It had live bloggers predicting the death of RIM, Google Maps and even Tom Tom. Yes, Apple has released details of its forthcoming iOS 6 mobile operating system, and the crowds went wild. Guy Daniels reports.
What a choice. An early Monday evening spent watching England take on France in Euro 2012 on the telly, or juggling multi-tabbed live-blogging of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference on my laptop. Sad to say, the crowds watching the Apple event online out-shouted the football fans by a considerable margin.
Stand by for the annual journey into Apple's Reality Distortion Field, otherwise known by Apple devotees (and everyone else, eventually and often reluctantly) as 'the future'.
Apart from some hardware upgrades, the main focus of the opening keynote presentation was to unveil iOS 6, the next iteration of its mobile operating system. And top of the feature list was its long-awaited move into its home-grown mapping application. Called simply 'Maps', the service finally cuts out Apple's reliance on Google for this all-important feature. Designed by Apple from the ground up, Maps offers turn-by-turn spoken directions, interactive 3D views, and a Flyover feature (yes, the feature that made use of the 'snooping spy planes', as the popular press put it, to take aerial views of cities). It also uses a vector-based design that keeps text and graphics clear. And as you would expect, it integrates with the Siri voice service. This is supported by a deal with Yelp to provide local search results.
All this fire-power comes at a price though, and users of first generation iPads will have to miss out. Even owners of second generation iPads will soon discover that their tablets won't be able to run Siri. Time for an upgrade? Apple's tight integration of hardware and software strikes again, and strikes fear into the hearts of the competition.
Next to send the crowds wild was the news that Facebook integration is finally coming to iOS. Sharing options are built into the most popular features of the OS - camera, photos, calendar etc, and APIs will enable third party apps to follow suite. There is also auto merging of Facebook contacts with the iOS address book.
Other new features include shared photo streams with 'likes' and commenting, which will further aid Apple's attempt to stay relevant in social networking. The video calling FaceTime service will now work over cellular networks as well as Wi-Fi. You can even make and receive FaceTime calls on your iPad using your mobile number. And talking of the phone (remember that old feature?), there's a host of new calling and messaging options in iOS 6, including plenty of useful ways to not answer the phone (that always gets my vote of approval...).
One further new feature of note is Passbook.
This is an app that collates all your digital tickets and coupons, storing them in a central location. It adds location awareness so that updates get made automatically and relevant documents (eg a boarding pass for a flight, or a cinema ticket) are displayed at the relevant time and ready for scanning. This feature is surely a step towards NFC support when future iPhones are able to support this technology. Its also yet another Google assault, this time against its Wallet service.
The mobile iOS 6 is also pointing the way to the development of Apple's desktop operating system. Whilst iOS 6 won't be out until later in the year (perhaps at the same time as the next iPhone?), the Mountain Lion desktop OS is out next month. Never have the two OS models been so closely integrated. Messages, Notifications, AirPlay and even Siri will now be available on your iMacs and MacBooks.
Apple iCloud also gets some love. Among the improvements revealed at WWDC were the ability to access documents and open Web pages across Apple devices using a new Safari Tabs feature. Synced browsing then, rather like Yahoo's new Axis cloud browser. Documents in the Cloud finally delivers on the iWork promise and integrates documents with iCloud in a far more useful and relevant way. About time too. Mountain Lion will come pre-shipped with iCloud built into the OS. There are apparently some 125 million users registered for the service.
Interestingly, Apple also actively promoted new Chinese-language features in both Mountain Lion and iOS 6. AppleInsider quotes Craig Federighi, VP of Mac Software Engineering as telling developers:
"The Mac has been growing fantastically in China and we have some wonderful features that we think are going to make it even more popular there. It's going to be important. Get your apps ready for China."
The new features include an improved Chinese Pinyin input method, new dictionary and eight Chinese fonts. The Mountain Lion version of Safari will also add the Chinese search engine Baidu as well as support for various local blogging and video sharing services. There will also be upcoming Siri support for Mandarin and Cantonese in iOS 6.
Increased sales of the iPhone in China are expected to contribute around 33 per cent of incremental revenue for Apple in this financial year.
And with that, the world's future has been told and all is good. We can return to our mundane daily tasks, such as coping with a global recession and rising unemployment, safe in the knowledge that - certainly as far as tech is concerned - Apple has got our six. Or iOS 6 to be exact.
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