Steve Jobs dazzles developers with new OSes, iCloud

Wow. I've been enjoying Apple keynotes for the better part of the last decade (hey, Steve Jobs is quite the showman), and today's Worldwide Developers Conference might have been the most densely packed of them all. I followed it via Engadget's liveblog. Over two long hours, Apple executives unveiled new feature after new feature, scarcely stopping for a breather.

It all started with Lion, the next Mac OS X release, which will be hitting the Mac App Store next month for the surprisingly low price of $29.99. (One purchase, by the way, will be good for all of your personal Macs.) Lion has been demoed before, so Phil Schiller walking everyone through the new features wasn't too terribly enthralling. Still, the highlights are worth pointing out. There's Mission Control for revamped window management, new multi-touch functionality that mirrors iOS, full-screen app support, an iOS-ifed Mail application, better App Store integration, AirDrop for no-brainer file sharing, and Resume and Auto-save, for those of us too lazy to save documents or set up their workspace after every reboot. Not bad for 30 bucks.

More exciting was iOS 5, which will roll onto iPads, iPhones (3GS and later), and iPod touch devices (third-gen or later) some time this fall. As expected, iOS will herald a magical and revolutionary way to deal with notifications: Notification Center, which you might recognize as a complete carbon copy of the Android notification panel, complete with a "swipe down from the top of the screen to open" gesture. Equally magical and revolutionary will be iMessage, Apple's attempt at a BlackBerry Messenger-style app for owners of iOS devices.

Other iOS 5 perks will include Twitter integration, a Reminders app to keep track of your to-do lists, an improved Mail app, and my favorite, an easier-to-access Camera app. You'll be able to open the Camera app right from the lock screen, and the "volume up" hardware button will double as a shutter release. That ought to make impromptu, spur-of-the-moment photography much less cumbersome—you know, kind of like how it was with my old Nokia five years ago. iPad users should be happy to see tabs in Safari, plus a new split/thumb keyboard input method that'll let you type without having to set the device down somewhere. Last, but not least, new iOS devices will no longer need to be activated through a Mac or PC, and future iOS updates will be delivered over the air. Bye bye, iTunes.

That last perk plays right into Apple's third big announcement, iCloud, which Steve Jobs heralded as a means to make the cloud, not a specific computer or device, the "center of your digital life." iCloud will be a means to shove MobileMe under the rug, too, because that service will be disappearing when iCloud goes live alongside iOS this fall.

iCloud will be free of charge and free of ads. It will sync purchases (app, books, and music), personal documents (via Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), photos, and preferences across iOS and Mac OS devices. For example, a user will be able to see all of his purchased songs from his iPhone and download ones that aren't stored locally. New photos will be automatically propagated across all of one's iDevices, and Apple will keep a user's last 1,000 pictures up in the cloud, provided they're stored in albums. (Unsorted photos will only be kept for 30 days unless the user puts them on a Mac or PC, apparently.) Engadget says Apple will be making iCloud APIs available to developers, so we may see third-party software take advantage of the functionality. Interesting.

Not even a packed-to-the-gills Apple keynote like this one was complete without a "one more thing" from Jobs. Today, that "one more thing" was iTunes Match, a direct answer to Amazon's Cloud Drive and Google Music. For $24.99 a year, iTunes Match will give users access to 256Kbps, DRM-free, AAC versions of songs they've ripped themselves (or pirated, presumably) on iTunes, with apparently no quantity limit. Songs obtained through iTunes Match will be usable across devices through iCloud, just like regular purchased songs. No uploading will be involved unless iTunes Match can't find iTunes versions of the user's songs.

Not everybody wants to pay for cloud access to their own music, mind you, but $24.99 a year for unlimited music with little or no uploading beats the heck out of the competition. To get, say, 40GB of music onto Cloud Drive, you'd have to shell out $50 a year and manually upload all of those songs.

As someone who owns a MacBook and an iPhone, I have to say I'm pretty excited about these latest developments. iOS is badly in need of an overhaul to keep up with the Joneses, and iOS 5 might just do the trick. iCloud ought to simplify my music management, too—while Scott doesn't care for the idea, I don't mind shelling out $25 a year (that's $2 a month, for crying out loud) to rest easy knowing I can get to my songs from anywhere. It's a matter of convenience, I suppose. Finally, OS X 10.7 Lion seems like an absolute no-brainer at $29.99. I just hope I can save it onto a thumb drive, because at 4GB, it won't exactly be a small download.

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