So WWDC has been and gone and Apple has laid its cards on the table with iOS 5. The biggest surprise was perhaps the sheer scope of the update and the number of major new features that are being released. With one notable exception I’m now struggling to think of Android features which iOS now lacks.
Apple have pretty much totally ripped off their implementation of notifications. Most of you are probably familiar with the UI of the new Notification Centre from Android but the actual notifications themselves, which appear as a banner at the top of the screen, are straight out of WP7. Still, this is an area where iOS was really lagging behind the competition and at least they stole from the best.
Taking a cue from the like of Samsung’s TouchWiz, Apple have increased the usefulness of the iOS lockscreen by showing notifications and allowing direct access to apps from it. A quick swipe on a notification will take you directly to the relevant app.
There’s not too much to say about iMessage. It’s basically BBM for iDevices and appears to have the same pros and cons. On the plus side it seems to do its job really well but, like BBM, it isn’t cross platform. This is the reason that I personally use WhatsApp. It’s the messaging app that the majority of my friends use, probably because it’s available on Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Symbian.
It’s also the reason why I use Skype instead of FaceTime on my iPod Touch. While FaceTime is great for video calls it just isn’t very useful when so many of my contacts don’t use iOS. And this is despite Apple announcing at launch that they’d make FaceTime an open standard. One year on it’s still iOS only and there doesn’t seem to be much progress on this front.
It’s great to see iOS finally get Twitter integration, although I can’t help thinking that Facebook would have been more useful for more people. Users can finally tweet directly from apps such as Safari, Photos, Camera, YouTube, and Maps instead of having to boot up their Twitter app every time. I wrote about iOS’s dreadful sharing functionality in a previous post and while this does’t fix everything it’s a good start.
Camera Another feature inspired by WP7, you can now quickly access the camera from the lock screen even if the phone is locked. The implementation isn’t quite as good because all WP7 devices have a shutter button which you can hold down for a few seconds to launch the camera. But, once you’ve launched the camera you can now use the iPhone’s volume up key to take a shot.
A lot of iCloud’s new features will be nothing new to users of other mobile OSs. Things such as mail, calendar and contact sync are hardly cutting edge tech however iCloud does seem to go futher than many other services in terms of the data it syncs.
For example it automatically backs up your camera roll. WP7 also has a similar function which syncs with SkyDrive, however iCloud has the added bonus of simultaneous pushing these photos down to your other devices. This removes the need to go online to view your pics as they are immediately available for local viewing.
The same integration is built into iWork apps where changes made on any device are automatically synced up with all your other devices. What it appears to lack is web access to your docs. While everything is available locally on your device there doesn’t appear to be a web client like Google Docs which can be used to access your documents from anywhere.
The biggest disadvantage of iCloud seems to be that, like iMessage, it’s limited to iDevices. Want to access that document from your Android phone? Tough! It’s great if you everything you own comes from Cupertino but for everyone else it’s a half baked solution. The reason so many people love services like Dropbox and Evernote is their cross platform nature and this is where iCloud falls down.
However Apple has also opened up the iCloud APIs to developers so that they can add cloud sync features to their own apps. This is probably the most exciting aspect of the service and the one area where it truly differentiates itself from others at this moment.
Whenever I flash a new ROM, Android is clever enough to know the apps that I’ve previously installed and redownload them. But with iCloud they could also be setup automatically with no need to enter my login details or readjust all the settings to suit my preferences. I probably don’t have the imagination to think of how creatively this could be used but I can’t wait to see the ideas that developers come up with.
Yes, a lot of what Apple revealed last week was nothing new. But so what? The end result is that iOS will now be that much better. Aside from widgets and native Gmail, Apple have suddenly negated most of Android’s advantages. There’s nothing wrong with copying good ideas and although there’s little innovation I still can’t wait to try out iOS 5 and benefit from all the new features.
Perhaps the most exciting consequence of WWDC will be Google’s response with Ice Cream Sandwich. Maybe all Apple did last week was catch up but it’s now up to Google to push ahead once more.