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Apple Unveils iCloud, iOS 5, Mac OS X Lion

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Apple introduced revamped Mac OS X and iOS operating systems, along with iCloud for syncing multiple devices

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs took the stage at San Francisco’s Moscone Centre on 6 June to kick off his company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Following his introduction, a series of Apple executives detailed the upcoming Mac OS X “Lion” and iOS 5 operating systems, as well as the company’s iCloud service.

New features of Mac OS Lion include a baked-in Mac App Store, which offers access to a wide variety of full-screen apps. A spiritual descendent of the App Store long available for iOS devices like the iPhone and the iPad, the Mac App Store is perhaps one of the biggest examples of how Apple’s advances in mobile-device software are beginning to influence its work on laptops and desktops. Clicking the LaunchPad icon in the Mac’s dock will open a grid-like page of apps and folders reminiscent of iOS.

Full-screen apps

Lion will also offer full-screen apps, and the ability – via a feature called “Resume” – to restore an app to the same condition prior to logging out or restarting. With one click, individual windows within apps will zoom to full screen, and swiping the trackpad will allow users to cycle to other windows.

Another new feature, Mission Control, allows the user to “zoom out” of their desktop to a bird’s eye view of everything running on the system, including apps. From there, a single click will send the user into a running app.

Apple is also using Lion to jigger with some operating-system fundamentals, including scroll bars, which now remain visible only when in use. In yet another nod to its own work in mobility and touch interfaces, Lion’s trackpads now support an increased range of gesture control, including page and image zoom and full-screen swiping.

On the productivity side of the equation, Lion includes Auto Save and Versions. The latter is Time Machine for individual documents, allowing the user to revert to any number of previous versions with a single click. AirDrop wirelessly shoots files to other users, and FileVault keeps information secure with XTS-AES 128 data encryption – for both internal and external drives.

Lion will retail for $29 (£18), starting in July. Apple, in its fervent desire to pound as many nails as possible into the coffin of box-sold software, is making its newest operating system available for download via the Mac App Store.

iOS 5

Apple’s upcoming iOS 5 is a similarly broad-based update of a company operating system. Given the competitive pressures of Google Android, analysts and pundits have waxed philosophical over the past few months about the importance of this release to Apple’s fortunes in the mobility space. Certainly, the iPhone and iPad need to keep their software evolving in order to keep ahead of the growing family of increasingly sophisticated Android devices; Research In Motion’s BlackBerry franchise and Microsoft’s Windows Phone also show no sign of lying down and dying quite yet, although both of those rivals face the specter of declining market share.

During the 6 June presentation, Apple executives claimed that Apple has sold more than 200 million iOS devices and occupies some 44 percent of the operating-system market. Android defenders, start your blogging software.

In that spirit, iOS 5 is a major release. Apple has tinkered and refined its notifications screen, boosted iOS interoperability with Twitter, introduced a robust “iMessage” conversation platform (one that lets users carry a single conversation between their various iOS devices, and seems positioned as a competitor to RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger), and added a new feature called Newsstand will consolidate the user’s e-periodical subscriptions and download new issues in the device’s background. Safari Reader, the company’s app that presents articles in an ad-free and continuous frame, now has an iOS version.

A new Reminders app lets users keep track of their individual tasks; if a task is linked to a particular place, the iOS device’s geolocation feature and Reminders will link to remind you about the task while in that place.

For compulsive shutterbugs, iOS 5 will offer a camera shortcut accessible via the lock screen. In many ways, that echoes functionality already present in Microsoft’s Windows Phone, which lets the user take images without needing to unlock their device and manually access the camera app.

Apple has long promoted a vision of a “post PC” world, one in which mobile devices like the iPhone take precedence in users’ lives over the traditional PC. The company is taking that vision one step further with iOS 5, ensuring that iPads and iPhones no longer need a PC for initial setup or sync, with over-the-air software updates.

Apple will ship iOS 5 sometime this fall. Current rumours suggest that Apple will release the next version of the iPhone during that same timeframe.

iCloud

Near the end of the presentation, Jobs took the stage again to whip the curtain back from his company’s long-secret cloud initiatives. Apple’s free iCloud service will sync user content and push it to various devices via the cloud; it is integrated with apps, ensuring automatic updates; it will keep folders automatically updated. In Apple’s new world, contacts, calendar and mail are now cloud-centric features, with new messages and updates pushed to associated devices. As expected by some pundits, this service effectively replaces MobileMe.

Apple is also offering Documents in the Cloud, which automatically uploads any documents from Apple’s productivity software (including Pages, Numbers and Keynote) to the Apple cloud; from there, the document can appear on other devices loaded with Apple’s software. Photos will be uploaded to the cloud, as well.

Apple users’ music has also been given the cloud treatment, via a revamped iTunes. A single click will download a particular song or album to all the user’s devices. For those with lots of music not purchased via iTunes – i.e., music burned onto your Mac from CDs – a new service, iTunes Match, will allow access to those songs via Apple’s cloud for $25 per year.

Apple’s iCloud will apparently ship along with iOS 5 sometime this fall. And with that range of features, increased conflict with virtually every other competitor in the ecosystem – from Microsoft to Amazon – is inevitable.