WWDC 2011 – Part 3: iOS5

The main new features of iOS5 are the new notification centre, wi-fi syncing and the ability to be PC free and iMessage among others.

Notification centre is definitely the biggest and most significant update. I got my first smartphone a while back, a Sony Ericsson Android phone. It doesn’t run the most up to date version of Android but you can immediately see the difference in notifications between it and the iPhone. You swipe down from the top of the screen and see all of your notifications. Apple have clearly neglected this important area of the device for some time now but thankfully they look to have done a great job in updating it.

Now, instead of being greeted by one notification at a time, each in a big blue bubble, now you see a sleek list of individual notifications. Each of which you can swipe to go straight to the corresponding app. It’s so much more functional now especially if you get a lot of notifications that you don’t want to miss. Like android, you can access the list when the device is awake by sliding your finger down from the top of the screen. It’s far from revolutionary, but to be fair, they do implement it well even if they did copy from Google.

PC free and wi-fi syncing is also a great addition. It, combined with all of the iCloud features will finally stop the critics who say that the iPad is not a true tablet computer but an oversized iPod Touch. It can now plainly go head to head with any traditional tablet in terms of functionality. This also is available on iPhone and iPod Touch, where it’s welcome but not as necessary as it is for iPad.

The wi-fi syncing is also welcome. If you can plug it in to charge using any device or better yet unplugged, then this could be very useful for me, but regardless, it’s nice to see something people have been requesting for a long time now being added.

iMessage is an interesting one. On one hand, surely we already have enough methods of communcation. Texting, email, twitter, facebook etc. You would be forgiven for thinking “why do we need another one?” I’m struggling with this question myself. It would be nice to have a method of communication between iDevices, but how confusing will it be for iPhone users who already have an identical looking texting app? It takes away the simplicity and speed of texting, as you’re relying on 3G or wi-fi, both battery draining. The jury is out on this app I think. We’ll just have to see how it pans out when we get to use it.

News Stand is an interesting idea, and looks to be the fourth separate store Apple are starting, this time dedicated to all newspaper and magazine subscriptions. I like the idea of integrating it directly into the home screen. It makes you wonder why they didn’t do that with iBooks but are here. It’s a bit inconsistent. If it is built into the OS by default as opposed to a download like iBooks then it would be further adding to that inconsistency.

Other improvements of note include Safari, which now has an instapaper clone built in that syncs with iCloud, the reader feature that the desktop version has had for a while and tabbed browsing on iPad, all nice improvements but not earth shattering.

Reminders is pretty self explanatory and looks nice, although I’m so used to Google tasks by this point. You can now use the volume up key to take photos and it’s quicker to jump into the camera app which is a nice touch. The photos app allows simple editing such as cropping, red-eye removal and auto-enhance. Again, all welcome additions.

There are other new features, but most are not really worth talking about, especially Twitter, which seems a bit pointless from where I’m sitting, since you can do all of the things they advertise, albeit slightly less well integrated, by using the official Twitter app which many have already.

Overall though, I think iOS5 is a pretty impressive update and a step forward in many ways. WWDC in general was a triumph. I love iCloud and iOS5 especially and I don’t think they could have done much better with anything they showed on that day.

I’m keenly looking forward to the next Apple event to hear about new iPods, that new iPhone everyone’s speculating about and of course some new computers.


Thoughts on Nokia’s Burning Platform

Image via Wikipedia

To be frank, I thought the Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s open letter was a waste of time and extremely long overdue. It should never have come to this. I don’t understand why he wasted so much time talking about a burning platform. He should have just got straight to the point and told his company that their products are just rubbish when compared to the competition and that after 4 years they still don’t have a product that can even come close to the iPhone experience.

To their credit, essentially no other company has been able to produce a product that matches the iPhone in quality so at least they’re not the only ones. The problem is that their competition are generally running Android, and Nokia’s devices are several steps behind even these. In addition, they have announced some kind of deal with Microsoft. I’m not sure if it’s an exclusive deal to run Windows Phone on their new devices, but even a partial deal would be a mistake in my opinion. The industry is clearly moving towards iPhone and Android as the two main operating systems. Blackberry is still using their own OS but they don’t really need to compete with the other major mobile OS makers as they have a more dedicated following of users.

I don’t care what Microsoft are saying, I just can’t see them challenging Apple and Google any time soon and will probably stay a distant 3rd or 4th in the OS race. I suppose the change from Symbian to Windows Phone 7 or the next version will be a step forward, but it’s not a big enough one for Nokia, who are in trouble if they don’t make a success of their next generation of devices.

They should be following Sony Eriksson and others who have seen the light and decided smartly to jump onto the Android bandwagon as opposed to supporting their own faltering OS efforts. Nokia should at the very least start producing good quality but affordable Android phones in order to quickly turn their fortunes around as much as possible in the short term. They have to work quickly as they have essentially warned potential customers off purchasing one of their current crop of smartphones.

The other thing the company needs to focus on is their long-time speciality: cheap, simple and fashion phones. Even now, if someone who isn’t that tech savvy asks me to recommend a phone to them, I’ll recommend a cheap Nokia. They are almost indestructible, have big buttons and for the most part, simple interfaces that anyone can understand. They have a lot of competition in this area now but such is the norm for all mobile products. They have to find a way to separate themselves from the competition once again and continue their dominance of the low cost phone market. This has been keeping the company going in the last few years, but they have to continue to innovate to bring in the funds to develop their smartphone program further.

Overall I think this is the start of the company’s turnaround. By being so honest and open about their problems, they’ve put themselves in a back against the wall situation, which is good as it will force them into a state of urgency and hopefully quick recovery.


Google IO: Android 2.2 Froyo Thoughts

Android has really been picking up steam recently and I have to say I didn’t expect it to start challenging Apple so soon. Yes, it has been 18 months, but that isn’t really that long when you’re faced with a monumental task of creating a brand new mobile operating system from scratch. Not only that, but trying to get a foothold in the marketplace with many established companies already creating impressive stuff of their own. Finally, they had to forge relationships with as many device manufacturers and mobile carriers as possible all over the world.

The stats that Google had to present at Google IO were very impressive. 100,000 new phone activations per day is a huge number. They are also now lead in US mobile browser usage, beating out the iPhone. Of course Apple only sell one phone and google have many partners making android handsets, but even so, this is impressive.

Another reason why this is impressive is because until recently, and to some extent even now, Android in my opinion is more of a geeky and less mainstream OS than the iPhone, and far less polished in terms of performance or intuitiveness. Maybe I’m just out of the loop and this is old news, but it appears that Froyo is taking further big steps in improving these areas. iPhone and Apple in general always seem to do the little things exceptionally well, and this is an area Google need to work on. The integration with iTunes is a huge selling point. The way everything syncs, including contacts and calendars with the desktop versions of those apps is so seamless. No other mobile company can match it, or at least until now potentially.

I use Google for a lot of things. If they can integrate their services such as contacts and mail to an extent where it is smooth enough to compare well with Apple’s syncing solution, then maybe Android can equal Apple in that department. In that vein, Google announced a multitude of changes intended to bring them right up to par with the iPhone OS. They’ve improved the browser considerably, even claiming that it is now the fastest mobile browser. I’m not sure I believe that but if it’s true then it’s fantastic for them. Other improvements include updating of apps on the device itself including auto-updating as well as a new desktop browser store which can instigate downloads over-the-air which is a nice feature.

There are many other smaller but significant improvements. These include better enterprise features, the ability to install apps on an SD card and a number of new APIs including a new advanced push notification system which takes Apple’s interpretation a step further with notifications that can automatically open apps and perform tasks on their own.

Overall, Android is very much on the up and Apple should be very wary of their threat. Google are not to be underestimated. They have an unorthodox business model but it seems to work well for them and Android seems to be very close to the level of Apple’s iPhone OS. I think it’s going to take them another 6 months to a year to catch up fully if they can at all, but with the market penetration they now have, the developers are going to be coming thick and fast in support.


What can Palm do for HP?

Palm have been a company in recent years that have been under a lot of pressure to produce a product to re-establish them at the head of the Smartphone market. Of course, they now have the iPhone to contend with as well as a strong line-up of Android powered devices. Palm were looking to be in some trouble and appeared to be unable to produce a product good enough to really steal much of the limelight away from Apple or HTC among others.

Palm’s troubles seemed to start around the announcement of the Foleo which was seen as a failure of a product at the time. It was intended to be a small and basic laptop that connected wirelessly to a palm treo phone to provide business travellers with a larger screen and full keyboard for using to type emails quickly, have fast access to the web and for writing long documents. If it had been released and not cancelled, it would have been seen as the first real netbook type device. A category that has exploded in popularity in the years since.

Last year, the Palm Pre was deemed by many as Palm’s return to form and a device that could finally hold a candle to the iPhone and other similar devices. While the OS has received much praise and the phone noted as solid by many, they have struggled to sell large enough quantities of the device to really impact the market in a big way. One reason for this may be Palm’s decision to sign an exclusive deal with the Sprint network in the US which isn’t the biggest and is apparently struggling to keep subscribers.

Because of the struggling sales, Palm also had trouble finding developers to create apps for their WebOS platform when iPhone OS and Android had much bigger audiences to go after. Palm as made a mistake in not making the OS APIs available from the start. This may have also been a contributing factor in them falling behind Android and iPhone further.

However, now that they have financial stability after being bought by a huge company like HP, they are free to innovate and produce hopefully their best products to date. What HP has planned for palm is not yet known but they will surely keep the brand going and want to integrate it into the HP line of products well.

The future now looks bright for the company and I hope they really start to blow us all away with what they come up with next. HP certainly wouldn’t have spent 1.6 billion dollars on them if they didn’t think they were capable of great things.