Opening the iOS Dialer

by Dave Michels

Last week Apple made several announcements at its developer’s conference and the UC nugget within was the implication that they opened the iPhone dialer.

The problem with most UC apps today is they mirror the native dialer in functionality, but the separate app just can’t match the native experience. Michael Finneran wrote about this in his UCStrategies post:

The first generation of mobile UC can be described in one word: crap. As the major smartphone manufacturers did not provide developers access to the native dialer function on their devices, the UC vendors had to find another way to mobilize their offerings. Android did eventually open up the dialer, but they are still a small presence in the enterprise

 Last August Cisco and Apple announced a secret partnership. There were few details provided, and the progress and scope has been kept secure, so secure it disappeared from conversation. Rowan and Chuck reminded everyone that Apple and Cisco were up to something during a keynote at the December Collaboration Summit – again without details.

It now appears that Cisco has been helping Apple create APIs for the iPhone. It’s a logical partnership has Apple is clueless about enterprise and Cisco is clueless about consumer. That and the fact that Apple was unlikely to partner to Microsoft or Google.

Apple is not opening up its dialer per se, but creating APIs to allow apps to work with the dialer. Cisco wrote about it on its collaboration blog:

You will now be able to make Cisco Spark calls in the same way as cellular calls, including iOS 10 contacts, recents, and favorites. You will be able to receive an incoming Cisco Spark call on the lock screen, and with a single swipe answer the call. You’ll get call waiting, so if you’re on a Cisco Spark call and receive a cellular call, or vice versa, you can pick which one is the most important.

The question is if this is a big deal or not? It seems to me that this functionality has been around for a while on Android, and Apple is just trying to catch up. For example, the Dialpad app for Android uses the native Android dialer to make calls. The actual app itself is somewhat invisible and the user only deals with the native dialer.

Michael (who thinks this is huge news), and I discussed it by email. With his permission, I’ve posted some of the conversation below.

DM: There is no question that apple is preferred in the enterprise today, but there’s several factors that reduce the significance. Apple iPhone share is slowing. The updates are not that big any more. Chromebooks are taking over iOS in education and other segments.

MF: Everything is slowing, what do you expect? We’ve just gone through a torrent of amazing developments over the past 9 years (i.e. since the introduction of the iPhone), and even Apple is going from 2-year major upgrade cycle to 3-years. Mobile is becoming a mature (read “cash cow”) industry. Microsoft made that shift years ago and they’re still doing okay- and “okay” with a product line that’s way worse than Apple’s.

DM: Android has pretty much closed the gap – differences exist but the big ones are mostly gone.

MF: In every area except the one that really counts: user experience. I do try to play with Android devices from time to time just to see if they’ve caught up- they haven’t. It’s like going from a Mac to a Windows PC. That’s why Apple’s customers are so amazingly loyal- the shit just works better, and it’s WAY BETTER if you go all Apple. I keep going back to my definition of the Android market segment that I came up with years ago, “Cheaps and geeks.” That means a big representation in the developing world and in IT, but not so much in the general population in developed countries.

DM: Android is a better value – The top of the line flagships are comparable, but drop down to the mass market Android devices and it becomes huge. This is why Android has higher market share in the world and why it continues to grow.

MF: We’re not in a “price per pound” market here. These are “luxury goods” and Apple makes the best ones. Price is a big deal in the “cheaps” portion of the Android segment, but price is always going to be a dominant factor in developing markets. Trust me, if those people had the green, they’d be buying Apple, too.

DM: BYOD means that price is even more important.

MF: I’m still seeing a lot of corporate liable phones in big companies- small biz is all BYOD. I think the biggest impact BYOD has had in the enterprise market is allowing people to access corporate email on their personal tablets- and those are all iPads.

DM: Android selection is huge. There’s a device in every size and form factor.

MF: You want to try turning on full device encryption on one of those shit-can Androids? No crypto chip- your performance goes down the toilet! To control the UX, you  have to control the hardware and the software- that’s why the best Android experience is on the Nexus. Also, you have to get the a-hole cellular operators out the way in “vetting” new software upgrades- like Apple did from Day-one. Managing the UX requires managing the whole game- wait, Apple created that model.

DM: Android has an open dialer – none of the these announced Apple features are actually new or better. Apple created an API – not an open dialer.

MF: Who cares? People love their iPhones. They want to be able to make business calls the same way they make personal calls (dial from the address book, track in “Recents”, create Favorites). Tha API does that- extends the Apple designed UX to VoIP calls. Task complete, major advance.

DM: Chromebooks will support Android – That means for <$300 you have have a highly functional device that can replace a laptop, a tablet, and a phone. This will impact the enterprise, esp the contact center (Avaya, ININ, LiveOps/Twilio, and Cisco are all demonstrating Chromebooks). With Android the Chromebook can also do MS Office, Skype, and Video conferencing solutions.

MF: First, people will at least want a laptop and a smartphone- the tablet has turned out to be a limited function extension of the smartphone market. I haven’t had a tablet for 2+ years and I don’t miss it. I don’t see how this takes over the contact center market, but then again, I avoid contact centers like young women (wisely) avoid the Zika virus. In the end, it’s the UX. Geeks can put up with dysfunctional tech shit and somehow delude themselves into thinking there’s some “benefit” to it, but consumers won’t (and shouldn’t). Consumers want high quality products that deliver a top-end user experience and display a real focus on making the whole experience a pleasure- wait, I think I just described Apple’s product strategy!

To some degree we talking Fords and Chevys. Chevy owners just don’t care about new (or existing) features on the Fords.

I’ve never actually owned an iPhone. I think they are over priced and too closed. But almost everyone I know has owned one – and loves them. I can remember when Michael was a Blackberry bigot. He was very loyal and that made him much easier to make fun of. That’s the basic problem with most tech issues – religion gets in the way.

It’s good to see that Apple is opening up the dialer – it can’t be bad. The questions are will it be good enough? It could even cause more vendors to embrace the features in Android.

Cisco is clearly excited about the APi approach (they helped create them) – but there’s more to the Apple- Cisco partnership. There’s also a fast lane program. You can read about that here. Though Cisco isn’t the only one working with Apple, the company also made references to Skype and Vonage. More on that coming separately.