Lion, iOS 5, iCloud: This Changes Everything

Apple was firing on all cylinders today. It revealed more details about Mac OS X Lion (coming in July) and introduced iOS 5 and iCloud (both due this fall, probably coinciding with the release of a new iPhone). It would be hard to over-hype the significance of these announcements. These are not just minor revisions to the rulebook. It’s more like “It’s time to throw out the old rulebook and start over.”


I’m not going to review every announced new feature here. If you don’t already know them, you can read more details on virtually any Mac website, including the numerous articles posted at The Mac Observer today. Instead, I’m going to focus on the three over-riding themes that emerged from today’s presentation. These are what make today’s announcements a major game-changer.

iOS invades Mac OS X Lion

As far as I can tell, Apple did not reveal any significant new features in Mac OS X Lion today beyond what it already let out of the bag back in February — although it did offer more specifics about how they will all work. Still, as I pondered the implications of what is coming, I was struck anew by how much Lion is moving in the direction of iOS. I know Apple has already stated this as their policy. Even so, it was impressive to see how virtually every new feature is an “import” from iOS.

Multi-touch gestures on a Mac trackpad come close to creating a touch-screen environment for the Mac. Apple is on the verge of doing away with interface elements such as scrollbars, asking the user to depend on swiping instead. Get ready to dump your mouse in the not-too-distant future.

Lion’s push toward full-screen viewing of apps is akin to iOS, where there is no option except for full screen apps. 

The Mac App Store is a derivative of iOS’s App Store.

Launchpad is an extension of iOS Home screens.

Lion’s AutoSave and Resume is how iOS already works in most cases.

Lion’s redesigned Mail app looks like an import of the iOS version. 

Even the delivery of Lion is more iOS-like. The new version will be available for download from the Mac App Store, rather than as a disc purchase.

This is clearly a one-direction convergence. I don’t recall one example of a new iOS 5 feature that represents an existing Mac OS X option that was moved over to the iPhone. Apple’s apparent ultimate goal is to eliminate the user awareness of the existence of a “file system” on the Mac, in much the same way this has been from Day 1 on iOS devices. There is no “Finder” for iOS. I strongly suspect that one day, the Mac OS X Finder will either similarly vanish or be a much simplified version of what we now have.

Mac OS X Lion represents only the first few chapters of this story. The final chapters will arrive in Mac OS X 10.8 and beyond. Still, Mac OS X Lion is the most significant upgrade of OS X since its initial release a decade ago. I’m not sure I view all of these changes as positive ones. I’ll know better after Lion is released. Regardless, this is where Apple is headed.

iOS 5 undercuts third-party apps

When an operating system has weaknesses and omissions (as all do), third-party apps arrive to fill in the gaps. These can become a huge success. Yet, danger lurks for developers of excellent apps. There is the ever-present blade over their heads, threatening to fall at any moment. That blade is the possibility that the OS developer (Apple in this case) may someday add the functionality of the third-party app to the OS itself. For many developers, that blade fell today with the announcement of iOS 5.

Safari’s new Reader and Reading List take the wind out of the sails of apps and services such as Instapaper and Readability. These apps (especially Instapaper) may offer enough added-value that they can continue to survive. But their value has clearly diminished.

The new Reminders app will likely put an end to most apps in the “To do list” category.

iOS 5’s spectacular-looking Notification Center will likely eliminate the need for Boxcar and similar apps.

Many third-party camera-related apps will have trouble competing with the new options in iOS 5. You’ll now be able to access the camera directly from the Lock screen and use the Volume button to snap a picture. Plus, the Photos app offers new editing features for cropping and enhancing photos.

Some people (beyond the obvious ones who develop the perhaps so-to-be extinct apps) are critical of Apple for being callous to its third-party developers via this encroachment. Personally, I don’t see it that way. I would almost always rather have useful general features included in the iOS rather than depend upon third-parties. The only exception would be if Apple’s approach was distinctly inferior. That does not appear to be the case here. Developers know that the sword is always there. When it gets ready to fall, they either have to move out of the way (e.g., find a way to remain relevant) or die. That’s the risk one takes when deciding to compete in this business.

iOS 5 cuts the cord

I saved the best for last. Apple has finally addressed several of the most notable shortcomings of iOS. They relate to the dependence of iOS devices on wired connections to a Mac. This is all about to change. Big time. Especially so with the arrival of iCloud.

PC Free and iCloud Backup

Back in February, I wrote “Before the iPad can serve as a complete alternative to a Mac or PC, Apple will need to free the iPad from its iTunes syncing requirement. Such a shift would allow the iPad to function as a true stand-alone computer.” Apple apparently heard me (or at least listened to its own good sense).

Say hello to PC Free in iOS 5. This allows iOS 5 users to “activate and set up their iOS device right out of the box with no computer required.” Further, iOS software updates will delivered wirelessly.

With iCloud Backup, you have a backup drive in the sky: “iCloud Backup automatically and securely backs up your iOS devices to iCloud daily over Wi-Fi when you charge your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Backed up content includes purchased music, apps and books, Camera Roll (photos and videos), device settings and app data.”

PC Free and iCloud Backup open the door to a much wider-acceptance of iOS devices, especially the iPad. For the first time, people can have an iPad as their only “computer” — without requiring any hook-up to a Mac.

iCloud Storage (Documents in the Cloud)

Back when the iWork for iPad apps were first released, I lamented that “file sharing via iWork apps on the iPad is a major kludge.” I explained in gory detail just how frustrating it was to deal with an inscrutable and annoying file sharing interface — especially the need to use the File Sharing section in iTunes to shuttle documents between the iPad and your Mac.

With iCloud Storage (Documents in the Cloud) these hassles are almost completely eliminated. As Apple states: “When you change a document on any device, iCloud automatically pushes the changes to all your devices.” I (hopefully) believe this includes Macs, not just other iOS devices. As a result, the file system concept almost vanishes and file sharing just happens.

I still see room for improvement here. I would especially like to be able to access a single document on an iOS device across multiple apps. But iCloud Storage is a gigantic positive move forward. I don’t dwell on the negatives.  

iTunes in the Cloud

iCloud further adds the ability to sync your music library to iCloud, even (for a $25/year fee) music you ripped yourself rather than purchased from iTunes! You can then download it to other devices. It’s not quite as versatile as being able to stream your entire library from the cloud. But, once again, it’s much better than what we have had thus far.

Wireless Mirroring

Although not highlighted in the Keynote, iOS 5 will apparently support wireless mirroring (over AirPlay) of an iOS device display. Previously you could only do this via a cable (which itself is a feature added only in the last year) or via jailbreaking. The new mirroring option removes a long standing item from my wish list, one I have covered as far back as 2009.

Bottom line

Taken together, these new features represent a huge change. Hell, each item would be huge all by itself.

I’m still absorbing the fallout from these and other new features I haven’t even mentioned. [OK, I’ll give a special shout-out to rtf support, addressing yet another item on my rapidly diminishing wish list.]

Numerous questions have begun to sprout (these Apple keynotes rarely make the messy details clear). Two examples: Can Lion’s Mac App Store upgrading adequately handle all of the situations that now depend on a disc/drive based version of the iOS? What happens to music that you store in iCloud via iTunes Matching if you don’t renew your subscription?

But these concerns are all a subject for another time, another day. For now, I am content to get in line at the Apple Store and wait for my copy of the new rulebook. Everything’s about to change. I’m ready.

Some images made with help from iStockPhoto.