iOS 5 and iCloud: It's About Time

If you were under a rock today, you missed a few key stories:

Mac OS X Lion has been available in beta for quite some time now. They made all of the features official today.  If you own a Mac (and you should at least be thinking about it), you should check out the details here. The big news: it'll be available ONLY through the Mac App Store for $29 and can be installed on up to 5 machines. The Home Premium 3-pack of Windows 7 for families sell on Amazon for $124.99 (and yes, it took me at least 10 minutes to figure out which "version" of Windows 7 to choose).
Put bluntly, Apple is taking a big step by doing a few things:
  • Showing the world that the Mac is a serious competitor to Windows.
  • Showing the world that it shouldn't cost much to upgrade to the newest Operating System.
  • Showing the world that it should not be difficult or confusing to update.
Apple = Winner, here. Not only is it better software, it's cheaper. (Apple is cheaper? Holy cow, Call Rev. Camping)
iOS5 was the next big update from Apple. It will release in the Fall, most likely right along with the new iPhone.
In the case of iOS5, they're catching up to a lot of features that Android (and yes, even Blackberry) handsets have had for awhile.

Among them:

  • Revamped notifications with an easy way to access them anywhere inside of the OS. (Thank the Lord)
  • iMessage: a direct iDevice to iDevice messaging system (and competitor to the popular Blackberry Messenger).
  • Deep Twitter integration into the OS. (Given, Android doesn't handle the Twitter integration in the same way that the new iOS will, but the effect will be the somewhat the same for the end user)
  • A hardware button for triggering the shutter button on the camera app. (I hear there is an inside joke in the Apple world that goes like this: You can tell which apps and processes in the Apple ecosystem that Steve uses and which ones he doesn't. The ones he uses on a daily basis are perfect and complete in every way.  The other ones sometimes seem to be convoluted and...missing something. I think it has been abundantly clear from the beginning of the iPhone days that Steve never took a lot of pictures of himself, or he would have found searching for that little digital camera button to be the worst experience in the world.)
  • Photo editing in the camera and photos app (this should have been shipped with the original iPhone).
  • And perhaps the biggest one, a true post-PC device. (Android has had the advantage since the T-Mobile G1) Also, see this article to experience what it is like to set up your new phone for the first time (if you've already had an account, etc).

In each and every case, Apple was behind the curve in its software offerings.  Though I haven't used the new iOS (I currently have it installed on my iPhone 3GS but no longer have a normal sized SIM card, thus it can't be activated or used...another change in iOS.  It used to be possible to use old iPhones as iPod touches, without activating them with a SIM card. Doesn't appear possible anymore, whether tethered to iTunes or not.), these updates seem to have been produced and designed well and will be welcome additions to the new OS. I have a feeling too, that there're reasons that Apple had not incorporated these features into the OS thus far. Therefore, I expect that these features will be all around better experiences than on most Android handsets.

Apple = Probable winner, here.

The BIG news: iCloud.

Many expected iCloud to be another music service, much like Amazon and Google have both released recently. If it works well, it's going to be much, much more than that. John Gruber says to think of it as the new iTunes.

It's a better version of iDisk (the current file sharing platform of MobileMe.)  It saves documents without the user even thinking about it. It updates them across devices. It saves contacts, calendars, etc across all devices. It updates them across devices. It saves your music that you've purchased through iTunes. It allows it all to be accessed across all devices. It saves every photo you take or import to every device. It syncs them and makes them available across all devices. If you ripped (or stole, I guess) music and iTunes carries those titles, you can let iTunes match the songs and albums you have.  Thus, they will be available for free download from iTunes on any Apple device. This costs $25 a year and appears to be limitless.  It requires no uploading of your library to a cloud, it requires no data cap, AND it gives you a higher encoded (better quality) version of the song. This, my friends, is the jackpot.

But I've got a few questions still, since it seems a bit strange to me:
  • In regards to music, it is essentially doing what it had been doing with Apps for awhile. If you bought a song, you can get it anywhere (even if you delete it) at any time.
    • This seems great, but it would be even better if it was integrated into the iPod app. This way, you could stream over the internet without having to download to a local device just to play. Though, I'll take this set up any day over the current situation.
  • When you log into an account with a new device, you can set it up with your Apple ID and password and it will download your backup of your device and sync all of your data, apps, contacts, email.  Essentially, you could lose your device, go to the store and buy a new one, log in, and your device would be exactly how you left it the night before when it backed up.
    • This is great.  EXCEPT, my wife and I are trying to use the same account. That way, when I buy an app, she can also download it for free (without having to pay for it). So can we both use the same iCloud account? Would that mean that any picture I take show up on her device too? Does that mean any song I buy will show up directly on her device too? Does that mean that any app she downloads show up on my device?  You can turn these features on and off, but I'd like the music I download to go to my iPad.  But I don't necessarily want it to go straight to hers. If we split accounts again (not that big of a deal), can she still log out of hers and log in to mine to get the app I just bought? Does the app then transfer to her iCloud account? It isn't clear, and seems unlikely.  With a $.99 app it doesn't matter, but with a $50 app it would.

This is a new look at the iTunes ecosystem and how we will all interact with it henceforth.  There is surely going to be some confusion, etc. Android had the backing of Google's widely used contacts, calendars and mail, but has not yet been able to fully integrate Google Docs and Picasa in a way as well done as iCloud is about to.

(It is important to realize that Google puts all of their eggs into the cloud idea.  NOTHING is stored locally, except for apps and small pieces of data...that if technically could be stored in the cloud alone, Google would choose to. Google's word processor: Google Docs. Google Docs is nice, but when you compare it to the new ecosystem that Apple's Pages will have with iCloud integration, it doesn't even compare. It will be interesting to see how Apple attempts to conquer Google Docs with multi-person/site file editing, the one thing Google Docs has on apps like Pages and Word.)

Apple = Winner, as long as it works.

We shall surely see.  I for one think it is a welcome upgrade.  None of it is as revolutionary as the iPad, but will make all of us iOS and Mac users much happier in accomplishing day to day tasks.

I can't wait.