Apple takes on Google Now, Cortana with iOS 9's 'Proactive Assistant'

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is making the iPhone smarter and taking on Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Now and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Cortana digital assistants in an effort to catch up with those competitors and put Apple's spin on the concept. Additionally, Apple unveiled its long-rumored streaming music service, simply called Apple Music.

Apple used its it keynote Monday at its Worldwide Developers Conference to highlight what it calls "Proactive Assistant," a key new element of iOS 9, the company's new operating system for the iPhone and iPad. In addition, Apple unveiled a new version of the operating system for the Apple Watch, the company's first wearable, and developers will be able to write applications natively for the Watch.

Apple said that for the first time it is going to launch a public beta of iOS 9, which will be available in July, before the platform is rolled out in the fall, likely with the next iPhones. Apple added that iOS 9 will be available on all phones and tablets that can run iOS 8.

Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, said during the keynote that Apple wants to "elevate the foundations of the platform" and add intelligence "throughout the user experience…without compromising your privacy," according to the The Verge.

Apple's Siri personal assistant will have more intelligence and will be able to bring up results for requests like "show me photos from Utah from last August." Siri is a key part of Proactive Assistant, which will anticipate what users need based on their location, the time of day, their calendars, messages and open apps. Proactive Assistant will learn a user's patterns and suggest certain apps when users turn on their phones or tablets in the morning, and will take actions like start playing music when users plug in headphones or open up an audiobook when they get in a car.

Under the system, a user's calendar will provide reminders for when they need to leave based on traffic, just like Google Now and Cortana. Proactive Assistant will look at users' emails to determine whether the user knows the random number that is calling.

Siri and Apple's Spotlight search function are going to work together more seamlessly, so Proactive Assistant will suggest people to contact or apps to open when users pull down the Spotlight search shade. Users will be able to jump right into apps via deep linking and quickly go back to search.

Many of these functions are standard parts of Google Now and Cortana. In a dig at Google and Microsoft though, Federighi said that Apple will give users a smarter personal assistant "in a way that does not mine your privacy." Instead of searching through users' data in the cloud, Federighi said that the Proactive Assistant "stays on your device, under your control." He said it is not tied to a users' Apple ID, is not tied to other Apple services and the data is not given to third parties.

"If we do have to perform a lookup on your behalf," for something like traffic, "it's anonymous," he said.  

Apple also made several other announcements at WWDC:

  • Apple Music was born out of Apple's $3 billion deal for Beats Electronics in May 2014, and is the company's attempt to compete with the likes of Spotify and Pandora. The service will combine music downloads, streaming radio and a streaming music service into a single app. The service will learn users' tastes and recommend new songs as a result. The service will include music curated by leading music experts handpicked by Apple. The service also includes "radio" stations curated by artists, including a 24-hour station called Beats 1 that will be available in 100 countries and will be playing music curated by three DJs: Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga. The service will also have an element that will let artists connect with fans. Apple Music will start June 30 and costs $9.99 a month after a free three-month trial. Apple will also launch a family plan for up to six people that costs $14.99 per month.
  •  Jennifer Bailey, the vice president in charge of Apple Pay, said the company's mobile payments program is coming to the UK in July and users will be able to use the service at more than 250,000 contactless payment terminals in Britain. The service will also work with London's public transit system. Apple is partnering with HSBC, Santander, Natwest, Nationwide, Lloyd's Bank, First Direct and many others for the UK launch. In the U.S, Bailey noted that there are more than 25,000 banks supporting Apple Pay, and that in the fall Discover will add support for its more than 50 million card members. Additionally, Bailey said this fall Square will launch a new reader that supports Apple Pay.
  • Apple added public transit directions to its native Maps application, which it launched in 2012. When users tap on a station they will be able to see all of the transit lines that run through it, and with "multi-modal routing" users can switch from trains to buses. Apple will also add entrances to the stations on the maps. In the United States, the new features will launch with support in Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Transit directions will also be available internationally in Berlin, London and Toronto. Apple will also eventually add public transit directions to more than 300 cities in China. Google recently highlighted that Google Maps has provided public transit information since 2007, and today it's helping consumers get around in more than 18,000 cities and towns in 64 countries, across six continents.

For more:
- see thsi Bloomberg article
- see this The Verge live blog
- see this NYT live blog
- see this The Verge article 

Related articles:
Apple expected to use WWDC to unveil streaming music service, Watch software updates, more stable iOS
Apple says first smart home HomeKit devices are coming in June
Analysts: Apple's carrier partnerships have likely peaked, Q4 iPhone 6S sales could be flat
Apple's iPhone beats expectations with 61.2M shipments
Google unveils Android M, Android Pay and Google Now enhancements
Apple exec hints at strong Apple Watch demand, says the car is the 'ultimate mobile device'