E3 Day 1, Lion, iOS 5 and the iCloud

Jun
6

It was a big day for announcements, not only was it the start of this years E3, but also WWDC. Whilst the E3 event kicked off with an Xbox keynote featuring demos of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and the great looking new Tomb Raider game, it was announced that all future Tom Clancy titles would feature Kinect support - as will Mass Effect 3. Gears of War 3 was then demonstrated, as was Crytek's new Kinect supported game - Ryse. A big surprise for me was not the release of a remastered Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition (due out November 15th 2011), but the announcement of Halo 4 (to be released in 2012) being the start of a new trilogy. Peter Molyneux also announced Fable: The Journey would be the first Fable title to support Kinect and will be out in 2012. Plenty of Kinect empowered titles, but the one that may get me to buy a Kinect is the announcement of the Star Wars game for Kinect. It's been seen previously as a tech demo, but this time it's an actual game set in the Clone Wars era. Sadly it doesn't actually look that good, but I'll have to give a try anyway.

On the WWDC side of things Steve Jobs took the stage despite a leave of absence due to health problems and introduced the crowd to the topics of Lion, iOS 5 and "some interesting cloud stuff".  Out of the 250 new features they report as being in Lion they started with demonstrating 10 of these. To start with they're making a big deal of multi-touch gestures in Lion. If gestures is enabled you will no longer see the scrollbars - an interesting idea, one which I wonder how effective it will be as in some designs it may not always be obvious there is more to see if the scrollbar isn't there.

Full-screen applications was mentioned at the last Apple event, here they announced that it would be available for more applications. There was also talk of Mission Control, though they didn't talk of any aspects of it that were not covered at the previous Lion themed event. Strangely the Mac Store also got included as one of the 10 new features for Lion, despite it being available in Snow Leopard - only difference is it will come pre-installed. For all people with Mac Store installed it will be better though - when updating software it will now only download changes rather than the full application every time.

Launchpad was again mentioned, the interface that takes it's inspiration from the iOS interface. There was also more talk of "Resume" a feature that saves the current state of an application, just as the new Auto-save feature will auto-save your work. I'll be interested to find out what sort of support it has for existing applications - if any. The autosave feature will use deltas to store versions so that it will save space and will also allow you to halt auto-saving and allow easy creation of duplicates. This then follows into the new "Versions" feature which is basically a repository for version controlling your files, but will be easy for all to use whether you're used to using SVN or not.

The next feature was "AirDrop", an application used for sharing files with other users on your network using it. It uses auto-discovery to see people on your network, but will require confirmation to send and receive files using an encrypted transfer.

Finally they demonstrated some big improvements to the Mail.app which now features better searching and rule creation, conversation view - all of which brings it closer to being level with the Google Mail web interface. Also, as previously rumoured, the Lion upgrade will only be available to buy via the Mac Store (and of course with new Macs!) sometime in July for $29.99 and will be a 4Gb download. A single download will also work for all Macs that you're authorised for meaning you only need to download it once. Apparently it won't even need a reboot!

Moving on to iOS 5 they announced that with selling over 200 million iOS devices they now have a 44% share of the mobile operating system market. With the new iOS 5 upgrade there are over 1,500 new APIs available. First off, notifications have had a bit of an overhaul. To solve the annoyances of notifications not only have they introduced a new notification centre, but the entire system. If you're using your phone when a new push notification arrives it will slide down at the top of your screen (even if in a full screen app), and if your phone is locked it will display in a great looking list above the slide to unlock part. On the unlock screen and in the notification centre they are all categorised and are easy to remove, read, and use. The notification centre is accessible by swiping downwards from the top of the screen.

The second new feature is Newstands - a new application in a similar vein to iBooks, but is aimed at subscription based magazines, etc. that are issue based. A lot of magazine publishers have already signed up for this and popular ones such as National Geographic will be available from launch. Next up is Twitter integration - the iOS settings page will now feature Twitter settings that can be made available via an API to any iOS application. It will also be integrated with Safari, Maps, Photos and Camera including others so that you can tweet straight from the application. It will also be possible to automatically update contacts via Twitter.

Safari Reading List seems like Apple's solution to Instapaper with the ability to save things to read later, and a Safari Reader for reading articles without any distractions. The articles you bookmark in Reading List will also be synchronised with other iOS devices too. Safari will also be changing it's multiple window view for tabs - hopefully they won't feel too clumsy on small screens.

Reminders is another new feature to use for creating "To Do" lists that will synchronise across devices and with iCal. Each reminder will allow a title, location,  and dates. The Reminders can also be based on location so that if you go somewhere it uses the "geofence" feature to determine a reminder is applicable.

The camera is getting some improvements too - to start with they have added a camera icon to the lock screen to make it quicker to get to for taking pictures (hopefully it won't result in many people taking photos in their pockets!) as well as the "volume up" button. The camera will now support an AE/AF lock to help handle exposure of an image, and also has a good pinch to zoom feature complete with bar to show level of zoom. Some minor editing on the phone will now also be possible - crop, rotate, reduce red-eye and a 1-click enhance.

Mail for iOS has been updated with Rich text formatting, indentation, flagging, and dragging addresses between To, CC, and BCC fields. The new dictionary API being used with Mail on the iPad actually looks quite good and will show definitions as well.

Recently we saw that Windows 8 will feature a split-keyboard option for touch based devices - well so is iOS. In iOS 5 you can scroll up through the keyboard to split the keyboard for easy thumb typing. 

Inline with the Mac Store change for only transferring changes in updates they will be doing the same with the App Store. In addition to this it will no longer be necessary to own a PC in order to download large applications or to register in iTunes - updates will now be possible over the air. This iTunes synchronisation over Wi-Fi will also allow music to be copied over in the same way.

The Game Centre will be getting some updates to it's social features (including a friends of friends feature), and will allow games to be bought and downloaded directly from it rather than going through the App Store.

The messaging functionality on the iPhone has now been renamed to "iMessage" and will expand beyond being SMS and MMS to also supporting videos, contacts, group messaging, and delivery/read receipts. The messages will now also be synchronised so that they will be available on both your iPhone and iPad. Interestingly it will also show if the other user is typing a message - similar to a lot of modern IM applications making this application more like a combination of iChat and SMS. The iChat-like functionality will work over 3G or Wi-Fi.

The iOS 5 SDK is available as of today, and will be released to devices in the Autumn and will be compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod Touch (3rd and 4th gen), iPad and iPad2. 

Finally they discussed the iCloud -  it will automatically store your content in the cloud and wirelessly push it to all your devices. Apparently the way this will work is that it will synchronise all content without any interaction required. All the MobileMe applications have been rewritten from scratch to work with iCloud - for example any contacts added on a device will automatically be uploaded to iCloud and will synchronise with your other devices. All mail stored with a @me account will also be synchronised between devices - basically just like using IMAP.

As of now MobileMe will cease to exist, and iCloud will be free. It will also be possible to use this to see purchased applications so that they can be downloaded and synchronised on other devices - this is also applicable to purchases within iBooks. This means your entire device is backed up to the cloud and can be easily transferred to another device or restored if need be. Daily backups to the iCloud will be over Wi-Fi only. This is also applicable via "Documents in the Cloud" for Pages, Keynote and Numbers. To complete the iCloud picture it will also be getting it's own APIs for developers to use.

  • Apps can stores documents in iCloud
  • iCloud pushes documents to user's devices automatically
  • Documents update on all devices when changed on any device

The iCloud functionality isn't limited to just iOS devices - it will work on PCs and Macs too! On the photo side of things it will have new photos automatically pushed to other devices using "Photostream". On the Mac it will be added as a new album in iPhoto (no mention of Aperture, but presumably the same). On the PC it will synchronise to a new Photostream folder in your "Pictures" folder - it will even stream to AppleTV. In the cloud photos will be stored for 30 days, and on devices it will store the last 1,000 photos - only on Macs and PCs will a photo be stored permanently in order to save space where needed.

The final iCloud announcement is for iTunes - it will now store your music purchases in the cloud so that it can be automatically downloaded on other devices. This can be done on a track by track basis, or by album and will not be chargeable for redownloading. It's also possible for new purchases to automatically appear on your other devices without manual intervention. It is limited to 10 devices, but will transfer 256kbps AAC files to ensure good quality.

The storage space available for iCloud will be 5Gb but doesn't include music, apps and books - these are counted separately. The synchronisation does also include non-purchases of music via iTunes Match - assuming the song is available in the iTunes store, but costs $24.99 a year to use. With iTunes Match it will automatically update the songs in your library to 256 kbps AAC DRM-free files, and comparitively doing the same with Amazon or Google would take weeks and would cost around twice as much.

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