Yesterday, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, iOS 5 was announced. Out of 200 new features, just 10 were shown, but the implications are clear: Android has been sucker punched into submission, and if it doesn’t rise quickly, Google might be out for the count. Of course you will point to Android’s zealous adoption by carriers and the platform’s swelling market share, but that doesn’t mean that people want to own Android smartphones: it just means that they’re more easily obtainable.
With yesterday’s keynote, Apple outlined a slew of features that outstrips Android’s current and prospective offerings — and best of all, with a fall release date, Cupertino might just squeeze out iOS 5 before Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich. While Google struggles to consolidate the rushed tablet-specific Honeycomb and its next smartphone OS, Apple has simply grabbed iOS and started running. Apple, which has always been a fan of gentle evolution over revolution, has thrown off the chains and begun beating a new mobile computing trail.
Here are five ways in which Apple, iOS 5, and iCloud have utterly punished Android and Google.
1. iCloud Photo Stream
If you take a lot of photos — and the iPhone camera is the most popular digital camera in the world — then Photo Stream will be a complete life saver. Emailing photos to yourself is clunky, and Dropbox is a stopgap solution. With Photo Stream, when you take a photo on any device — your PC, iPhone, iPad or iPod — it is automatically synchronized with every other iCloud-connected device.
Similar functionality can be achieved with Android and Picasa, but it’s a lot messier — and because it isn’t baked into the OS itself, no one actually uses it. As usual, Apple hasn’t exactly invented a crazy new idea — it’s just executed it properly.
2. iCloud API
Ironically for a developer conference, there was only one developer-related utterance — but boy was it a big one. iCloud, Apple’s free cloud storage service, will have an API that developers can freely tap into. Apps will be able to store their data and preferences in the cloud, easing both device transfers and cross-platform compatibility. You’ll be able to save your Angry Birds progress on your iPad, and continue from the same place on your iPhone.
It’s not that Android app developers don’t have access to a cloud storage API, but you can’t guarantee that a user will have the requisite Dropbox or Box.net account. With iOS 5, every user will have their own piece of free, service, and easily accessible cloud storage — a utopian situation that will have almost every iOS app developer salivating. Again, Apple isn’t introducing a new concept; it’s simply bringing cloud storage to the masses — it’s making cloud storage part of the overarching experience.
It’s also worth noting that the iCloud API might also be available outside native iOS apps, which would mean Android and web apps can also use the iCloud API…
3. Post-PC freedom
The single biggest change in iOS 5 is the fact that it will be Apple’s first standalone mobile operating system. When you turn on an iOS 5 device, you won’t have to install iTunes on your Windows or Mac PC and plug in your iPhone, iPad, or iPod — you’ll simply be greeted with a welcome screen and proceed to use your iDevice. Instead of backing up to iTunes, you will back up to iCloud.
Android already stores a lot of your data in the cloud, but it doesn’t back up photos or videos, and app developers have to do some leg work to make sure their apps are backupable. Furthermore, data backup to Google’s cloud services is not guaranteed to exist on all Android-powered devices. Switching between Android devices, in short, requires a PC go-between and a fair bit of manual labor.
With iOS 5, app developers will be able to write apps that completely free from their PC oppressors. After all, not every house owns a PC — but almost everyone wants an iPhone… and now they can!
With the introduction of iMessage, Apple is making a leap into relatively untested waters. A unified TCP/IP-based guaranteed-QoS replacement for SMS and MMS isn’t new — RIM has done it for years with BlackBerry Messenger — but this is definitely a bold ploy. Will iOS users relish being further locked into the system? You will only be able to iMessage other iOS 5 users, too — and as Android gains in market share, that might be more of a hindrance than a gain.
It might not matter, though. iMessage will be built into the current Messages app, which could mean that iMessage is seamlessly and transparently used when communicating with other iOS users, with SMS and MMS acting as the fallback for cross-network communication. Everyone can be have their fill — except for RIM and its failing market share, of course.
Both Android and iOS have unified messaging solutions in the form of third-party apps, but Google hasn’t shown any inclination towards building a first-party solution that sidesteps carrier-based messaging. The mobile form factor desperately needs a unified, cross-platform messaging protocol — and with iCloud, Apple could provide it! If only iMessage didn’t use a proprietary protocol…
5. Safari and iCloud
Android’s stock browser has always been a bit of a joke, especially with Google sinking truly insane amounts of time and effort and money into Chrome. The story is a little rosier with the Honeycomb browser, but third-party offerings are still a lot more powerful. To be fair, though, Mobile Safari has always been rather gimpy, too — and third-party alternatives don’t exist on iOS. With iOS 5, Safari finally gains its surfing legs with support for multiple tabs and a faster rendering engine. Exact details and benchmarks aren’t available yet, but iOS 5 should make web apps a lot more viable on older iDevice hardware.
Beyond tabs, Mobile Safari includes deep Twitter integration, “save to reading list” functionality, and a Reader button that strips ads and formatting to make websites more readable. In other words, Safari now builds in the functionality of Instapaper — and yes, you can save your reading list to iCloud for future reading on your other devices; and no, Apple didn’t ask web property owners if they liked the idea of every iDevice owner surfing with a built-in ad blocker.
All of this functionality is available to Android users via third-party apps and bookmarklets, but as always, it’s too clunky and the barrier to entry is set a little too high. The initial release of iOS and Mobile Safari revolutionized mobile surfing, and even today, despite its smaller share, Safari is still the most popular mobile browser. iOS 5 will completely change and empower the mobile surfing experience yet again, while Android wallows with a stock browser that has a nifty bookmark and data sync, but that’s about it.
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