Apple [AAPL] today showed us what it has been working on for the last five years, as it made three key announcements which will inform its post-PC strategy for the next stage of its switched-on computer platform plans.
Notifications mean you'll get the memo
I wrote here about Apple's next Mac OS release, Lion. Today the company also talked about iOS 5, the software foundation for the next year of its strategic play at the mobile industry -- and the company hopes the features it described today (and those it's keeping under its chest) will be enough to see off the Android leviathan -- even while the firm carves yet more chunks out of RIM's market share with iMessages (see below).
"iOS 5 has some great new features, such as Notification Center, iMessage and Newsstand and we can't wait to see what our developers do with its 1,500 new APIs," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "Perhaps iOS 5's paramount feature is that it's built to seamlessly work with iCloud in the Post PC revolution that Apple is leading."
With iOS 5 and iCloud, you just enter your Apple ID and password and iCloud will seamlessly integrate with your apps to automatically and wirelessly keep all of your mail, contacts, calendars, photos, apps, books, music and more, up-to-date across all your devices without ever having to connect to a computer.
iOS 5 will introduce over 200 new features, said Apple's senior vice president iOS Software, Scott Forstall. I'm pleased to report the software will support the iPhone 3GS (contrary to some expectations), as it will the iPhone 4, iPad's one and 2 and both third and fourth-generations of iPod touch.
Forstall revealed the much-requested wireless sync feature. This will include Wi-Fi sync to iTunes. When it comes to software, your apps will update over the air, with only changed elements updated. You also get AirPlay mirroring, as that new Lion element becomes an important building block for Apple's available everywhere vision.
[ABOVE: Watch out RIM -- Apple's new 'iMessages' feature is on the way.]
Apple also took a stab at Research In Motion's landmark feature: messages. Apple's new iMessage client lets iOS users share text, photos, videos and contacts.
It lets you check if a message has arrived, and also tells you if someone is typing a message for you. It also works above most of the apps you are in, so you can see a message arrive, but you don't necessarily need to leave your app to read it. These messages are, of course, encrypted. RIM will be concerned.
Apple has sold over 200 million iOS devices so far, Forstall said, citing data which showed RIM with 19 percent, Android 28 percent, 'Other' nine percent and iOS 44 percent mobile market share. The executive claimed this data showed iOS as the world's 'number one' mobile OS, but I suspect that's going to be disputed -- it's still a strong audience for any developer
Statistics are always worth a look, and here's some of Forstall's favorites:
15 billion songs sold through iTunes,
130 million books downloaded via the iBookstore,
435,000 available app store apps,
and 90,000 apps specifically for the iPad.
And Apple users have downloaded "more than 14 billion apps from the App Store," he explained.
Statistics are meaningless if they don't equate to anything in the real world, you know, the one beyond the statistician's desktop. WWDC is an event for developers, so Forstall confirmed Apple has so far paid out over $2.5 billion to developers. Which is somewhat dwarfed by the company's most recent second quarter net profit of $5.99 billion, I feel.
Confirming days of expectation, Apple introduced a new notifications system, via a new feature called Notifications Center. This Android-matching feature lets you access all your notifications in a list view, with more information shown on the iPhone's status display. You can access any notification in the lock screen simply by swiping your finger, which takes you directly to the relevant app. You can also choose which apps are able to alert you. People watching the demo described these new features as very effective.
In another announcement, Apple introduced Newsstand. This ties in nicely with all those publishers seeking to use the company's mobile platform as a platform (sic) for distribution of their titles. You get access to all available magazines and newspapers via this new app.
The effect? If you want something to read, you'll have one place to go, and while publishers will no doubt be handing over 30 percent of their takings for the rights to publish via this platform, for end users it will make it incredibly easy to find something relatively easy to read. I expect this idea will work quite well -- boosting casual digital periodical purchases.
The Twitter connection
Apple has made an aggressive move into social networking, while remembering its strengths, reaching what could be seen as a partnership position with Twitter (and raising a lot of takeover speculation as it does)
"Next is Twitter. Now as I'm sure everyone is familiar, this is an incredibly popular service. We want to make it even easier for our customers to use it on iOS. First, we're adding single sign-on," said Forstall.
Twitter now integrates within many of Apple's own apps, including Camera or Photos -- this ties in nicely with Twitter's new image sharing features. You can Tweet from Safari, from YouTube, or from Maps. Apple has also added integration with contacts, so you can find your friends or update their Contacts book image live from Twitter's photo stream.
Mobile Safari improved again
Safari accounts for 64 percent of mobile browser usage. In iOS 5, Safari gets a new Reader view. This will automatically reformat pages you come to on your iPhone for easier reading. You can also email story contents. You also get Apple's implementation of a third party solution called Read It Later, which Apple calls, "Reading List". This syncs between iOS and OS X and lets you read. it. later. Full tab browsing, Reminders, much-improved To-Do lists and location-awareness are also coming to the iOS browser.
Watching Forstall's keynote caused some consternation on Twitter, with developers pondering the oft-repeated claim, "Apple eats its young". "Are any of the iOS announcements today NOT going to be about Apple elbowing many existing apps out of the market?" one developer asked.
Take the new Camera app.
Now accessed using an easy shortcut from the IPhone's lock screen, the app lets you take a picture using the volume up button with no need to unlock your phone -- basically you might get that snapshot next time. If you hold your finger over a piece of the scene, "we'll set the auto focus and exposure to lock," Forstall said. Camera also offers editing tools, including cropping, red eye reduction and quick image enhancements, causing some developers to note the resemblance to the popular Camera+ app.
Additional enhancements will include:
Dictionary support across all apps
Mail sees a plethora of improvements, including rich text formatting, indentations, flags and the capacity to search full content of messages.
Much improved enterprise support for secure email
A split keyboard -- so you can type with your thumbs (iPad only, for some reason....).
50 million Game Center users -- new features include Achievement points, game discovery, friends of friends, and better support for turn-based games.