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.

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Thoughts on Nokia’s Burning Platform

Nokia
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.

More on iPhoneography and Hipstamatic

Image representing Instagram as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

I wrote a while ago about whether iPhone photography, or iPhoneography as it’s often referred to is good or bad for photography in general. I was fully in support of these kinds of apps which allow anyone to really bring out their artistic flair while taking regular snap photos.

Hipstamatic is similar to Instagram in many of the things it does, but rather than you taking a photo first and then applying a filter afterwards, Hipstamatic is designed to invoke the feeling of using analogue cameras by allowing you to change your virtual lens, film and flash. Each of these things has an impact on how the picture and the frame turn out, and a lot of the fun is in trying to find your favourite combination, and seeing how making small changes effects your shot.

The interface is designed to immerse you in this feeling by actually showing a limited viewfinder and a shutter release button on the back. It’s a typically very stylish iPhone interface that really immerses you more. While the small viewfinder isn’t the most practical idea ever due to the fact that you’re wasting the large touch screen, it doesn’t really matter as long as you can frame the shot well enough. I think that losing the larger framing ability is made up for by having a large shutter button located in the top right corner. This allows you to get a much better grip of the device when shooting and is the closest we’re probably going to get to a dedicated camera button for quite a while I would imagine. We don’t know if Apple sees this as a priority and they always like to reaffirm their belief that touch controls are superior to buttons most of the time. Therefore, I wouldn’t hold your breath for a dedicated button on the iPhone 5.

The optional in-app purchases of new lenses, films and flashes in bundles known as hipstapaks is a bit  sneaky in my opinion, as each one costs about half the price of the app itself. If they could lower the prices of those by about half then I think that would be fair. Especially because you really don’t know how the effects are going to work in practise on the shots you take until after you’ve purchased them, so they may end up being big disappointments.

While I am a huge photography fan, I have to admit that without the digital revolution, I just don’t think I would have gotten into it as much as I have. Analogue is great now because it’s an extra option to play with as a novelty, but for everyday use it’s definitely a huge chore and too expensive to be viable today. This is why this kind of app is a great fun tool for everyone to be able to bring back the feel of analogue photography in a sense, but without any of the cost.

Purists will disagree of course, but even they must admit that just trying to recreate the look of those classic cameras is still a great thing, especially for young people who will have never used an analogue camera while growing up. Mine was probably the last generation to not have digital cameras readily available and cheap enough to make the old one-use and regular point-and-shoot film cameras practically obsolete.

Another benefit of this type of photography is that it really allows you to get back to basics, forgetting about complex SLR settings and just letting you focus on composing your shot and being as artistic as you can. Because the resolution of the iPod Touch camera is so low, it adds even more to the fun as you know that no matter what you do, the shots will never look even close to what you can get out of an SLR. You can let the content itself speak for the quality, and the customisable elements have an even bigger role in making the end result look good.

As I wrote in my last post on this subject, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many young people had gotten into photography seriously as a result of playing with apps such as these, and that is of course still a brilliant thing.

The reason I decided to download Hipstamatic today was because I saw the following article linked to below on Mashable about a UK art gallery putting on an exhibition of Hipstamatic photos. It’s a modern concept and I really like the idea. It promotes pure artistic vision over technical know-how and that’s what photography should be all about at the heart of it.

Instagram and the Rise of Artistic iPhone Photography

Casual snap photographers have been replacing their point and shoots with more practical mobile phones for many years now, and the technology behind those camera-phones has consistently been improving. While even the most expensive of phones can’t match the performance in resolution and picture quality of even the average current point and shoot models, quality is often overlooked in favour of ease of use, practicality and sharing options.

Instagram is a free app available on the app store which combines all of these things, but also adds fun into the mix with a series of filters which are designed to make even the most drab and boring of photos into masterpieces. As someone who appreciates photography in all forms, I really like the concept. It allows everyone to be artistic in their photo taking and I think that’s a great thing. While you lose the photo quality, customisation options and the coolness factor of holding an SLR in your hands, it makes up for those things in sheer fun.

As mentioned before, sharing is a big part of apps like Instagram as well, as it allows you to upload to all of the familiar destinations: Twitter, Flicker, Facebook and even Foursquare along with a location sign in. For free, it’s definitely a must download, and there are other similar apps that play around with the old school way of photo taking and manipulation, but with a modern twist.

One last cool thought would be that if these kinds of apps ignite an undiscovered passion for photography in someone, then that’s another great benefit.