Apple has unveiled a suite of cloud-based applications, a completely revamped operating system for the iPhone and a huge number of updates to Mac OS X at the opening day of the World Wide Developers Conference in California, ending years of speculation about the company’s new cloud-based services.
Revamped notifications, Twitter integration and a new lock-screen design are just some of the updates included in the upcoming iOS 5 software, but the biggest announcements were around iCloud, Apple’s new cloud-based service model.
Chief executive Steve Jobs once again took to the stage to reveal the new features, despite his medical leave, although most of the announcements were made by the senior vice presidents.
The iCloud suite – which is completely free – replaces MobileMe entirely and allows users to upload documents, photos and other pieces of data such as iPhone back-ups into the cloud.
Apple also made one major announcement regarding the iTunes in the Cloud service, saying it will allow users to pay $US25 to upload music of their own.
It was one of the biggest announcement-packed days in recent Apple history, completely revamping several pieces of key software.
However, although some iCloud features will be released today, both Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5 will be available in a few months.
“Today we’re going to talk about software,” Jobs said at the conference. This was a huge departure from previous years when iPhone hardware has been released at WWDC – the focus on iOS and Mac OS X emphasises Apple’s belief much of their future is in software, not physical gadgets.
The changes made to iOS 5 this morning represent some of the biggest in the past few years of the operating system. Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS Software, took to the stage to “talk about the future of iOS”.
“iOS 5 is a major upgrade… this is incredible for developers and our customers. There are over 1,500 APIs and great enhancements… and there are over 200 new features,” he said.
There are 10 major new features – the first of these is notifications.
The current notification system sees a blue badge appear on the iOS screen whenever something happens, such as receiving a new email or text message. But because users receive so many notifications, and the iOS only allows you to see one at a time, a new system is needed to view them.
The new system, called Notifications Centre, is a “single place which combines together all of your notifications”. It lists all the notifications from all your different apps, such as social networking apps, text messages, phone calls, etc. Users just have to swipe down from the top of the screen.
Notifications are no longer interrupting either, so when you’re in an app and receive a text message, it won’t interrupt your progress. These notifications also appear on the lock-screen, as they do in some jailbroken apps.
The next major update is wireless syncing. This removes the need for an iOS gadget to be connected to a computer when syncing and updating – a feature many users have been calling for after some time.
Another wireless update is the ability to download iOS updates over the air. This means users don’t even have to own a PC or Mac to own an iPhone any more, as Apple brags it’s ready to use “right out of the box”.
These two features received the largest cheers from the crowd watching the keynote.
The Newsstand is another new feature. This combines all the magazines and newspapers available for download and subscription purchases on the iOS – this was actually rumoured to appear last year but appears to have been delayed.
This upgrades automatically as well, so new editions of newspapers and magazines will update and then be made available offline.
One of the major new updates was integration with Twitter, although this was rumoured late last week. Forstall pointed out users are sending over one billion tweets a week, “so we want to make it easier for our users to use Twitter in iOS 5”.
Users put in their login information in the iPhone, and then from then on all available apps will use those credentials. The camera app also has integrated “post to Twitter” functionality, while other apps like Maps and Contacts use Twitter credentials as well.
In a blow to BlackBerry, Apple has also revealed a new messaging system for iOS. iPhone and iPad users will be able to send messages back and forth without texting – using either wireless internet or 3G connectivity.
Safari has been given some updates as well. Safari “Reader” mode will allow users to strip all the pictures and other ads out of a page and then just simply read the text. Users can also email that stripped-out content to contacts.
The new feature “Reading List” is a direct blow against apps such as Instapaper – it will allow users to save stories in a cache to read later. Full tabbed browsing will also be made available.
Reminders is a new service that essentially acts as a to-do list. But a great new location-based feature means some of these will only appear when a user walks into a certain location.
One example of this is when users visit a grocery store, they can set their iPhone to remind them to pick up certain items when they actually walk in that location. This has been available on jailbroken and Android-based apps for some time, but is now officially integrated into iOS.
There were other updates as well – photos now has editing features and a new camera app allows you to set the volume button to use the shutter. There are dozens of minor updates as well, many of them in small updates to settings, although Game Centre and the keyboard has been given some updates as well.
Forstall also revealed some new iOS statistics: Apple has sold over 200 million iOS devices, and 25 million of those are iPads – the company claims it is now the largest mobile operating system in the world with 44% market share.
More than 15 billion songs have been sold in the iTunes Store, while over 14 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store. It also has over 215 million iTunes accounts available for “one click purchasing”.
This was by far the biggest announcement of the day. Months of speculation have predicted Apple would be launching a cloud-based service, and this new service is perhaps bigger than all these rumours foretold – it will be completely replacing MobileMe, which Jobs described “as not our finest hour”.
“We’ve been working on this for some time and we’re really excited about it,” Jobs said. He goes on to say that while the PC was once the hub for all of a user’s digital data, that hub has now been replaced by the cloud as users require so much more space and “the devices have changed”.
“We’re going to move the centre of your digital life into the cloud,” Jobs said. “Now if I get something on my iPhone it sends up to the cloud immediately, and they are now pushed down to my devices completely automatically.”
“iCloud stores your content and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices, but it’s also completely integrated with your apps and so everything happens automatically.”
iCloud is essentially a way for users to back-up and share everything in their iOS device, including photos, music, documents and other files.
The entire iCloud suite is made up of nine individual apps.
Contacts is one of these. When users make a new contact on their iPhone, it’s automatically pushed to their iPad and Mac devices. The same works for calendar updates and mail as well, although calendar sharing has been added so users can share schedules with each other.
The App Store will be given iCloud features as well. Users can now see their purchase history on all their devices, and download the same apps on separate devices for free. And whenever you buy a new app, it’s downloaded to all your devices at once automatically.
iBooks is essentially the same thing. Users see a purchase history of all their books, they can sync them across devices and new iBooks will sync automatically across devices at the same time.
Wireless back-up has also been added to the cloud as well. This allows you to back-up your iPhone contents to the cloud, including the actual iOS back-up file. This means whenever you get a new phone, all users have to do is input their Apple ID to get their profile back – this is a continuation of the “post-PC” message Apple has been using.
But Jobs added “one more thing” to this feature – a further three apps including “iTunes in the Cloud”.
The first app is called Documents in the Cloud. This allows you to upload documents created in different apps to the cloud, and then push them to all different devices including iPads and iPod Touches. This is integrated into the iWork suite, although APIs will allow this to be opened into other apps.
The next app is Photo Stream. Users upload their photos directly to the cloud, and those can then be streamed to any device – including the Apple TV. Jobs says this essentially removes the pain of having to upload hundreds of photos to a computer, and then move them to all devices.
At this point Jobs pointed out that Photo Stream will store the last 1,000 photos added on your devices, and for Mac and PC users it will store all of them. They’ll be stored for 30 days, which will allow users to download them to individual devices.
The last announcement was by far the biggest – iTunes in the Cloud. This is the service that has been rumoured for over a year now, although many predictions such as streaming have been proven incorrect.
The iTunes in the Cloud feature allows users to download music they have purchased on one device onto other devices. So if a user buys an album on an iPad, they can then download that purchase onto an iPhone – previously they would have been charged for this.
And users will also be able to automatically download a song from the iTunes Store and sync them to all devices at once.
But of course, this doesn’t account for the thousands of other songs users own that they have may have bought on CDs and then ripped to iTunes.
This is where a new future, iTunes Match, comes in.
For $US25 per year, Apple will let you upload all of your own music, (up to 25,000 songs), and then receive higher-quality copies of them in return. And they will allow you to download these higher quality copies to all of your devices and store them in the cloud.
“Chances are good we’ve got the songs you’ve ripped in the store,” Jobs says. “We’ll match your songs up with the songs we have in the store… and it takes minutes, not weeks.”
While Apple has not commented publicly on the negotiation process, analysts point out this is likely a way to compensate music labels and publishers for piracy.
The Amazon and Google program allow users to upload songs for free. By providing Apple users with higher quality versions of their music for a price, labels and publishers will at least be getting some money back for songs that have been pirated rather than purchased legitimately – this is most likely why Apple was the only company reportedly able to get them on board.
iCloud will come with 5GB of storage, but many of the features don’t even count towards your upload limit.
Mac OS X Lion
Apple has also announced and showed off the new version of Mac OS X at the conference – Lion. The new software will cost $US29.99, comes with 250 new features and will actually be available only as a download from the Mac App Store in July.
Apple says the new download will only be 4GB, essentially “the size of an HD movie from the iTunes Store”.
Mac OS X will come with new multi-touch hand gestures for the track pads, full-screen apps, a completely new mail app that allows tracking in conversations. One of the new features is called “momentum scrolling”, which allows users to control their scrolling speed based on the speed they are scrolling on the track pad.
A new feature called Mission Control also allows users to see a window of all the apps that are running at any one time.
"With a simple swipe, your desktop zooms out to display your open windows grouped by app, thumbnails of your full-screen apps and your Dashboard, and allows you to instantly navigate anywhere with a tap," Apple said in a statement.
Mac OS X also comes with auto-save which automatically saves documents as a user works on them. And a new feature called AirDrop “finds nearby Macs and automatically sets up a peer-to-peer wireless connection to make transferring files quick and easy”.
Apple also announced it will released Mac OS X Lion Server as a download for $US49.99 from the Mac App Store.