of changes to Windows to strengthen its users’ tie to its ecosystem.
Could a well-integrated Teams crush Zoom, just like that?
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