Apple’s iOS 5 is a major update that shouldn’t be overlooked in the midst of excitement about iCloud, writes Shane Richmond.
We don’t know for certain whether Apple will release a new iPhone this year. There might be a souped-up iPhone 4 - the iPhone 4S - or even an iPhone 5. Then again, there might be neither. One thing is for sure, iOS 5, the updated iPhone operating system, will make it feel like you have a new iPhone - or iPad or iPod touch.
Due for release in the autumn, iOS 5 was unveiled in San Francisco on Monday by Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, and some of the company’s senior executives. The headline-grabbing announcement was iCloud - the service that stores your documents, emails and even music on Apple’s servers, keeping all of your devices in sync - but the significance of iOS 5 should not be overlooked. This is an update that pulls Apple ahead of its rivals once again in some areas and catches up with them in others. Furthermore, it poses challenges to app developers and mobile phone networks alike.
There are features that Apple’s critics will sniffily point out were already being done elsewhere. Android, Google’s rival to the iPhone, has for some time now handled notifications better than Apple. The new iPhone notifications system is merely catching up, they will tell you. That underestimates Apple’s genius for seeing what someone else has done and making its own version, usually in a way that is simpler and more elegant than the original.
The third-party developers who build apps for Apple’s products aren’t immune from that treatment either. Several of the new features in iOS 5 are a threat to existing, successful apps. There’s Reminders, the to do list that manages your tasks and will even notify you based on your location. Pull into the supermarket car park and Reminders will send you a note about your grocery list. It’s a powerful tool and a direct threat to apps such as Things and Remember the Milk.
The new version of Safari, Apple’s web browser, comes with a feature called Reading List, which saves interesting web pages so that you can read them later and will perhaps draw customers away from Instapaper and Read It Later. Marco Ament, who built Instapaper, says that he hopes Reading List will give Apple users a taste for saving articles and that they will then be tempted to try the more powerful features in his product.
The lesson for developers is clear: be careful if you write an app that plugs a hole in Apple’s operating system. If Apple decides later to plug that gap itself, your app is finished unless you can offer more depth or that fits a niche interest group.
iOS 5 also makes Apple’s devices ‘PC free’ - there’s no longer any need to plug your new iPhone, iPad or iPod touch into a computer before you can use it. It will now work out of the box.
Possibly the boldest of the new features is iMessage, which will replace text messaging for many iPhone users and offers a tempting alternative to the BlackBerry Messenger, which has long been a key selling point of BlackBerry handsets, particularly for younger users, who don’t want to pay for texts. How will mobile network operators take the news that iPhone users will no longer need to send texts? We’ll see.
They will be comforted by the fact that iMessage works only between iOS users. That’s another feature of Apple’s announcements on Monday: the company has added more reasons for its customers to stay warm and cosy within the closed world it has created for them. That’s unlikely to please Apple’s critics but then Apple has seldom been interested in what its critics think.