Yesterday’s WWDC keynote was full of surprises. It was notable not only for what it contained (updates to both iOS and OS X) but also for what it didn’t contain (no new hardware). And while most of the commentary thus far has centred around the new features of Apple’s two platforms, I think it’s worth looking a little closer at what these features mean, especially as it relates to the competition.
Blurring the lines between desktop and mobile
Have you noticed that as we’ve embraced mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, we seem to be living in an increasingly fractured world? Yes, it’s true that you can get to social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter easily from any device and there’s no noticeable difference when switching other than screen size, but what about other tasks? We’ve been forced to find workarounds to overcome the fact that our so-called desktop machines (which more and more are laptops, not true desktops) and our mobile devices don’t talk to one another. Evernote. Dropbox. Google Drive and Google Docs. Office 365. Gmail. As good and useful as these products are, they’re band-aids. They exist because mobile operating systems and their desktop equivalents have never really known how to help users transition seamlessly between them.
What’s peculiar is how accepting we users have become of this situation. Signing up for and managing a raft of products, services, accounts and passwords, all so we can keep our digital lives within easy access from whichever device we’re working on.
Well, what if all of that went away?
It starts with iCloud Drive
If I were the CEO of Dropbox, yesterday’s keynote would have sent a cold chill down my spine. That’s because Apple’s announcement of an extension to iCloud called iCloud Drive, is a direct competitor. Dropbox is great because it’s simple. It is nothing more than a place in the cloud where you can store your files, retrieve them from anywhere and share them with anyone. The problem with simple though, is that it’s easily duplicated and improved upon. Because iCloud Drive will offer the exact same feature set, but will also be a native component of both OS X and iOS, it will be easier to use than Dropbox. Especially if you work a lot in Apple’s own suite of productivity tools: Keynote, Pages and Numbers (collectively known as iWork). And while Apple’s pricing of iCloud Drive makes it more expensive on a per MB basis that Google Drive, it’s cheaper than Dropbox. Can you guess which company Apple has targeted with this move?
It continues with Handoff
Of course, simply embedding a Dropbox knock-off into the OS isn’t going to change anyone’s world overnight (well, unless you’re Dropbox’s CEO), because being able to store files in the cloud isn’t new and it wasn’t hard to do prior to iCloud Drive. It’s best to look at iCloud Drive as a highway or rail system. You need it to help people get from A to B, but without a car or train, it’s only half of the solution.
The other half is breaking down the barriers between devices. If you’re working on a proposal on your Mac using Pages and you’ve got to leave the office or home to make a meeting in an hour, why should you have to save your work and email it to yourself (if you haven’t embraced the cloud yet) or save it to Dropbox (or even iCloud) and then retrieve that document on your iPad when you’ve boarded the subway? Or what about that detailed email you were in the middle of composing but weren’t quite ready to send yet?
With Handoff—a feature that you will forget about almost as soon as you start using it—as long as you’re signed in with your Apple ID, all of these activities will follow you from one device to another, as though you had never switched at all. At launch, Handoff will work with Apple’s core apps like Mail, Safari, iWork etc., but developers will be able to add Handoff to their apps too.
Multiple, smart environments
Have you noticed the way that Microsoft put such a huge emphasis on making all of their versions of Windows 8 look and work similarly regardless whether you were using a full PC, tablet or smartphone? On the one hand, it creates a familiar environment on all of your devices. On the other hand, it completely misses the point. When it comes to smart devices, we need smart operating systems. That doesn’t mean making all of these machines operate the same way, it means designing operating systems that make using these devices as easy and simple as possible. To achieve this, function must follow form, not vice versa.
Apple clearly gets this. Instead of doing a full revamp of OS X to make it a desktop version of iOS, or trying to cram a full version of OS X onto an iPad (ahem, Microsoft Surface), it’s letting the devices themselves dictate the right user experience, while silently and invisibly connecting these disparate device in the background.
Continuity is one more reason to buy a Mac
While I absolutely believe that Apple has made these enhancements to help their customers further simplify their lives and eliminate some of the pesky irritations that our multi-device world has created, they’ve significantly strengthened the Apple ecosystem at the same time.
Because while iCloud Drive will offer easy access to cloud-stored documents for Windows users too, in order to benefit from the full package that Handoff offers, you’ll need to own Apple hardware.
And while it’s true that more and more people are beginning to work exclusively on tablets and smartphones, there’s still plenty more who want a full PC. If that’s you, and you don’t yet own a Mac, Apple’s Continuity (the name they’ve given the suite of products and services that enable this seamless switching process) is a compelling reason to buy one.
One more thing
There’s a quote attributed to Steve Jobs that “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” It’s been true of Apple’s products more often than not. The iPod, iPhone, iPad… few of these were products that customers had been shouting for ahead of their debut, and yet, once they got their hands on them, they realized they were the products they wanted. Apple’s new direction for software, in the form of Continuity, is another example of something that few people realized they needed or wanted (because we’ve all become so used to the band-aids). But I think that once people start using it, they’ll wonder how they ever got along without it.
Wow. This will take some time to get our heads around, and believe me, they are spinning!
Here’s the super-high-level summary of what was announced today at the WWDC keynote presentation:
OSX Lion (much of this was previewed before now, but today it’s official)
$30 upgrade from OS X Snow Leopard – available in July, only from the Mac App Store (no physical disc option)
– A strong focus on full screen apps
– Deep multi-touch support for MacBook users or iMac users who have the Magic Trackpad
– App store, which BTW is now the most popular place for PC software purchases, beating bricks and mortar stores too, is now embedded into the OS
– When you buy new apps, they automatically appear in the Launchpad, which is essentially the iPad home screen interface – with apps displayed as icons on a grid
– Resume function brings an app right back to where you left off working – even if you quit the app completely
– AutoSave (the OS saves docs in the background for you, regardless of which app you’re working in)
– “Versions” lets you go back to previous document states to see older versions and even cut & paste between them
– AirDrop: peer to peer Wi-Fi sharing of documents (if you ever used IR sending to move files between two laptops, you already know how this works)
– Mail has new conversation and message preview modes, with better search
– Open windows can now be resized from any edge, not just the bottom right corner
– Safari has a “reading list” option which lets you send web pages to your other devices for reading at a later date/place
available this fall, for free, for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 1 and 2, iPod Touch 3 & 4
200 new features including:
– Notification Center app now puts all notifications in one place
– available from within any app by swiping down from the top of the screen (Android users will find this VERY familiar)
– includes weather and stock displays
– Notifications will no longer interrupt what you’re doing
– The lock screen has been enhanced, with notifications listed and direct access to apps that sent the note
– one location in the appstore for all subscriptions (newspapers, magazines)
– single sign-on
– integrated into apps like camera, photos, contacts so you can tweet directly from any of these apps without switching to a dedicated twitter app
– Reader integration (from OS X)
– Email whole stories not just links
– reading list – sync’d across all devices
– tabbed browsing
– basically a very smart to-do lists
– syncs with Exchange
– auto-remind with geofencing
– Shortcut to camera from lock screen using an icon or a volume button, even if the iPhone is locked
– Grid lines option for easier composition
– Pinch to zoom instead of slider
– New Auto Focus settings
– Photo adjustments on the device (red eye, crop, rotate – 1 click enhancements)
– Volume-up button acts as a shutter button
– Rich text formatting
– Search entire message
– S/MIME support
– Encrypted email option
– Dictionary service throughout OS – any app can use it
– Address dragging from field to field e.g. move a recipient from the To: field to the BCC: field
– Enhanced keyboard with a thumb-oriented split-keyboard option (presumably intended for the iPad in portrait mode)
– iOS updates over the air (no need for iTunes on a PC or Mac)
– “Delta updates” download just what has changed
– Addition of photos, achievement points, recommendations
– Buy games from within GC
– Turn based games support
– Unified message service across all iOS 5 devices, not just iPhone
– delivery and read receipts, typing indicators, encryption
– iMessages appear at the top of the screen so visible, but doesn’t interrupt your current activity
– Embed photos, video
– Works over Wi-fi and 3G
Airplay mirroring lets you view your full iPad 2 /iPhone screen on your TV via Apple TV (not just select apps)
WiFi syncing to iTunes
Custom vibration patterns
Free, Available with iOS 5 in the fall
Steve Jobs basically kicked MobileMe, insulted it, killed it and announced its successor: iCloud
The idea behind iCloud is the three core apps of MobileMe (iCal, Mail and Contacts) are now joined by 6 new apps, and all of them keep your digital content automatically (and wirelessly) synchronized across all of your iDevices and your computer (be it a Mac or PC)
Every time you take a photo using the camera app, send an email, update a calendar or a contact, the iCloud service grabs those updates and then pushes them back to any other device that shares your Apple ID (the account you use for iTunes).
The 6 new apps are:
– App Store gives you access to your full app history (any app that you have previously purchased or downloaded) so you can re-download it with one click instead of searching the app store, and going through the existing re-download process)
– iBookstore is the same concept as the App Store, but with the addition of bookmarks, so your books are now truly synced across devices the same way Amazon and Kobo work.
– iCloud Backup backs up all of your major content. In the event you lose your iDevice, you can bring all of that information back to your new device instantly. Backups happen automatically over Wi-Fi when your device is charging.
– iCloud Storage is a service that is essentially trying to do away with the file system that all computers use. Instead, any document created in any app, will be “owned” by that app. Changes to those documents get automatically sent to iCloud and then pushed back down to any other device that is running the same app. At launch, the iWork suite will take advantage of the service, but other apps will be able to use it too. Users get 5GB of free Storage space, which doesn’t include photos or music or apps. Extra space will be available for purchase.
– iCloud PhotoStream creates an automated and synchronized way of sharing your photos between devices. Any photo taken with the camera app is automatically streamed to your Mac, or your iPad or other compatible device. Works with PCs too. You can also do this with imported pics. PhotoStream will keep your most recent 1,000 photos for 30 days from upload and you can permanently keep any of them by moving them into albums.
– iTunes in the cloud is the first time you will be able to re-download purchased music from iTunes to up to 10 of your devices. One more thing: iTunes Match will look at all of your ripped music in iTunes, find the same tracks in the iTunes store and give you access to the iTunes versions on any of your devices for $24.99 USD per year.
Oh, and if you’re really curious about iTunes in the cloud, you can try it right now. iOS 4.3 only.
So what does all this mean?
OS X Lion:
Apple takes the desktop operating system to the next level by cleaning up a bunch of things that needed improvement e.g. any-edge window resizing and then layering on top of that some new features that make you say “why doesn’t every OS do that?” such as remembering what you were working on when you quit an app, and bringing you right back again when you open it the next time. Lion also shows that when it comes to touch interfaces, it’s all about the track pad, not the screen. So many Windows machines are trying to emulate the iPad experience on the PC, and yet fail to understand that touching a vertical screen is a horrible user experience. PCs – and Macs for that matter – are not tablets. So Apple is doing the next best (and logical) thing: importing the components of the iOS experience that *do* work on a PC, namely multi-touch and app stores. Lion represents the first really fundamental shift in the Mac OS paradigm since OS X debuted over 10 years ago, and these latest changes are arguably the most profound.
If you’re an iOS developer you’ve got reason to celebrate: there are over 1,500 new way to make your apps work with Apple’s mobile OS. You’ve also got reason for insecurity: iOS 5 shows that Apple isn’t afraid to take some of the most popular features from the 3rd party apps and embed those directly into the OS. There are dozens of great camera apps out there, but they’ll have less of shine on them in the fall once you can re-touch and perform other edits right in the existing camera app.
If you’re an Android user, you don’t get to snicker about the iPhone’s terrible notifications – in fact, they look a LOT like Android’s notifications now.
If you’re a Blackberry user who has clung to their device because nothing really beats BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), you’re now one reason shorter for staying: iMessage will likely eclipse BBM as the worldwide favourite mobile messaging app as it appears to do all that BBM does and then some.
If you own an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch you will want to download this update as fast as you can get your hands on it. It’s easily the most feature-rich iOS release since the first version.
iCloud seems like both more and less than we had expected. The suite of 9 services is easily the most compelling of the cloud services to-date, including the products from Google and Amazon (plus you can bet it will work in Canada as soon as it launches which is more than we can say for the other companies). The “free” adjective works on several levels: The cost (it’s free), it’s worry-free and it’s restriction-free (pretty much). And while it looks like it’s going to do a great job wirelessly and automatically syncing data from device to device, there was no mention of movies or TV shows, which are both central to Google and Amazon’s cloud services. Perhaps Apple’s research indicates that while these would be nice, they aren’t as high on consumers’ wish lists as photos and music. They’re probably right. And if they’re wrong, I’m guessing that their brand-new eco-friendly and downright monstrous data centre in North Carolina will be able to tackle movies and TV shows without breaking a sweat.
If you have an extra 2 hours and you’d like to sit through the entire keynote, here’s the video from Apple.