Every year around this time the world seems to collectively wet its pants over the announcements that Apple makes at its World Wide Developers Conference, usually because Apple announces their new iPhone model. This time around however there was no new iPhone to speak of but there was still a whole bunch of news that’s sure to delight Apple fans and haters a like. As always I was impressed by some of the innovations and then thoroughly annoyed by the fans reactions, especially those who extrapolated wildly based on ideas and technology that isn’t even out in the wilds yet. I really should have expected as much, but the optimist in me doesn’t seem to want to keel over just yet.
Arguably the biggest announcement of the conference was iCloud, Apple’s new cloud service. With this service 9 of the in built applications will become cloud enabled, storing all their data in the cloud so that it’s accessible from almost anywhere. The majority of them are rudimentary cloud implementations (contacts, pictures, files, etc) but the most notable of the new cloud enabled services will be iTunes. Apart from doing the normal cloud thing of backing your music and letting you play it anywhere, ala Google and Amazon, Apple has decided to go for a completely different angle, and it’s quite an intriguing one.
iTunes will not only allow you to download your purchases unlimited times (finally!) but for the low low price of $24.99/year you can also have iTunes scan your current music folder and then get access to the same tracks in 256Kbps AAC directly from iTunes. Keen readers will recognize this feature as coming from Lala, a company that Apple acquired and seemingly shutdown just over a year ago. It would appear that the technology behind Lala is what powers the new iCloud enabled iTunes and the licensing deals that the company had struck with the music companies before its acquisition have been transferred to Apple. I really like the idea behind this and I’m sure it won’t take long for someone to come up with an entire back catalog of what’s available through iTunes, letting everyone on the service get whatever music they want for the nominal yearly fee. It’s probably a lot better than the alternative for the music companies who up until now were getting $0 from those with, how do you say, questionably acquired music libraries.
Apple also announced the next version of their mobile operating system, iOS5. There are numerous improvements to the platform but there are a few features of note. The first is iMessage which will be Apple’s replacement for SMS. The interface is identical to the current SMS application on the iPhone however if both parties are on iOS devices it will instead send the message over the Internet rather than SMS. Many are quick to call this as the death of SMS and how mobile phone companies will teeter on bankruptcy due to the loss of revenue but realistically it’s just another messaging app and many carriers have been providing unlimited SMS plans for months now, so I doubt it will be anywhere near as revolutionary as people are making it out to be.
The next biggest feature is arguably the deep level of integration that Twitter is getting in iOS. Many of the built in apps now have Twitter on their option menus, allowing you to more easily tweet things like your location or pictures from your photo library. It’s one of the better improvements that Apple has made to iOS in this revision as it was always something I felt was lacking, especially when compared to how long Android had had such features. I’m interested to see if this increases adoption rates for Twitter at all because I find it hard to imagine that everyone who has an iPhone is using Twitter already (anecdotally about 50% of the people I know do, the others couldn’t care less).
There’s also the release of OSX lion which honestly is barely worth mentioning. The list of “features” that the new operating system will have is a mix of improvements to things currently available in Snow Leopard, a couple app reworks and maybe a few actual new things to the operating system. I can see why Apple will only be charging $29.99 for it since there’s really not much to it and as a current owner of Snow Leopard I can’t see any reason to upgrade unless I’m absolutely forced to. The only reason I would, and this would be a rather dickish move by Apple if they required this, would to be able to download incremental updates to programs like Xcode which they’ve finally figured out how to do deltas on so I don’t have to get the whole bloody IDE every time they make a minor change.
Overall this WWDC was your typical Apple affair: nothing revolutionary but they’re bringing out refined technology products for the masses. iCloud is definitely the stand out announcement of the conference and will be a great hook to get people onto the Apple platform for a long time to come in the future. Whilst there might be some disappointment around the lack of a new iPhone this time around it seems to have been more than made up for with the wide swath of changes that iOS5 will be bringing to the table. With all this under consideration it’s becoming obvious that Apple is shifting itself away from the traditional PC platform with Lion getting far less attention than any of Apple’s other products. Whether or not this is because they want to stay true to their “Post PC era” vision or simply because they believe the cash is elsewhere is left as an exercise to the reader, but it’s clear that Apple views the traditional desktop as becoming an antiquated technology.