WWDC roundup (Part 1): iOS 5

As mentioned previously, I will be covering some of the announcements from the recent Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). In this first part, I’d focus on iOS 5, the next operating system for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

This was actually the second thing covered at WWDC, with the first being Mac OS X Lion. However, I figured that there’s a lot more people interested in the changes to iOS, and hence to the iPhone than to the Mac, so I’d do this first.

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First up, some information:

1. When is it released?

Apple’s release date for the OS is ‘this Fall’, which is sometime in the third quarter of the year. Given that Apple usually has a special music event in September which unveils new iPods, and there isn’t any other events from WWDC to the end of fall, September seems like a likely date.

2. How much will it cost?

Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Yeah, it’s free.

3. Which iOS devices support the new OS?

The devices that are supported are the iPhone 3GS/4, iPod touch 3rd and 4th generation, iPad and iPad 2.

3 again. Seriously?

Well, according to Engadget, the iPhone 3GS running iOS 5 is missing photo editing and tabbed browsing in Safari.

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Apple revealed that iOS 5 will sport over 200 new features, and went on to present 10 in the keynote. Here are some of the more significant features and my thoughts on them:

Notification Center

This is one of the biggest improvements to the OS from a user standpoint: a unified place to store notifications for easy access. Owning to this storage, notifications are now less obstructive; they are just a small bar at the top of the phone.

Furthermore, the changes to the notifications allow for more notifications to be seen in the lock screen; currently notifications stack, causing previous notifications (seen or unseen) to be replaced by the newer ones. In iOS 5, the notifications are shown in a list with an icon of the app by the side — a great way to differentiate between notifications by different apps. Currently all notifications look the same except for the name of the app at the top of the blue bar.

The last nice touch to it is the ability to deal with notifications at the lock screen (i.e. when the phone is locked). One example is replying a call from the lock screen instead of having to unlock, go to the Phone app, click on Recents and scroll to the top and tap the missed call.

Why is this significant? Notification Center is great because often I’d receive a notification and close it, only to forget what it was, which means I’d forget what I was supposed to do. Furthermore, because I was receiving too much notifications, I switched off all of them, which means I was notifications-less, which wasn’t too good either. Now I can leave most of my notifications on, and not be worried about being interrupted in-my-face all the time.

iMessage

This is another biggie as it will help users save on SMS messages, which in turn saves them money. In Singapore, most plans have only 500 free SMS messages and it’s very easy to exceed that puny number*.

iMessage is like an SMS message, except it’s sent using your data over 3G or Wi-Fi, and does not add to your SMS message count. Think Whatsapp or BBM. And since our data is virtually free (most users have 12GB), iMessage can be considered free; Apple is not charging for it. Yet.

Basically, iMessage is built into the current Messages app. When you compose a message, it will switch** to become an iMessage if your recipient is an iMessage recipient. There’s no need to use another app (read: Whatsapp), no need to think if you should have Whatsapp-ed someone instead of texting etc. With the huge penetration of iOS devices in Singapore, this could potentially save users a lot on exceeded SMS messages.

Have I mentioned it will save me money?

Since it’s a message over data, it works like instant messaging (read: MSN chats) which allows you to send photos, videos, locations and contacts on top of text. It sports delivery receipts (to inform you that it’s sent) and read receipts (to let you know it’s read by the end user). There’s group messaging (I don’t think it’s group chat but we’d see) too and it works on any iOS 5 device. This means that you can chat with your friend who owns an iPad but not an iPhone, for free using iMessage.

Interestingly, following WWDC and the announcement of iMessage, Cult of Mac reported that Google might be doing the same thing. SMS is not going to be the same ever again.

Why is this significant? Two things. It will save me (and you) money, and it reduces the need for yet another messaging app. Previously, I left my IM app running on my phone so friends could MSN instead of SMS-ing me. Or I’d type a SMS message halfway only to switch to Whatsapp. There’s probably no group chat so Whatsapp will still be around, for now.

PC Free

One of the biggest bummer about owning an iOS device is the need to plug into a computer for activation prior to using it. With iOS 5, that is moot. Furthermore, one can do Over The Air (OTA — meaning wireless) syncing with — pay attention now — iCloud (more on that in part 3 of this installment) rather than your computer.

Why is this significant? Well, for some people their iOS devices are their own computers/networked device and having a computer makes it kinda redundant as it duplicates functionalities. Furthermore, can you imagine that you want to do a backup, and have to switch on your computer just to do that? This feature makes owning an iOS device much more desirable, convenient, and also makes having to own a home Wi-Fi network more compelling (not exactly a good thing though). Or you could use your neighbor’s.

Reminders

This is a very simple thing, and it’s something third-party apps have been offering for the longest time. Two things stood out in Apple’s approach though. First, it’s made by Apple meaning it’s going to be there out of the box. No more searching for a reminder app; just use what Apple has given unless it’s too simple for you. The second thing that stood out was the ability to tag your to-dos’ to location, especially differentiating between having a notification ‘when I arrive’ or ‘when I leave’.

Why is this significant? Well, as long someone has an iOS 5 device, and an iPhone especially, he doesn’t really have a reason to forget something.

Camera

Currently, to take a photo on your iPhone you’d need to unlock it, navigate to the app, click on the app. In iOS 5, one can take photos even when the phone is locked as he is able to access the Camera app from the lock screen. He is also able to use the volume-up button as a trigger in landscape mode. Lastly, Apple added simple editing to the Camera app.

Why is this significant? Photos on mobile are already becoming popular due to its ubiquitous nature and the advent of social-photo services/apps like Instagram. Making it simpler just means that we are going to see a lot more mobile photos. For some people, they might never consider owning a compact digital camera anymore. The addition of the volume-up button as a physical button for photo taking will also cause more photos to be in landscape format (now quite a number of photos and videos are in portrait orientation simply because of the way the device is held), and reduce potential motion shake (you are not going to tap the screen anymore, potentially pushing the phone forward).

Airplay Mirroring for iPad 2

This is huge for educators. When the iPad 2 was released, one of the biggest thing about it was video mirroring, meaning it could be plugged into a projector and have whatever you see on the iPad shown to your audience. With apps that can do PDF annotation, drawing and others, one might never have to consider owning a tablet PC or a visualizer. However, one was still tied to to the front of the classroom because of the cable.

Not anymore***.

Why is this significant? Classrooms with networked projectors will find this a boom because teachers can now move around freely without being tied to the front of the classroom. Teachers will no longer be content just having a presenter to control your slides from the back of the class; instead we’d be looking at a full fledged working platform in their hands. Or imagine presentations in the office. Things will never be the same.

FaceTime

FaceTime in iOS 5 can work over 3G. Previously you’d have to jailbreak it.

Why is this significant? Lovers and parents can now video chat without a Wi-Fi network, which is good because I believe a little video occasionally helps. The downside is that it will stress our network more; I hope our carriers are ready for this. By the way, according to 9to5 Mac, FaceTime uses about 3MB of data per minute of usage.

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That’s all for part 1! Keep a lookout for part 2 covering Mac OS X Lion coming soon this week.

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*Some of you might know of Singtel’s SMSMore service, which allows you to SMS to other Singtel customers for free. There’s two caveats though: The first and most important one is that the plan kicks in only AFTER your plan’s SMS messages are used up. Consider a hypothetical situation (I know it’s impossible but it underscores my point) where you sent 1000 SMS messages, of which the first 500 were to Singtel customers and the next 500 to other subscribers. Since SMSMore only kicks in after your 500 is used up, it’s virtually useless here; you will still have to pay for the next 500. The second caveat is a cap of 600 free SMS messages.

**Ars Technica wrote a great article about the differences between a normal SMS and an iMessage. I’m not sure what happens if you compose a rich message (as in with photos and location and all that) only to send it to a SMS only phone, instead of an iMessage recipient; my guess is that the message will not be sent, but only an actual release can answer that..

***The caveat is that you’d need Apple TV to run it, but hey, it’s much smaller and lighter than a laptop/tablet PC. The other thing is I’ve honestly not seen an Apple TV in Singapore yet.

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Further readings:

Apple’s iOS 5 page

PCWorld: The 5 Best Features of Apple’s iOS 5

Ars Technica: Some compelling iOS 5 features you may have overlooked

MacWorld: iOS 5: What you need to know

Macstories: iOS 5: 8 Other Features We Love

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Part 2 on OS X Lion can be found here.

 

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