2011-06-08

Overview and analysis: Apple’s WWDC 2011 announcements (Lion, iOS 5, iCloud)

There were three main topics at Apple’s WWDC 2011 keynote and, as usual, Apple’s pages provide good in-depth coverage:
  1. Mac OS X Lion
  2. iOS 5
  3. iCloud
This post gives an overview of what has been announced and concludes with an analysis of what it all means.

Updates:

Mac OS X Lion

  • Not much new compared to what we already knew:
    • More support for touch gestures.
    • Full screen mode for all Apple apps with on-demand menu bar.
    • Mission Control consolidates spaces, Dashboard, full-screen apps
    • LaunchPad is an iOS-style app launcher
    • Resume: restart app or system and open documents, window positions, etc. are all remembered.
    • Auto Save and Versions: no manual saving needed, old versions can be revisited with a Time-Machine-like user interface.
    • Air Drop: peer-to-peer file sharing via Bonjour.
    • And more...
  • Coming in July, for $29.99, only via the App Store, a download of 3.6GB (Jobs called that size “similar to an HD movie”). Installation does not require a restart.
  • Hardware requirements: “Your Mac must have an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor to run Lion.” That means that Core Duos (note the missing “2”) are out and only 64bit processors are in. 2GB RAM are also required. This is not about speed, but about making things easier for Apple, because they don’t need to develop and test for 32bit machines, any more.
  • New tidbits:
    • Face recognition for Photo booth lets you circle birds over your head, bulge your eyes (only), etc.
    • Mail can have up to three vertical panes: folders, messages, current message. Great for wide-screen displays.

iOS 5

  • Coming in Fall. Probably alongside a new iPhone, new iPods, and possibly a deluxe version of the iPad.
  • Notification center: swipe down from the top to get a list of new messages, notifications, etc. The same gesture that Android uses for showing its notifications. A good choice, thankfully Apple did not deviate from Android just to be different.
  • Newsstand: like iBooks, but for magazines.
  • Twitter integration: system-wide single sign-on. Tweet photos (optionally incl. text and location) from Camera/Photos, videos from the YouTube app, URLs from Safari, locations from the Maps app. Twitter photos are used for Contacts.
  • Safari [4]: tabs, improved performance, clutter-free Reader mode that even joins multiple pages into one, reading list for saving pages to be read later (syncs via iCloud)
  • Reminders: an advanced todo list, triggered by time or by changes in your geo-location (remind me once I leave work, remind me once I arrive at the supermarket). Syncs with iCal on Mac OS and Outlook on Windows.
  • Camera: quickly start from lock screen, press volume up button to take a picture.
  • Mail: flag messages, search message content (even on server).
  • Optional thumb keyboard mode.
  • Calendar: week view on iPhone, year view on iPad. Let’s hope that you can also swipe to move in time and tap (on a day etc.) to create a new event.
  • PC-free operation: An iOS device can now be the only device in a household (which is bound to become more common), no PC or Mac needed. This is enabled via the following features:
    • No tethering with iTunes needed for the initial setup. Just log in with your Apple ID.
    • Wireless backup to iCloud, once a day. Restore on a new device should your old one get lost or destroyed.
    • Over-the-air software updates.
    • Apps do more: Mail creates mailboxes, Camera can edit photos, Calendar can create calendars, etc.
  • Game center: gets social features, such as games recommendations, friends of friends, suggesting an opponent, etc.
  • iMessage: an Internet-based instant messaging service for all iOS 5 users that seamlessly integrates SMS [2]. Very similar to Skype. Or iChat, for that matter. Based on the same technology as Apple’s push notifications and thus will probably scale well.
  • Airplay mirroring [3] from the iPad to the Apple TV (useful for presentations).
  • Wireless iTunes sync.
  • Buttonless iPad operation: gestures for going home, showing the app switcher and for switching apps.

iCloud

  • Capacity: 5GB (email, files, etc.), not counting purchased music, apps, books, photostream. Free for all Apple users!
  • Supported on iOS, Mac OS, Windows.
  • Once Apple thought of the Mac as the digital hub, now it’s the cloud. That is necessary, because any device can produce new content these days (pictures taken on cell phones etc.), not just Macs and PCs.
  • Continuous syncing (a word that Apple avoids, but it’s still what’s going on) of: contacts, calendar events, mail, music, apps.
  • Documents in the cloud (similar to DropBox): built into Pages, Numbers, Keynote.
  • API for 3rd parties: sync app files and key-value data.
  • Photo stream: pictures you take on an iOS device are stored in the cloud, but only for 30 days. Mac OS always gets all of those photos; iOS the most recent 1000 ones; Apple TV can also access it. To keep a photo permanently, you move it to an album.
  • iTunes in the cloud versus iTunes Match:
    • iTunes in the cloud: Apple knows what music you have purchased and you can push it to any of your devices. This nicely takes care of syncing and also serves as a backup.
    • iTunes Match [8]: pay $24.99 a year and iTunes examines your ripped audio files and adds them to your purchases. You only have to upload files that are not available on iTunes. I’m assuming that after that procedure, you own the newly added music and you can stop paying the $24.99.

Analysis

I’ve previously blogged about four things that Apple should add to iOS (plus four bonus things). Here they are, along with how much my wishes have been fulfilled:
  1. Notifications: A huge improvement. No more dialogs if something goes wrong. What I like about Android, though, is that it also puts activities here (ongoing downloads, Music that is currently playing, etc.). Apple should copy that.
  2. Independence from PC: The term “Post-PC” finally makes sense. Great work. There is even a daily wireless backup to iCloud.
  3. Faster web browsing: might be in the new Safari. At the very least we will have tabs on the iPad!
  4. Universal file system: cloud-syncing files per app is an improvement. But two problems are still unresolved: how to group files across apps and working on the same file with multiple apps. Read the post for more ideas on a file system.
  5. iPad virtual keyboard: I would love to have an additional row with numbers and parentheses. Instead, we got a thumb keyboard (which I don’t care for much).
  6. Configurable preferred web browser: no news either way. Should not be that big of a deal to add.
  7. Taking pictures on the iPhone: Apple nailed it here and got over its own “let’s not (ab)use the volume buttons” fetish. There are two parts to quickly taking a pictures:
    • Quickly going to camera mode. You can do that directly from the lock screen now, you don’t even have to log in (but then can’t do anything but take a picture).
    • Quickly taking a picture. The old virtual shutter button was difficult to hit, using the volume up button for this purpose is great, especially on the iPhone 4.
  8. Support for multiple users: Not yet, maybe not ever.

Odds and ends

  • Notable news about Lion: Its low price is interesting. It seems like Apple really wants to push iCloud and make Lion the new baseline for Macs. Secondly, delivering it via the App Store is radical and shows how badly Apple wants to eliminate removable storage media [7]. The size of the download is not an obstacle any more, with today’s high-speed internet connections. If you do have a slow connection, you can go to an Apple Store and install it there. It will be interesting to see if Apple lets you download a file somewhere, should you have a slow internet connection and a desktop Mac.
  • Mission Control on Lion: offers an overview of the “main screen” with all windows, grouped by (non-full-screen) app. Additionally, there are spaces for Dashboard and full screen apps. You can also create new spaces and drag apps or windows to them.
    • What I miss is to run two apps in full-screen mode at the same time, on a split screen. Windows 8 has this feature and I think it’s great.
    • The dock still shows running apps (similar functionality to Mission Control) and favorite apps (similar functionality to Launch Pad). The former functionality is especially confusing if an app is spread over several spaces. Instead, the dock could show thumbnails of all open spaces. Using it for favorite apps seems OK.
    • Launch Pad is not a space. It is handled like an app and can be launched via the Dock or a gesture.
    • The For more ideas on Mac window management, you can read my post “Fixing Mac OS window management”.
  • iCloud being free: is a big deal, because only free will get it widely adopted. Expect many usability improvements for third party apps on iOS (and probably Mac OS).
  • iMessage:
    • It’s all a bit confusing right now: We already have Face Time and iChat. Face Time is here to stay, but will it be integrated with iMessage? What will happen to the Mac-OS-X-only iChat? Will it be replaced with iMessage?
    • Was something like this really needed? In principle, SMS is good enough, but iMessage is Internet-based and thus free in most cases. On the other hand, it increases iOS lock-in (but SMS integration [2] is a nice touch and mitigates some of that). It must make cell phone providers angry – interesting quote from Gruber:
      A well-informed little birdie tells me that Apple’s phone carrier partners around the world found out about iMessages when we did: during today’s keynote.
    • I love that it’s available on the iPad, too. Without SMS integration?
  • Photo Stream: I don’t understand the 30 day limit and separating it from album photos (with can do everything that Photo Stream can). They could have made it part of the 5GB storage capacity and permanent. My guess is that they wanted a mechanism that allowed people to take as many pictures as they want, without them filling up their 5GB quota. By imposing a 30 day limit (after which the pictures won’t be online, but remain on your device), Apple protects itself from excessive storage requirements.
  • Apple’s social features: Contrary to an idea of mine, Apple did not make iCloud social (but they did make it free). Instead, game center is getting social features and those make a lot of sense to me (as opposed to Ping).
  • Peer-to-peer sync: is not supported by iCloud, but would be nice to have in scenarios where you carry a laptop and an iOS device and don’t have internet access.

Related reading

  1. The cloud and how it changes mobile computing
  2. iMessage is Going to Be Huge! Here’s Our Hands-on Look at How it Works
  3. AirPlay Mirroring in action (video)
  4. Inside Apple's iOS 5: Safari Reader, private browsing, tabs on iPad
  5. Apple iOS 5 hands-on preview
  6. Mac OS X Lion Server runs $50 in July, adds iPad file sharing, iOS push notification support
  7. Should Macs still have DVD drives?
  8. What you need to know about iTunes Match: your questions answered

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