Monday, June 6, 2011

Apple lays outs its new software offerings for developers at WWDC opening event; free iCloud service introduced

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, along with key Apple executives today introduced major new software updates for Mac operating system, as well as its mobile iOS. In addition, Apple took the wraps off its new iCloud system.

Received like the rock star he has become, Steve Jobs kicked off Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference at Moscone Center by letting participants know that today's event would be all about software. Phil Schiller, SVP WW Product Marketing, and Craig Federighi, VP OS X Software, kicked things off with a tour of Lion, Apple's latest version of the Mac OS.

According to the presentation, the newest version of the Mac OS X will contain 250 new features, ten of which were demoed at today's event:

1) multitouch gestures available through your Mac's trackpad, or track pad accessory; 2) Full screen apps; 3) Mission Control, retake on Expose; 4) updates to the Mac App Store bringing it right into Lion; 5) Launchpad, a way of allowing users to quickly access and launch apps; 6) Resume, a way from programs to relaunch where the user left off before quitting; 7) Auto Save controls; 8) Versions, a sort of Time Machine for documents where users can retrieve previous versions of their work; 9) Air Drop, a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi-based network, essentially Dropbox built into the Mac OS; 10) and finally, a new version of Mail, Apple's email management app that adds a "Conversations" view.

(The "Versions" feature could be very useful for reporters and editors who need to write drafts of stories on the fly and will need to archive past versions.)

The new OS will only costs users $29.99 and will be available exclusively through the Mac App Store, eliminating the ol' CD way of installing upgraded OS's. The launch dates for Lion is sometime in July.

During the preview of iOS 5, Steve Jobs mentioned that so far the company has sold more than 25 million iPads. Though this number is impressive, it may be below many sales estimates, including my own.

Steve Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone Software, walked developers through ten of the more than 200 updates to the Apple mobile operating system:
1) Notifications will be getting an updates UI through Notification Center that will let users access their notifications instantly and from any place without being disruptive; 2) Newsstand, a single place in the App Store that combines newspapers and magazines that allows for background loading of content; 3) Twitter integration into apps, though this may depth of integration may prove less than what many anticipated; 4) a new version of mobile Safari (sorry, still no Flash) that includes Safari Reader, a sort of built-in Instapaper/Read It Later, as well as a tabbed experience similar to the desktop version; 5) Reminders, a list generation feature for such things as grocery lists; 6) Camera updates that will now allow users to use volume up button to take pictures, as well as other in-app enhancements like grid lines for composing shots, built-in editing, and photo enhancements; 7) Mail will get an update that includes search and composition aid features, as well as a built-in dictionary that all apps will now be able to access; 8) PC Free, freeing up iOS devices from having to sync through their computers, a much requested features from those who are using their mobile devices in lieu of a home PC; 9) Game Center, which now has 50 million users, will get an update; and 10) iMessage, a new messaging system between iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) which works on both 3G and WiFi and which will include deliver and read receipts – essentially BlackBerry Messenger for iOS devices.

Other features mentioned by not demoed include wireless AirPlay mirroring and WiFi syncing through iTunes. The developer "seed" will be available immediately and the ship dates is the fall, probably in line with the newest version of the iPhone.

One recurrent theme of the presentation was that Apple is adding features to its iOS that many developers have created apps for in the past – such as reading features, Reminders or the new camera features. Many developers won't happy that they are being edged out by Apple, but it is inevitable that Apple would want to incorporate popular features directly into its iOS platform.

Steve Jobs reserved the introduction of iCloud for himself. As Jobs described it, the problem solved by iCloud is syncing media such as music and photos between devices.

iCloud stores the users content, and makes it available to all your devices, "it just works" Jobs said. iCloud will be integrated into apps so that the process is more seamless.

iCloud will involve nine apps, incorporating the three basic apps found in MobileMe: Contacts, iCal and Mail. Calendars will be able to be shared and updated so that an update to a personal calendar can be shared instantly with others (who also have iOS devices). Three other basic apps will also be part of the service: App Store, iBooks and Backup, a once daily backup of essential data.

The final three new apps are 1) Documents in the Cloud, a Dropbox-like feature, that is already built into the new versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, and that can be added into third party apps by developers; 2) Photo Stream, which brings cloud storage and sharing to photos, basically an iCloud version of the Gallery app currently part of MobileMe, will automatically store the last 1,000 photos for 30 days; 3) iTunes in the Cloud, the main event for many, a media storage service that will let iOS owners share their media wirelessly.

The final piece of the iCloud presentation introduced iTunes Match, a way consumers who already own music not bought through iTunes can access their content wirelessly. iTunes Match will cost consumers $24.99 per year.

Developers will be able to get a Beta immediately and iCloud will go live for consumers in the fall with the release of iOS 5.

Although the keynote did not reveal any bright new shiny devices, it contained an incredible amount of news important for developers, and lasted one minute shore of two hours. For Mac and iOS device owners, and for developers of media applications there will be a lot to digest.