Apple looks forward to an overcast future – with iCloud
Well, it looks like Apple have been busy. They have just announced a whole raft of features and enhancements at their annual developer’s conference in San Francisco.
So, where to start? OK well the first announcements were for the Mac – and the latest version of their operating system, Lion.
Mac OS X – Lion
Lion apparently will include over 250 new features, but the presentation focused on just 10 of these. To be honest, most of these features have already been announced but there’s still plenty there to look forward to, one of the best announcements being the fact that Lion will be available for download via the Mac App Store (no more rooting around for that pesky DVD!), and the price – just $29 in the US.
- Multi Touch Gestures
- Full Screen Apps
- Mission Control
- Mac App Store
- Launch Pad
I’ve already mentioned that I personally use a TrackPad at work, so this is a welcome feature for me, bringing multi touch gestures to the whole OS will make using the TrackPad even more seamless.
This is a feature that Apple are introducing to reduce the screen clutter seen on so many computers. It also helps to bring a more unified UI experience as iOS applications run in full screen mode.
Mission Control is Exposé, only better. It also links in with full screen mode, as it combines Exposé with the Dock, and Dashboard to allow users to see their apps and switch between widgets, the desktop and different applications.
The Mac App Store is already available, but with Lion, it comes built in. In-App Purchases are now built in to Lion, along with Push Notifications.
Another feature intended to bring the Mac UI into line with those of iOS devices, Launch Pad looks very much like the app screens for the iPhone and iPad, allowing you to browse through pages of apps.
Finally, onto some of the stronger features of this release. Resume allows you to quit apps, and even shut down your machine, and then when you open the app again, or boot your computer, you are restored to the same position as you were when you quit.
OK – hands up anyone who has lost some work because they accidentally closed an app (or it crashed without warning!) without saving their file? It happens to everyone sooner or later. Lion automatically saves your work. To use it you can click on the menu bar and a drop down list allows you to pick from other versions of your file.
Versions builds on Auto-Save and brings a Time Machine-style interface to individual files, allowing you to compare versions and go back to previous versions of your files. Different versions are tracked by their changes to minimise disk usage.
Another great new feature for Lion. You can already share files with other computers on the Mac, but this new feature makes it even simpler. Now AirDrop appears in your Devices list in Finder, and it shows you all the users in the vicinity that are using AirDrop. Now you can just drag your files to the image of the AirDrop user and it will be transferred to their Downloads folder.
I have to admit Apple Mail is a nice app. However I personally recently had to switch to Thunderbird, as I found it a little clunky when managing multiple identities. I use my iPad for Mail all the time though and Apple have now made Mail on the Mac look much like the iPad app, with a lean, uncluttered look. They’ve also thrown in a few extra bonus features, like Conversation View (follows message threads) and a smarter search facility that makes suggestions.
Apple have finally released details of what will be included in the next major update to their mobile device OS. There’s plenty of good stuff as you’ll see below. Again there are around 200 new features, and for us developers 1,500 new APIs to learn! Here are the 10 highlights:
- Game Center
Apple have redesigned the notifications system and created a unified Notification Center that brings together all your reminders, messages, and email notifications into one place. They have also redesigned the display model so that you can pull down a list of notifications from the Lock Screen by swiping down. They have also made them less intrusive as they will no longer block when they appear, so you can carry on writing that email, or playing that game. A notification will appear as an overlay a bit like when you log into Game Center.
This looks very much like iBooks for subscription content, like magazines and newspapers. The UI is certainly very similar. Apparently the magazine covers will update automatically and download in the background.
Twitter is now built in to iOS, bringing a number of benefits, such as being able to tweet articles directly from Safari, and tweet pictures taken with the Camera app. It also saves time by keeping your twitter credentials in one place.
Apple have finally brought some of the great features available in the desktop version to their mobile edition of their browser. One of these features is Reader, which simplifies your web page to group together the text to make it easier to read, and can even pull in multi-page articles into a single view. The second major update is that they have finally included tabbed browsing, so you can see your browser tabs without having to press a button to view all your open windows.
This is an intriguing feature, particularly when you learn that it includes locations as well as dates. You can, for example set a reminder to say don’t forget to post that letter when you leave home. I’ve been using Calendar quite a lot recently, and it has always seemed to me to be a bit weak in comparison with the features Apple’s other apps provide. Hopefully this will help to redress that balance.
The Camera app has been improved. Apple say they have made it faster, and they have also made a shortcut available on the lock screen so you can take pictures. This will even work if you have a passcode set. The second major update to Camera is that you can now edit and retouch your photos from within the Camera app, directly on the device. A more minor tweak allows you to lock the exposure and focus levels.
As with the desktop version, there are several new improvements here. Searching is improved, allowing you to search an entire message’s contents, as well as improved support for Rich Text Format, and indentation. However more significantly is the support for draggable addresses, which allows you to drag a contact’s email address from the To field to CC without typing the whole thing in all over again. Another cool change is the addition of a thumbs-only keyboard option (I’m gonna call it the thumboard). The thumboard basically consists of two halves of a keyboard, which is a better layout for typing with the iPad if you are holding it in your hands at the time. This isn’t just a Mail app option – it is available within the OS. Oh yeah, and there is also a built in Dictionary which you can use to get definitions for words.
Finally!! You can now start using your Apple device without having to plug it into a computer before you can use it – updates and initial setup can now all happen over the air.
Apple are improving Game Center with the addition of more social features within Game Center. The first big change is the introduction of Achievement Points, to allow you to compare yourself with your friends. You can also now recommend games to your friends, add your own profile picture, and support for turn-based games is also being added.
Yes, Apple have created their own messaging client. I guess it was inevitable after the introduction of FaceTime and the conversational display of sms messages on the iPhone. With hindsight it seems like an obvious addition. However it is certainly unexpected and a very welcome improvement as it gives iPod and iPad owners some of the communication abilities that iPhone users have had for years. Messages are pushed to all your iOS devices and are encrypted.
One other notable feature is the ability to sync with iTunes over wi-fi which for me is probably a better feature than some of those I’ve listed above! As I said earlier, Apple have clearly been busy, and iOS 5 looks like a huge release. A developer seed is available now, but the final release won’t be until Autumn. The PC-Free theme is clearly something Apple have been putting a lot of thought into, as the final part of the keynote speech is all about iCloud, with the goal of breaking the link between syncing content between your PC and your iPod, iPhone etc.
Finally, iCloud has been unveiled, and includes some interesting capabilities. The first important announcement is that, unlike MobileMe, iCloud will be free! So, what is it? Basically, the idea is to store all your content on a server and then share it automatically with all your Apple devices. There is quite a lot more to it than that though, as you’ll see below.
Apple have completely rewritten Calendar, Contacts and Mail for a start to integrate seamlessly with iCloud, so that your email, appointments and contacts are available from whichever device you happen to be using. For Calendar you can also create shared calendars so your friends and family can keep up with your appointments. App Store will allow you to view your purchases, and download them from the cloud. The neat feature with iCloud is that when you get a new device, all your apps and settings will be automatically transferred to the new device, and a daily backup is taken of your important data. Of course, Apple have also iCloudified the iWorks suite of apps, which gives these apps a big usability boost, as previously syncing documents from these apps on an iPad would require you to connect to iTunes, or use MobileMe.
Apple have added a new feature called Photo Stream, which allows you to push your Photos to the cloud when you import them. There are some restrictions here though, so you can only keep 1000 photos, or 30 days worth of Photos in the cloud without putting them on a PC or Mac by moving them into an Album.
iTunes in the Cloud
Finally, perhaps Apple’s biggest announcement – iTunes in the cloud. iTunes will now allow you to view your purchases, and download them to any of your devices for no charge. The final ‘little’ announcement Apple revealed is iTunes Match – this feature will scan your iTunes library for music you’ve ripped and upgrade it to the iTunes equivalent of the song (256kbps DRM-free). iTunes Match, however is not free. It will cost $24.99 a year, but could well be worth it if you have a lot of ripped music. Any music which cannot be matched will be uploaded to the cloud.
iCloud includes 5Gb free storage for documents, backups etc, but that excludes your music, photos etc.
Apple have packed a huge amount of news into this presentation, and it will take a while to digest. Lion is due to be released in July, and for £20.99 via the Mac App Store – this update is now digital only.
iOS 5 gets a lot of new features, including some clearly designed to break the link with a main computer, with the ability to register and update over the air, and wi-fi iTunes sync, as well as a messaging client and new social features for Game Center. Apple have announced that iOS 5 will be supported for all the devices that currently run iOS 4, so it looks like some of the older devices such as the 3GS still have some life left in them yet.
Lastly, Apple have revealed to the world their vision of a network integrated future in the cloud, with users seamlessly moving between their laptop, iPhone and iPad without pausing for breath. It’ll be interesting to see how people respond to the iTunes Match service, and whether Apple’s investment in some huge data centres will allow them to scale their iCloud service to meet demand.