"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Frank Sinton, founder and CEO at Beachfront Media.
“Hundreds of channels, and still nothing to watch,” as the old adage goes.
In the app world, which will soon include the appification of TV, this proliferates to millions of apps. With iOS 9 and tvOS, Apple is bringing a new set of video discovery and content search features to iPhones, iPads and the new Apple TV that make it much easier for consumers to discover content they want to watch, when they want to watch it. The new features also will help app developers and publishers get their content discovered.
Video producers are sitting on a gold mine that could significantly help people discover their creative work. It’s called metadata – the data that describes the data – and right now, very few producers are putting it to work.
How Apple Makes Content Discoverable In iOS 9 And tvOS
Publishers don’t want content to be a black box inside an app. Back when everyone used Flash, Google couldn’t index that content very well, which pushed everyone to revamp their sites to be HTML and indexable. We will soon undergo a similar transition with app-based content search.
Apple is not a search company. Search on the iPhone was originally provided by Google and later by Microsoft’s Bing. When Apple released the Siri personal assistant, search was handled by a conglomeration of Microsoft, Wolfram Alpha and by tapping directly into a variety of databases, such as MLB and Yelp.
IOS 9 changes the game a bit for search on the iPhone. Now app developers can surface content both within apps and from the web, using Siri, Safari and Spotlight as the vehicles for discovery. Now content owners and app publishers can theoretically have their content show up in search on a user’s phone even if the user does not have that specific app installed.
Say you are searching for an apple pie recipe. An app like Epicurious has several different versions of apple pie. The user searches through Safari or Spotlight and gets results for apple pie from Epicurious with a “smart banner” on top of the results with a link directly to the app, which the user can click, download and go straight to the pie recipe.
Apple’s new search function allows for a great opportunity to find content. It works in a variety of ways. It can show users data in apps they have seen before (linking to content within an app), to find data publically available from inside and outside of the app, and to mirror content from the web straight into an app.
The three developer features in iOS 9 that provide search functionality include Core Spotlight, the API that does the most work in search in iOS 9 and tvOS. It allows content from inside apps to be surfaced in search, such as in the apple pie recipe example, and makes it fairly easy to adapt databases to search results on the iPhone.
User Activity is the foil to Core Spotlight. The NSUserActivity function is almost an extension of the Handoff feature that Apple released in iOS 8. User Activity is used within an app for surfacing content that users have already seen, interacted with and want to find again quickly.
Web Markup is an interesting and powerful feature that ties the web to apps and makes it searchable. It essentially allows for apps to mirror content from a website that has been validated by iOS 9. Web Markup works with smart banners in Safari, Twitter Cards and Facebook App Links. When people talk about linking content between apps and “deep linking” content in apps in iOS 9, that content likely comes from the web via Web Markup.
The latest Apple TV makes search one of the primary features, integrating Siri functionality directly into the new touchscreen remote. Viewers will be able to perform natural language search and find exactly what they want, down to the most minute details.
How will this work? Since tvOS is built on the same frameworks and APIs as iOS 9, the same principles apply. In the case of tvOS, the most important aspect is Core Spotlight because it is the key element of iOS search that surfaces metadata within an app and from external databases. To help with navigation, Apple also suggests integrating the NSUserActivity class into tvOS search to help define common navigation points for the viewer.
The universal search capabilities of Apple TV are not yet available to all third-party developers. Apple CEO Tim Cook promised that the universal search API would eventually be made available to third-party developers.
Mobile and TV apps are a different animal than the web when it comes to finding content. The nature of how the app economy was built by Apple and Google initially made it difficult to find the right content for the right person at the right time. But that is beginning to change as the concepts of app search and deep linking become much more practical in iOS 9 and tvOS.