No New Hardware
Apple had been unusually proactive in hinting that there would be no new hardware announced at WWDC. But still the gadget blogs were disappointed. The original iPhone hardware was exciting, I’ll admit that. But since then, the hardware changes have been minor and incremental. A new iOS version will also have significantly larger impact on the iPhone ecosystem since more than a hundred million customers will enjoy the new features and benefits immediately, whereas a new iPhone will only benefit a small fraction of that.
The architecture decisions Apple made with iCloud are quite interesting and are in many cases in stark contrast to their competitors’ vision of “the cloud”.
- The PC has been demoted to just another device that syncs with the cloud. The PC is no longer the center of the universe (Microsoft’s dogma). iCloud is another big step towards the post-PC world.
- Syncing is between smart devices and these devices are the primary means to access your data. Compare this with Google’s idea that you put all your data on their servers and then access it via a browser. Yes, Google provides APIs to access your data, but in the big picture they really want you to use a browser so they can shovel ads at you along with your data.
- There is no streaming of audio or video from iCloud. A one-time sync of data places a lot less load on the network. This reduces the operating costs of Apple’s server farm, as well as the mobile operators’ wireless networks. Since you need to still keep your media on all your devices, you are “encouraged” to keep upgrading to larger storage capacity every year or so. More hardware sales for Apple.
- iCloud is primarily a storage cloud and not a computing cloud like Amazon’s EC2 and many other companies’ computing cloud offerings.
- With the iCloud API Apple will harness the energy and ingenuity of the iOS developer community to tie customers even closer to iCloud and Apple’s ecosystem.
- In the context of iCloud it makes total sense that Apple recently released versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Many reviewers were at the time asking: why would you want to compose large documents on such a small device. The idea is that you should be able to pick up any one of your devices, or sit down at your computer, and continue working on your document. With the API Apple wants us developers to do the same with our apps for iOS and Mac. The emphasis in OS X Lion on not having to explicitly save your documents, also makes a lot more sense in the iCloud context.
- Since the basic iCloud service is free, developers can assume that practically all of their customers will have iCloud. This is very important. Compare this with the “workarounds” developers have resorted to in the past with using MobileMe or Dropbox for syncing data.
- Another interesting iCloud benefit is backups for iOS devices. How this will work in practice over wireless networks remains to be seen. Obviously you will not be sending 8/16/32/64 GB of data for the backup. In checking my current iTunes backups (~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup) it looks like I have 0.5 – 1.5 GB of data backed up for each of my 32 GB devices that are filled to the limit with apps and data. App binaries are not part of the backup. Just as your local iTunes has a copy stored of all your apps, Apple certainly has a copy too on their iTunes servers. I just hope they keep old versions of apps around so that you’re not forced to upgrade to the latest version if you need to do a restore.
- What will happen to battery life when your device is constantly syncing iCloud data and making backups in the background?
- Apple did not talk about sharing iCloud data between customers. This severely limits the use of iCloud for collaborative work. I’m sure Apple is already thinking about this. But for now services like Dropbox still have a niche.
- iCloud is the next big step in the platform evolution. First Apple perfected app sales and distribution with the App Store, and they still have the most number of apps. But Apple has moved on. Even if/when the Android Marketplace reaches or surpasses the number of iOS apps, it matters less if the Android platform can’t do what iCould offers.
Lots of new and interesting stuff in iOS 5. As Marco Arment calls it: The iPhone feature-checklist steamroller.
- iMessage – Mostly interesting because it transparently bypasses the carriers’ antiquated and ridiculously expensive SMS system. Another land grab by Apple. Nice touch that the carriers first learned about this at the keynote, just like everybody else.
- Newsstand – One of our larger clients is in the magazine business, so this announcement caused some heart palpitations before we realized that Newsstand is mostly a glorified folder that shows recent magazine covers from other apps that you have installed on your device. The background downloading is nice though. Wish Apple would extend that as a general service to all apps.
- Reminders – This is an odd app from Apple. Geolocation aware reminders/alerts is certainly cool. But what’s the bigger play for Apple here?
- Twitter integration – Single sign-on to Twitter is nice. From the screenshots it looks like you can add multiple Twitter accounts. I think this opens the path for single sign-on to multiple other services in the future. Facebook is the obvious one. Now that Twitter received a boost in the battle for global identity management, maybe Facebook will come to terms with Apple too.
- Safari Reading List – Another feature pioneered by third party developers becomes part of iOS. I don’t see any reason to switch from Instapaper.
- Cut the cord – This is probably the most important new feature in iOS 5. It will open the market to millions of people who want to use an iPad as their only home computer. And to millions (billions?) more who live in countries where computers are generally uncommon.
WWDC Sessions and Labs
Everything that took place after the public keynote is under NDA so I cannot talk publicly about it. But there is even more new and exciting stuff under the hood for us developers, than what has been revealed publicly. I encourage you to view the WWDC session videos as soon as they come out.
Personally I did not spend very much time in the sessions. I don’t want to learn and get excited about new APIs that I realistically cannot use for several months. And as I mentioned before, the sessions will be available on video soon. For me, the most valuable part of WWDC is the labs. There you can ask pretty much any technical question about iOS (or Mac OS X) and it’s very likely that you’ll end up talking to the engineer who wrote the code in question. You can bring code, and they will help you debug it. Even if your question is not very precisely formulated, they are happy to talk to you to get a sense of how developers are using their APIs and what issues we are struggling with. Invaluable!
Apple decided to relax the rules for in-app subscriptions. I’m happy to say that I was wrong in my earlier prediction that Apple would not change and publishers would have to accept the new rules or walk away. Imagine being a fly on the wall listening in on the internal debates at Apple over these changes. Lacking such access, here are a few reasons postulated by an analyst.
Apple has filed a motion to intervene in Lodsys’ lawsuits against seven small developers in the court in Eastern District of Texas. Short of Lodsys crawling back into the hole they came from, this is the best news iOS developers could have hoped for. Keep your fingers crossed that the court will allow Apple to intervene.