Apple this week previewed version 11.3 of its next mobile operating system that will let iPhone users manage their battery time and give businesses a way to chat with customers. Business Chat, which was quietly introduced in June, will let people reach customer service, schedule an appointment or make purchases in the Messages app that comes with every iPhone.
Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo are among the brands testing the business chat features in iOS 11.3, which is due for release this spring. Business Chat won’t share the user’s contact information with companies and lets people end the conversation instantly.
The latest iOS version will also include ARKit 1.5, an update enabling native AR experiences to recognize the position of vertical surfaces to place virtual signs, posters and artwork on walls. ARKit is Apple's platform for letting software developers design apps with augmented reality (AR), the technology that overlays digital images on a real background seen through a smartphone camera.
While Apple seeks to earn back the trust of iPhone users with battery improvements, its Business Chat service is more important for mobile marketers that cater to tech-savvy customers who interact and make purchases on a smartphone. The lines between chat and other services are blurring, as Chinese technology giants like Alibaba and Tencent have demonstrated. Their payment platforms have evolved into lifestyle apps that provide consumers with services like chat, money transfers, travel booking, ride-hailing, restaurant reviews and food ordering.
Apple’s business chat service positions the company more directly against Facebook, whose Messenger app has more than 1.3 billion users worldwide. The social network seeks to develop Messenger into a consumer support channel that businesses of all sizes can use to interact with customers. Apple has a key advantage with a Message app that comes preinstalled on every iPhone, making it easier to use than apps that require an additional download and account setup.
Apple’s update to its augmented reality (AR) platform, ARKit, also has a variety of interesting marketing applications. The company touts its ability to create experiences like filling a museum with interactive exhibits or bringing a movie poster to life. Combined with geofencing technology, app developers likely will be able to create virtual billboards and other kinds of signage that can be seen through an iPhone app.