On June 6, Apple unveiled iOS 5, the next version of the operating system powering iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and iCloud, a new system for storing and syncing data “in the cloud.” I won’t go into a long rehash of what is new because you can see that at Apple or any number of tech blogs such as Engadget, This is my next, or BGR. Instead I’ll just give my opinion on what is significant about these releases.
Post PC Era begins with iOS 5
The most interesting thing about the iOS 5 and iCloud’s introduction is that together they make iDevices truly independent of a PC (or Mac). Jobs spoke of the Post PC world when the iPad 2 was introduced earlier this year, and all the bloggers were quick to point out that you need a PC to use an iPad (or iPhone, or iPod Touch). But when iOS 5 is released this fall these devices will be independent. An iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch can be your only computer if you want. You can buy an iPad, take it out of the box and start using it. You can buy apps, download music, play Angry Birds, and anything else you would do with it. This is actually important as there are a growing number of people who only use a smartphone for Internet access. This opens iDevices up to a new audience.
iCloud either demotes the PC to “just another device” or promotes the iDevices to PC status. Whichever way you look at it, it means that iDevices and PCs are now peers that use the same data and can share it freely.
iCloud also makes “Post PC” devices more compelling by offering a way to store, backup, and share information without the use of a PC. Also, without any user interaction. What makes iCloud compelling is that you don’t have to think about it. Just use iCloud enabled apps and syncing just happens. (I’m sure iOS developers are pouring over the documentation to make sure their apps support this by time iOS ships this fall). The integration into apps makes iCloud different than Amazon and Google’s offerings which are essentially the same as DropBox; a hard disk in the cloud to manually manage.
Some of iCloud functionality can be accomplished today by using Google services with Exchange. Contacts and calendars sync almost immediately across as many iOS devices as you like.
iMessage is interesting in that Apple has created a way to keep users in their ecosystem much the same way that RIM uses on BBM to do the same. If you ask BlackBerry users why they don’t switch to another platform BBM will usually be the reason. Once iOS users connect with their iOS friends, switching to Android will become much harder. This is why they won’t open it up to use on other platforms.
Talk about iMessage replacing SMS is silly though, as SMS is used for more than just chatting with friends. SMS is the alert mechanism used from third parties to tell you things like your bank balance is low or you can get a free sundae at Ben & Jerry’s. iMessage may reduce the number of SMS messages sent by iOS users but it won’t totally obsolete it.
I find it interesting that Apple specifically chose to support Twitter so deeply within the OS as opposed to a more open system to tie into other social networks. Why not Facebook? Why not allow other networks to tap into this?
The other 198 new features of iOS are welcome and needed updates but, let’s face it, nothing earth shattering and in many cases it is just Apple playing catch up. Notification Center finally brings iOS to par with Android. The camera improvements match Windows Phone 7. All good things that I’m looking forward to, but certainly not a leapfrog over the competition.