It’s hard to even think of a witty way to start this post. I can try to seem restraint about my enthusiasm or I can shower Apple with joy. I don’t really want to do either but the fact is that I’m overwhelmingly satisfied with this year’s showing by Apple at WWDC. Three pieces of software were shown that are either game changers or major improvements to existing products. OS X Lion is a wonderful refinement to the venerable OS. iOS 5 takes the fight back to Android (and wins). iCloud is the first cloud service I really, really want. Let’s jump in.
OS X Lion debuted back in October of 2010 so we know the basics. Lion integrates the advances made in iOS to make Lion more accessible and touch friendly. LaunchPad brings an iOS-like grid of all your applications with folder support, full screen apps allow more complex and powerful UIs with fast switching between full screen apps, and Mission Control allows you to see every running element on your computer from one central screen. Newly revealed features include Resume, which automatically restores a shutdown app to its previous state. This combined with Autosave, which does as it sounds, means you’ll probably never lose your progress in any project ever again. Versions is kind of like a local version of Time Machine and tracks changes you make to projects and documents so that if you regret an edit made, you can simply look back to an older version and bring it back to your current document. Now don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you will have 80 duplicates of your document on your computer. Apple is employing “delta compression”, a great technology that only applies the differences between documents, greatly reducing the memory footprint of saved versions.
A revised Mail app brings an iPad-like UI and some new features. AirDrop is an excellent new file sharing system that allows you to simply drag-and-drop files to share between your devices and with other people – even without Wi-Fi. Tying all these features together is a fresh coat of paint on everything in the UI. It’s clean, iOS like, and cohesive. Best of all, Lion will only be $30 and exclusive to the Mac App Store. With this, Apple has killed physical discs. Lion is a more tame (har-har) release than others, but it still looks like a wonderful improvement. Other improvements now shown include a refreshed Safari and push notifications.
Before the Storm
Wetting our palettes with OS X could only mean that the meat-and-potatoes of the show would be iOS 5. And holy shit it was. iOS 5 is one of the most thorough feature improvements made since iOS’s inception and in my humble opinion exceeds Android in numerous ways. Starting off: revamped notifications! Yes folks, the reign of terror that was Apple’s notifications has ended. Instead of the intrusive purple pop up comes a svelte notification alert at the top of your screen which shows the app icon and pertinent information. Tap the notification brings you right to the app. And at anytime you can swipe down on the screen to reveal the notifications central, which lists all your notifications by application plus has a running stock ticker and live weather updates. Even better, these notifications are on the lock screen. As notifications come in, their icon and info comes up on the lock screen. Simply swipe the icon to bring you right into the relevant app. Finally the lock screen does something useful. Now, there are no widgets, which is a shame, but I imagine Apple couldn’t figure out a way to make a lock screen with as much dynamic info with dedicated widgets, so perhaps it’s for the best.
Apple has introduced Newsstand, a new aggregator for the many digital publications that use Apple’s subscription services. Now, instead of having multiple apps for each magazine, new issues will automatically download to this central area. A great convenience app. Reminders allows you to set well… reminders for yourself. These lists can be set for any date in the future and are location aware, in case you are supposed to do something when you arrive at or leave a certain place. That was a nice touch. Game Center has been enhanced to let you directly download games from the app and includes better social features. An improved Mail allows for better search, rich text editing, and better message management.
Another big improvement is a dedicated camera button in the lock screen. Pressing this launches the camera app directly and allows you to use the “volume up” button as a dedicated shutter button. That’s a really big improvement and ingenious solution to many consumer requests for a hardware camera button. This is tied in with an improved photo app that allows you to edit your photos on your device. Oh, and did I mention you can send these photos to Twitter? Twitter has been fully integrated into iOS, allowing you give your information once and then allow any app requesting Twitter info to use that data. Now posting to Twitter is very easy (and a major F-U to Facebook no doubt). It even syncs with your contacts. Safari has gained new features like Reader, which peels away surrounding content on a webpage so you can focus on the article and Reading List, allowing you to save articles to read later. The iPad version has tabbed browsing and WebKit 2 for better performance and stability.
Wrapping up iOS 5, Apple lauded that iOS is no longer PC dependent. A person can own an iDevice and never sync it to a computer if they choose. New users can activate their device without connecting to a computer, and current users can now sync over Wi-Fi! Finally, your phone will back up and download new info automatically. Plus, new updates are delivered OTA, using this same delta compression to reduce data usage. Finally iOS has an update infrastructure just like Android. And finally we had a feature almost no one was expecting: iMessages a.k.a BBM’s death wish. iMessages is a completely rebuilt messaging system that allows you to message anyone with an iOS device – iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It’s not only text messages but live, instant messaging. It also continues your conversation across devices. iMessages is a great new feature because it incentivizes participating in the iOS ecosystem in the way BBM has appealed to BlackBerry users. All in all, iOS 5 was a powerhouse announcement. This are major enhancements that vastly improve usability and convenience. I think I can safely say Android has lost a lot of appeal now with these enhancements
On Cloud 9
Of course, there was still iCloud to talk about and it’s probably the most groundbreaking service ever. Gone is MobileMe, often considered a failure, and instead iCloud does everything better. The name of the game here is “sync” because quite simply iCloud syncs everything. Documents, contacts, photos, apps, calendars, email, even your applications. iCloud directly integrates into iOS 5 and instantly pushes updates directly to all your devices. Download a song on your iPhone? It will instantaneously appear on your iPad and Mac. Even older purchases will be retroactively downloaded on to other devices for free and in high quality with no DRM. Same for applications. iCloud stores their info and pushes it out to you. Documents from iWork will sync across all devices with the software, finally getting rid of the annoying, email-dependent technique of old. Syncing photos is awesome with Photo Stream. Once you take a photo, it is automatically uploaded to iCloud and sent out to your other devices. Even when loading photos from a dedicated camera, they’ll load from your computer. Pulling down photos is as simple as selecting them from the Photo Stream album. iCloud also backs up your entire device once a day incase you have to restore or get a new device. You’re given 5GB of storage, but photo stream and music syncing is external from that storage limit. And best of all? iCloud is 100% free. The service will launch concurrently with iOS 5 but the music and app syncing are already in beta for iOS 4.3 devices.
On More Thing
Oh come on, it’s not Apple without one more thing. This is an optional expansion to iCloud called iTunes Match. This service will scan your entire library for purchased music and music you’ve ripped. It then duplicates all these songs and stores them in the cloud, allowing you to download or stream your entire library of music on Wi-Fi or 3G. It works really well. When scanning your library iTunes Match will detect any songs you have that Apple already sells in the iTunes store, so that music is already ready to stream. Any music you have that iTunes doesn’t (like most of my Live Phish music) will be quickly uploaded to the cloud and presented in 256kbps quality. The service costs $25 per year whether you have 5000 songs or 20,000 songs. Game set and matched Amazon and Google.
Wow. WWDC was extremely impressive and I’ve never been more glad that I live in this ecosystem.