So here we are again, waiting and watching and hoping for that magical thing to be released by Apple at this year's World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC).
Apple sent out a press release a couple days ago confirming what all of us Apple Nerds have been saying for weeks — iCloud, iOS5, and OSX Lion.
No New Phone
This will apparently be a software-heavy WWDC, no new iPhones or anything. Quite frankly, that's fine with me. My wallet and gear bag can't handle another gadget right now. If Apple gets off the historical yearly refresh of the things they make, I may tend to be more selective with what I buy. Or not.
Back to WWDC… And my semi-annual probably-gonna-get-it-all-wrong pundit-a-thon!
That is a trademarked phrase, so don't try to steal it.
Let's go step-by-step. Ooh baby… (sorry, that was an NKOTB throwback) Starting with
A ship date will be announced and someone who is not Steve Jobs will do a way-too-long demo of how nifty it is. ("Look, a new Finder icon!") Despite developer NDA's, there have been hundreds of screenshots of what's new in Lion. Really good stuff, but not all shiny-excitedy. Just search Flickr for OSX Lion and you'll see. It is a major update, and should cost $129. But they'll probably sell it for $49.
I think $29 is too low. That is what the Snow Leopard update was, but that was a minor update. Lion is a major overhaul. Apple likes to make sure that everyone is on the same page, Borg-style. So, they make things like OS upgrades dirt cheap.
Let's get to the good stuff.
Rumors have been swirling about iCloud. Apple's North Carolina Data Center is finally done being built, and now we know why. iCloud is known (according to the invite to WWDC) to be a streaming service. The question is what will they stream? Apple has signed deals with all the major music labels, so that's a no brainer. Will movies and TV shows follow? Google and Amazon already have streaming services. I actually switched to buying mostly Amazon mp3 tracks long ago. Their Cloud Storage streaming is a nice free bonus. The problem with Google and Amazon's offerings is that they just did it with no record label deals. They treat their clouds as a giant hard drive. You have to take the time to upload whatever you buy or already own to the service. Chris Breen calls this a "passive locker". I agree with Breen and others that Apple's will be an "active locker". You don't have to do anything. The service is the active one. You just put in your iTunes password, and Apple will know what you own based on your iTunes library's XML file. The XML file uploads in seconds and is basically a list of what you have, the ratings and playcounts, and that sort of info. Not the actual song file. So in a matter of seconds, your "locker" is populated with everything you own, assuming Apple already has a copy of it. With the proper licensing in place from the record labels, Apple's copy of the song could stream to anyone who can prove they own it through iTunes. That's a sweet deal.
Today's latest round of speculation circles around a new Time Capsule. Remember those? Yeah, nobody else does either. The Time Capsule is an Airport Extreme wifi router with a built in hard drive for Time Machine backups. The problem is, it is terribly slow and the first batch had a terrible habit of dying and losing all your data.
Apparently, they're working on a new one that is connected to iCloud and also caches software updates. You know that little pop-up you get every once in a while that says you have updates available? Those will go away. The Time Capsule will automatically download system updates (and presumably updates from Apple software and things bought through the Mac App Store) and just push them to your Lion-equipped computer next time you connect. I'm guessing it will do the same for iOS5 equipped portables.
I can't decide whether iCloud will be part of MobileMe or a separate service. My first thought is that MobileMe will go free and iCloud will be $25-50 a year. I've been a MobileMe user since 2006 when it was .Mac. It's a credible way to keep all my Macs (4 at the moment), my iPhone and my iPad all in sync with contacts and calendars and what-not. But Google does all that for free. Apple should too.
Disclaimer: I am a registered and active iOS developer. I have no inside information and have not seen iOS5 or anything related to it. I'm just reading the RSS like you.
Notifications: If Apple does nothing else but fix notifications on iOS 5, I will be happy. Here's a common scenario: I'm watching Dr. Who on Netflix and I get a notification that someone on Twitter started following me. @jimmylittle if you're wondering. I love new followers, but don't tell me now! The pop-up pops up, which causes the video to pause. In order to get back to what I was doing, I have to hit "Cancel" on the pop-up, tap the screen to bring up the Netflix controls, tap "Play", then tap the screen again to make the controls disappear. That's 4 taps to dismiss a notification and get back to what I was doing.
Here's another one: I'm typing my little heart out with my thumbs. I can hit about 40 words per minute on an iPhone, by the way. All of a sudden, I get a notification. Unfortunately, my lightning-fast thumbs have hit the "Cancel" button because it popped up right over the keyboard. Now, the notification went away before I could even see what App it was. I have nowhere to go check for missed notifications, so I have to stop what I'm doing and swipe through my home screens looking for a little red dot. All this to find out somebody checked into the taco cart on FourSquare. I don't care about that now. Let me work.
I really like this concept video. Just turn off your sound. The background music is asinine.
Here's more of what I'm looking for in iOS5:
Better Search and Widgets: Making it more Dashboard-like. I never use Dashboard on the Mac, but it can be really useful on a phone. I saw a rendering of a concept that I really liked. I wish I'd bookmarked it so I could link it. At the top of the screen was a search box, and the screen was filled with Widgets. You can swipe right to get to your home screens, left to get to the widget screens. Search is available on any widget screen.
UPDATE: That concept video on YouTube
Better Task Switching: Bring on the Exposé! A 9-thumbnail grid of live views of your apps is available if you Jailbreak. It works wonderfully and is great when you can't remember if you were typing in that notes app or that other notes app. A live preview tells you a lot more than an icon. While you're at it, put a search box on the top of that screen, too. A search will never be more than a double tap of the home button away!
Wireless Syncing: I know it's tough. I know it's slow. But it is so useful! With MobileMe and iCloud working together, I shouldn't have to plug in to get app updates or to backup. It should just happen when I'm on my home network. Even if I have to buy one of those new Time Capsules to enable wireless sync, I'll do it.
Twitter/Facebook Integration: Now that Twitter has announced it's own photo sharing service, it'll be a lot easier to upload. It sucks for third party services like yFrog and Twitpic, but now Apple and others can just add a "Tweet This" button to the photo app. Maybe send to Facebook, also. But I hate Facebook, so I digress…
Podcast Subscriptions: They're called PODcasts, for pete's sake! They were invented for the iPod! So tell me why, in 2011, I can't subscribe to and update podcasts on my device. I want to hit "Update All", just like in the App Store, and download my podcasts. Even better, I want to tell my iThing to download podcasts every night at 3:00 AM if I'm on wifi.
Messaging App: Apple has Push Notifications. Apple has hundreds of millions of mobile users. Apple has a ton of cash. They can side-step the cell industry all together and build a data-only messaging app. I know what you're saying, "The carriers would never allow it! Blasphemy!!" But I say to you: BBM. That's right. RIM's Blackberry Messenger is huge and does not use SMS at all. SMS is a huge rip-off. Apple can make it's own Messaging network, but make it better. Integrate Twitter DM's, SMS, and Apple Messages. Hell, even Windows Phone can integrate Twitter and SMS.
There are 50 more things I'd like to see in iOS5, but some of those things I'm working on Apps for, so let's hope they don't take it too far.
Let's see how it goes. I may be blogging or tweeting the WWDC Keynote on June 6. Maybe not. A lot of people already do that better than me. MAybe just a snarky comment or two…
Redundancy is just superfluous.