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Lions, and iClouds, and iOS Updates, Oh My!

June 5th at WWDC in San Francisco, Apple announced their latest updates to Mac OS X, and iOS for mobile devices, as well as the new iCloud service that replaces MobileMe and further integrates all your computing and mobile devices. I was again glued to my MacBook watching each update roll in from the guys at MacWorld.

Mac OS X Lion
So, the features to Lion weren't any great surprise as most of them had been rumored at some point or another, but the July release and the $29.99 upgrade price tag was a huge surprise! It was nice to hear about the demos and see some still shots of the keynote to understand more fully how these new features, like Mission Control and LaunchPad, actually function. Then there's Full Screen Apps - no more scrollbars? Really? That's an interesting concept and not one I'd ever really thought of. I mean, how many times do you sit at your computer and say, "gee, I really wish I could swipe my fingers across my trackpad and move the pages like I do on my iPad instead of using a scrollbar." Not too exciting for me, personally.

Now, how about AutoSave and Versions? Those sound like really useful new features! Versions actually gives you a Time-Machine-like interface for browsing through all the versions of a file using a timeline. However, if you want to send that file to someone, it will only send the latest and greatest. So, no fear of sending the draft of what you REALLY wanted to say in your annual review.

AirDrop is another feature that seems like it could be extremely useful. It allows you to drop files to other users on a peer-to-peer based wi-fi network. It uses auto-discovery and requires no setup. Files are also encrypted for security. There are also updates to Mail that may be of interest, if you are a fan of that app.

Here's the list of the top ten new or improved features (out of about 200) that were covered in the keynote address, just in case you missed it:

  1. Multi-touch Gestures
  2. Full Screen Apps
  3. Mission Control
  4. LaunchPad
  5. Resume
  6. AutoSave
  7. Air Drop
  8. Mail
  9. Versions
  10. Mac App Store

iCloud
You've probably heard of "cloud computing" before, and knew that MobileMe was Apple's first attempt at cloud computing, but did you use it? Not me. Not going to pay for that service, no thanks. Enter iCloud. Apple's new iCloud is a completely revamped approach to cloud computing and replaces their current MobileMe service. And, it's FREE. That's right, completely free. There's some speculation that they may come out later with additional server space as a paid option (the free service includes 5GB of space and does not count the space used for Photo Streaming), but for now, there is no cost. The iCloud service is integrated into apps like Contacts, Calendar, and Mail so that your changes are automatically saved 'to the cloud' no matter which device you make them on, and pushes them out to all your other devices. Their comments stated that this relegates the computer to the role of "just another device" rather than your main hub of information. Apple calls this "more than just a hard drive in the sky." With features like Photo Stream and the ability to share your iTunes purchased music across all of your devices, I'd have to agree. It's more like "your genie in the sky." But, you knew there would be some catch somewhere, right? Okay, you're right and it shows up in iTunes. You get to share all of your iTunes purchased songs across your devices via iCloud, but what about that extensive library of ripped songs? Out of luck? Well, not entirely. There are some options, including manually uploading each and every song. Or, you can use the iTunes Match service (here's the catch) for $24.99 per year. iTunes will then search your entire music library and match up your songs to the upgraded iTunes 256kbps AAC DRM-free version and put it in your library in the cloud to share across all your iCloud-enabled devices. Similar services announced by Amazon and Google can take weeks to upload all your songs, they do not upgrade the music to the better version, and Amazon's service costs twice as much for up to 6,000 songs, and jumps to $200 for up to 20,000 songs. Apple's price is $24.99 no matter the number of songs. Google has not yet announced their pricing.

Additionally, there is a document feature built into Pages, Numbers and Keynote that allows you to make updates to a document that is saved to iCloud, on any of your iCloud enabled devices, and immediately see the changes on all of your other devices. It's a simple click of a button in any of those apps. This can all be turned off, of course, if you choose not to use the iCloud service, but why would you? Okay, yes, there are the potential security risks or, maybe you are just paranoid, but come on, it seems pretty cool - in theory. Plus, they built that great new building with all those servers just waiting for your command.

iOS 5 for Mobile Devices

The other announcement involves the iOS for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. This version of iOS is slated for a fall release, and a developer seed was released the day of the announcement. The new features of this version include:

  1. Notification Center - no more annoying interruptions by notifications while you are on a call or sending an email. You can now go to the Notification Center and see all your recent notifications and address each one individually.
  2. Newsstand - find all your magazine and newspapers in one place in an iBooks-like interface.
  3. Twitter integration - if you are a Twitter fanatic, you're going to love this one. Twitter will now be integrated with Safari, Camera, Photos, YouTube, Maps and Contacts for instant tweet-ability of just about anything.
  4. Safari - this one was most interesting to me. They've added the Safari Reader that allows you to bring a site into one page that is easier to read on your i-device, and even email it if you want. You also have an option to save pages to a Reading List that you can go back to at a later time to finish reading. The list is available from your Mac or PC, and all your other iOS devices. The other major improvement is Tabbed Browsing (queue the Hallelujah Chorus!).
  5. Reminders - this is another feature that I LOVE! I've been very reliant on my Calendar app or the Alarm app on my iPhone for basic reminders. This is one I'll definitely be using. Yes, I realize there are third-party solutions for this, but I'm just too busy to find one. Reminders will also be searchable. Oooh, ahhh.
  6. Camera - there will be a shortcut on the lock screen to allow you to take a photo without having to unlock the device. Thank goodness! Can't tell you how many photo opportunities I've missed while trying to enter my password. You can also now use the up-volume button to take a photo. Another nifty new feature is the ability to do basic photo editing right on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.
  7. Mail - I use Entourage and web-based email, so this isn't very exciting for me, but it might make me move to Mail based on the new features. Features include things like rich text formatting, full-text searching,  as well as a built-in dictionary.
  8. PC Free - this is another fun one. No longer do you have to plug your new iPad or other i-device into your computer and set it up through iTunes. Thanks to PC Free and iCloud, you can do the setup right on the new device, and everything that you have in the cloud will automatically populate your new device. Whoo hoo! According to Apple, they are "ushering in the post-PC world."
  9. Game Center - a few improvements here including profiles, in game purchasing, and added support for turn-based games like Scrabble. Can you tell I'm not a gamer? If you are, I'm sure you'll find the upgrades to Game Center to be beneficial.
  10. iMessage - here's another fun one that will have app developers holding their breath and turning blue. It's not clear if this replaces the texting feature currently on the iPhone or not, but iMessage will be available across iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. It works over both 3G and wi-fi. No more reliance on SMS based messaging!

There's a lot here, I know, and more will be coming out throughout the summer, you can be certain. So please be sure to check our articles area frequently, or better yet, sign up for RSS notifications. http://www.quepublishing.com/articles/index.aspx