When historians look back on the state of computing, they will point to Apple's 2011 Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) as the date when Steve Jobs ushered in the "PC Free" world of computing. At least that's what Apple hopes WWDC 2011 will be remembered for. I was there, and I can report that the "PC Free" experience is just one of many new iOS features worthy of an article. I will try to condense some of the best of the 200 or so iOS enhancements into bite-size morsels in one article!
This enhancement is really an overarching mentality that covers several features, all designed to make owning an iOS device possible without requiring initial and frequent tethering to a Mac or PC. To Apple's credit, they don't mean Microsoft-free computing, but rather freedom from traditional personal computers… Apple or Windows. Previously, to even use a new iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, you had to connect it to iTunes, sync, and setup your device. Going forward, a new device running iOS 5 will start right up and allow you to use it immediately. Apple's iCloud (see related article on page 16) plays a big part in this because you can upgrade to a newer iOS device by restoring your content and settings from a cloud-based backup.
Additionally, updates to iOS 5 will be downloadable over the air! Notably, those updates will be in "delta" format, i.e., only the changes from your current configuration will be downloaded, saving time and bandwidth. Apps will be updated similarly, making upgrading a breeze instead of a chore. This all requires iOS 5, so your existing iOS 4.x (and 3.x) devices will still need one more tethered update to get you updated to iOS 5, but after that, the future looks bright!
Documents can be synced with iCloud, so you have the latest version everywhere. Mac OS X Lion was also previewed at WWDC, and it borrows the auto-save feature of most Apple apps so you never have to specifically "Save" your document. This can be a lifesaver.
You will also be able to sync between your iOS device and your Mac or PC over Wi-Fi. You will be able to automatically sync just the changes (as opposed to full-blown backups) the moment the iOS device connects to a power source. I should point out that, so far, most of the above was possible with my Nokia phone three years ago, but it represents a big enhancement for Apple.
If you rely on your iPhone for calls, texts, calendar, and more, pretty soon you get annoyed with the notification system. It interrupts your app (including games), and displays one alert on the lock screen. Then, you have to find the app that alerted you. This was an area where Apple received a lot of (justified) criticism, and any progress would have been a step in the right direction. Fortunately, they really nailed it by addressing just about all of the weaknesses with notifications. First, the lock screen can display multiple notices at once, including stocks and weather with graphical indicators. A top-down swipe at any time will take you to the Notification Center, and a horizontal swipe will take you to that particular notice's app. When notices appear while running another app, they subtly drop in at the top, like an iAd or one of those rotating billboards or scoreboards at an NBA game. Gameplay is not interrupted, and you can review the notice when it's convenient.
With the Camera App, you now have one-touch access from your lock screen even when the device is locked. You can also use the Volume + button as a shutter, much to the chagrin of the makers of Camera+, which was kicked off the App Store for offering exactly this functionality. By placing the camera button on the lock screen, users won't miss out on timely photos. When users had to find and tap the virtual shutter on the touchscreen, it would lead to shaky pictures. By allowing users to use the volume button as a shutter release, they are less likely to move the phone, and they get tactile feedback. Several case manufacturers had been working on and offering cases with physical buttons for the camera, and this may have made that effort obsolete. You can also set auto-focus and auto-exposure, view grid lines and pinch to zoom. You can wirelessly upload photos to your Photo Stream in iCloud, similar to how an Eye-Fi SD card works with traditional cameras. Finally, you can edit (crop, rotate, enhance and remove red-eye) right on your iPhone. All of these features are welcomed, but they also put the squeeze on dedicated camera apps.
Users can now rate apps directly from the Game Center. Written reviews will still require a visit to the App Store. You will be able to see what games your friends are playing and even download those apps without leaving Game Center! Incidentally, you will also be able to purchase apps within the App Store without being kicked out after each purchase. As a developer, this is great. I want to make it easy for users to go on an app shopping spree!
The iPad 2 already allows you to mirror the screen using a supported A/V cable. Now, you can mirror or display alternate video wirelessly using AirPlay and an Apple TV! The higher-powered CPU of the iPad 2 is still required, but presumably an iPhone 5 would have the same chip or better. Imagine the games that you could play using an iOS device as a controller and the video being displayed on an HDTV with Apple TV! Indeed, Real Racing 2 HD ($9.99, app2.me/3895) is already out, and while it requires a wired connection to a TV, it is a sign of apps to come! With RR2HD, the iPad 2 is a steering wheel and it displays your position on a racetrack and other telemetry data, while the big screen displays your cockpit view in HD. It's a thrill as is, but a wireless connection will really help.
Ringtones for SMS, email, and Calendar
One of the most common requests from my customers is the ability to use custom ringtones for SMS, email, and calendar alerts. Finally, Apple is answering the call, so to speak, and enabling this. They are also releasing the iTunes Tone Store, which makes it easy to buy musical ringtones right from your iPhone. This will eliminate the confusion when someone's iPhone alert goes off and everyone reaches for his or her phone!
Apple's iBookstore has been a big success, but I'm more of a periodical kind of guy. Perhaps it's because I write for iPhone Life magazine. I think the iPad shines when we use it to read up-to-the-minute content, rather than just replace a physical book. Newsstand brings the interface and usability of iBookstore to newspapers and magazines, and combined with Apple's new subscription mechanism, you can have the latest issue of supported periodicals automatically downloaded and ready to read!
Many of Apple's iOS 5 enhancements threaten to make existing apps obsolete, including those from small app developers. Indeed there are many apps that allow users to send text messages independent of the phone company. Apple has put both app developers and wireless service providers on notice (pun intended) with iMessage. Apple's iMessage lets users send messages (including photos, videos, contacts and locations) over the air, like SMS text messaging, but it's free and currently limited to iOS devices. You can also "see" when the recipient is typing a response!
Calendar and Location-based Reminders
It seemed obvious for location-based devices and alarms to come together, which is why other developers offered such apps. With Location-based Reminders, your iOS device alerts you when you enter or exit an area (i.e. crossing a geographic "fence") so you can remember to get the groceries, take your keys, close the garage door, etc. It's a nice idea, but would be even better if it could close that garage door for you! And yes, there are separate apps for that! Appointments and reminders leverage the iCloud, so you can create an appointment or reminder on one iOS and it will propagate to your other iOS devices.
If you can't beat them (see Ping, Apple's attempt at social networking), join them. Apple has wisely recognized the power and ubiquity of Twitter. Apple's apps can integrate directly with Twitter, and third-party apps will soon have the same integration as well. Users can share messages, media, use URL shortening and more.
For the hearing impaired, iOS 5 brings custom vibration and LED flash that can help provide alerts. VoiceOver is enhanced as well, making it easier for programmers to make their apps accessible to the visually impaired.
The email client makes it easier to compose, address mail, and search. The iPad even has a 'split' virtual keyboard that lets you grip it like a phone and use your thumbs to type!
When iOS 5 ships this fall, it will be a major step forward. And while it does "borrow" some features from Android and other mobile platforms, there's nothing wrong with recognizing areas of weakness and addressing them. Last year's models, specifically the iPhone 3GS, iPad, and iPod touch 3rd generation can all run the new version, breathing new life into old gadgets. The best mobile platform just got better. And when new apps come out leveraging the 2,000 new APIs in iOS 5, everything will get even better.
New Safari Browser!
Welcomed enhancements to Safari include tabbed browsing for faster switching between sites, and a reader mode which strips out ads and extraneous images to create a scrolling clutter-free view. Safari also adds a Reading List feature similar to Instapaper($4.99, app2.me/117), so you can select sites to read later offline.