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

John Cox, Network World | June 6, 2011
Apple outlined the changes that iOS 5, due for release this fall, will bring to iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users. The devices are being cut free from computers and tied more closely into new cloud services.

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."

The single sign-on feature is a key element in the new iOS Twitter integration. An iPhone user can take a photo with the phone, tap an action button, then tap "Tweet," for example. Users don't need to re-login for every app.

In parallel with the greater cloud integration, Apple has unshackled iOS device from having to be cabled to a Mac or PC. You'll be able to unpack an iOS 5 device, turn it on, see a welcome screen, and start using the device.

Starting with iOS 5, software content can be updated, transferred  and backed up incrementally and wirelessly, via Wi-Fi Sync and SSL, without having to cable the device to your computer.

Push notifications of emails, missed calls and other updates or state changes will be much smoother for users in iOS 5.

Apple introduced notifications in 2009, via a service dubbed the Apple Push Notification System (APNS), which let iOS apps register with a server to receive remote updates, such as a new tweet on Twitter, an item added to newsfeed, or a challenge from an online game player. APNS sends the update directly to the registered iPhone. The update can trigger a sound, show a text message, or prepare an iPhone app to launch in response.

But every such notification interrupted whatever task the user was doing. You have to acknowledge the interruption before doing anything else.

In iOS 5, Apple introduces the Notification Center, which will consolidate all notifications, and can be accessed by swiping a finger down from the top menu. The drop-down screen shows missed calls, voicemails, text messages and push notices from the iTunes-based App Store.

"It looks to be primarily an improvement on the functionality for the enduser experience," says Michael Richardson, co-founder and engineer at Urban Airship, a Portland, Ore., software company that offers a software-based service to simplify deploying push notifications, in-app purchasing and other capabilities for mobile apps. "It's much easier for users to deal with."


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