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Apple iOS 5 cuts iPhone, iPad loose from computers, embraces the cloud

Apple offers over-the-air updates, improved notifications, cloud integration

By , Network World
June 06, 2011 05:54 PM ET

Network World - Apple announced 200 new features and 1,500 new APIs in the next release of its mobile operating system, iOS 5. The biggest changes cut the cable to Macs and PCs, tie it more closely to Apple's new cloud services, and update the UI with real-time interactivity in the form of revamped notifications system.

iOS 5 was unveiled today at Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, hosted by CEO Steve Jobs. Executives focused on just 10 changes, many of which were greeted with applause and cheers by the hundreds of developers in attendance. But there was a sense of disappointment at Apple's continued silence over the next iPhone.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: Apple's introduction of iCloud

SLIDESHOW: Apple iCloud

Software developers can begin working now with a beta version of the OS. It will ship in fall 2011, and be available for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad and iPad 2, and the third-generation-or-later iPod Touch models. And, of course, the long-expected iPhone 5.

The overall UI for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices was left essentially unchanged. But Apple has made some key changes to the underlying iOS plumbing that could have a big impact on the users, by enabling new apps and new app behaviors.

iOS ties in automatically with Apple's new cluster of cloud-based services, called iCloud. iOS apps can create a document that is automatically pushed to other devices in the user's iCloud "account," including Macs, with no user intervention, says Kevin Hoffman, a software developer, and author of several books on programming, who's written apps for both iOS and Windows Phone 7.

A user enters his Apple ID and password, and iCloud will work with the local apps to wirelessly synchronize mail, contacts, calendars, photos, apps, books, music and more across all the user's devices.

"This is huge for developers who don't want to rely on the 'flavor of the month' file sync API, such as Dropbox, and who don't want to set up their own synchronization infrastructure in the cloud," he says.

Dropbox is a popular online backup and sharing service. But compared to iCloud, it's considerably more complex for developers, according to Hoffman. "Today, I have to get a Dropbox developer account and prompt the users of my iOS application for their Dropbox credentials in order to synchronize application documents across multiple devices," he says. "And I have to prompt that user for Dropbox credentials on every device. Further, the file I'm working on with my iPhone won't show up on my iPad until I open the application, tell it I want to open a file from Dropbox, and then load it."

iOS 5 and iCloud sidestep all that, he says.

Hoffman notes that Microsoft previously had a similar capability to iCloud in Live Mesh, but its current status is unknown, he says, and "there's certainly no synchronization client on Windows Phone 7."

Also new with iOS is a single sign-on capability, creating a single locus for users to set credentials for password-protected resources, and a secure API for developers to access those credentials. This "is a huge step forward," Hoffman says. "As an application developer, I'm no longer concerned with how I'm going to prompt the user for their Twitter account password, I can just ask iOS for it and the user can decide whether or not to let my application access that information -- all securely."

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