Apple’s latest software update, available on Tuesday, will add more intelligence to Apple services like Maps, Photos, the iPhone keyboard and Siri, the voice-activated digital assistant.
The debut of apps that can run inside the iMessage chat system could prove to be one of the most far-reaching changes in iOS 10, provided Apple can get more developers to play along.
There’s a new Home app to control appliances. In a big change for Apple, the company is also opening Siri and its iMessage service to work with apps created by independent developers.
Ideally, Apple would like to see iMessage follow in the footsteps of WeChat, which is used for way more than just messaging, especially in China. There, people use WeChat to do everything from hailing rides to paying bills to reading celebrity blogs.
Apple is also allowing developers to build apps for iMessage, although the options so far appear to mostly involve sending payments or ordering food.
It’s also adding bigger emoji and other visual effects for iMessage, including what it calls “Invisible Ink,” which blurs an image in a message until a recipient swipes a finger across the screen. Apple announced many of the features in June.
For now, iMessage apps are a lot more limited. You can use Venmo to send money, check the forecast on the Weather Channel or discuss potential travel plans with Airbnb. But you can’t do a whole lot else.
Most of the excitement is around the stickers you can use to add character and personality to your text messages. Already there are Keith Haring stickers, Cookie Monster stickers, Super Mario stickers and many more.
In part, the lack of deep interactions is due to the fact that Apple only announced the ability to build iMessage apps at its June developer conference. That made sticker packs the easiest way to quickly jump into the category.
The first group of iMessage apps also includes a number of games, including word games and things like chess, checkers and tic-tac-toe.
Here, Apple faces a decidedly uphill battle to make gaming within chat apps a thing. Many others have tried and failed, including Yahoo, which offered in-chat games for years, but pulled the feature a couple years back amid dwindling interest.
Facebook, too, is looking to turn its Messenger app into a platform for things like shopping and news consumption. Since Facebook announced a developer bot platform earlier this spring, developers have launched more than 11,000 bots on Messenger that do all kinds of things, from providing the weather to responding to you using Donald Trump quotes. Facebook even rolled out a payment feature for Messenger this week, which means users can make purchases directly in a chat.
It’s still early, though, even for Facebook. Most of the artificial intelligence that bots use feels elementary, even when it’s built for the president of the United States. It’s so early, in fact, that Facebook Messenger boss David Marcus even told a crowd at TechCrunch Disrupt this week that the space is “overhyped.”