Steve Jobs demonstrated that the iCloud strategy represents a new direction for Apple and its hardware

Steve Jobs showed the iCloud strategy represents a major new direction for Apple and its hardwarePhoto: Donald Bell/CNET

Despite the absence of hardware launches, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference was memorable thanks to 10 telling announcements, says Seb Janacek.

As Apple conferences go, this year’s WWDC was a big one. There were a slew of announcements and a blissful absence of new shiny iThings. Instead, it was all about the software. A pleasing two hours for the old school.

This article could easily have been a list of 20 or 30 big moments from the keynote but 10 will have to do. So, in no particular order…

1. iCloud

For all the new flourishes in Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5, it was the iCloud segment that represented the real meat of the keynote.

The iCloud strategy represents a major new direction for Apple and its hardware. The cloud replaces the Mac and iTunes at the centre of the digital hub.

Apple has revamped its core, ailing MobileMe services and introduced iCloud-based options for documents, pictures and, of course, music. Some believe this move is the beginning of the end for the Mac. I’d say it’s simply the liberation of the Mac. It’s certainly the beginning of a new age for Apple.

2. iCloud APIs

This announcement was a pleasant surprise for developers and puts the vast Apple developer community at the heart of the iCloud strategy. The company unveiled about 1,500 new APIs for iOS 5 but the news that developers would get access to APIs to let them build applications around iCloud’s new storage, synchronisation and back-up capabilities brought cheering and applause.

Apps have been a huge hit for Apple, one of the main reasons behind the success of iOS. iCloud is the next big thing for the company and developers are getting in on the ground floor. Hugely significant.

3. Cheap-as-chips software

Apple is a company that makes most of its money through hardware, not software. Previous iterations of Mac OS X – apart from the last one – cost $129. Lion looks like one of the biggest leaps forward for Mac OS X since its launch, yet it’s available for just $29.99, or £20.99 in the UK.

Meanwhile, iOS 5 and iCloud are free and the iTunes Match service – see number 9 – is aggressively priced against Amazon’s competing service.

Apple’s strategy is to encourage users to buy a wider range of Apple hardware products by making the software usable and useful and making the opportunities for interworking between devices more interesting. Need an iPad to go with that iPhone? Of course you do.

iOS 5 notifications

iOS 5 means you can now see a summary of all messages and alerts by swiping your finger down the screenPhoto: Apple

4. iOS 5 notifications

Notifications have long been a weak point in iOS and users have long coveted the more sophisticated notification features of Android phones. The current notification modal alert almost looks anachronistic against the modern backdrop of iOS.

The whole notification system in iOS has now been overhauled.

A complete list of all notifications can be accessed by swiping your finger down the screen to access a summary of all messages and alerts.

Notifications are now non-intrusive and can be ignored if you’re working on something else.

Finally, the lock screen lists a summary of key alerts such as text messages, email, appointments and voicemail that can be accessed directly.

5. Great artists steal

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Android and RIM fans will be living off this move by Apple for years. iOS now has a number of features that have been mainstays on Android and BlackBerry devices for some time, most notably the new notification screen, wireless synching, new messaging and the lack of dependency on a PC.

Another way of looking at it is…

 

that Apple’s competitors have long differentiated themselves from iOS by developing features that iOS lacked, such as cut-and-paste and better notifications. The rest were inspired by iOS so a little reciprocity goes a long way.

6. Location-aware reminders

Apple ads famously feature the phrase “There’s an app for that” to highlight the ubiquity of third-party software that makes the iOS devices so diverse and capable of being personalised by users.

However, I honestly can’t recall hearing about anything like location-aware reminders. The feature lets you set alerts and reminders based on GPS-determined location. For example, ‘Call your client’ as soon as you reach the office, or ‘Don’t forget the milk’ when you walk into a supermarket.

iOS 5 iMessage

Some are already claiming that iMessage – Apple’s answer to BlackBerry Messenger for iOS users – signals the death of SMSPhoto: CNET/CBS Interactive

7. iMessage

Another innovation borrowed from a competitor, in this case RIM. The BlackBerry’s proprietary messenger system, BBM, lets users send messages, photos and other media to any other BlackBerry user over RIM’s network. iMessage does the same for iOS devices, sending free messages and media to other iOS users.

There have been apps that replicated this functionality, most notably PingChat, but reliability was poor. Some people are already claiming that iMessage signals the death of SMS, which is premature given it only works between iOS devices.

Nevertheless, one suggestion circulating after the show was that the keynote was the first the mobile carriers knew about iMessage and its potential impact on SMS revenues from iOS users.

8. PC and Mac-free

We are living in a post-PC world, at least according to Jobs. Accordingly, why do we need a PC or Mac to which to tether our iOS devices? Apple cut the cord to the Mac and PC to rapturous applause. It’s consistent with its iCloud service, with the Mac put on the same level as the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch – a device.

Gone are the days where an iOS device had to dance its initial awkward, time-consuming dance with iTunes. The cloud is the hub and the platform now.

In addition, all software updates will be delivered over the air by delta updates – in other words, updates containing only the bare minimum of data. Analysts have already estimated that cutting the cord will open up vast new markets for Apple’s iOS devices.

9. iTunes Match

Jobs saved iTunes Match for his ‘one more thing’ piece. The feature lets you scan and match your complete iTunes music library and download it to all your devices. This feature includes tracks that have been copied from CD and music that may be of, ahem, questionable origin.

Any music not available via the iTunes store has to be uploaded to iCloud and backed up. No Spotify-style streaming yet, as many expected, but that surely is only a matter of time.

Lion OS X autosave Versions

The autosave feature of Lion OS X is probably the most understated announcement of WWDCPhoto: Apple

10. Autosave in Lion

This is probably going to have the biggest impact on the day-to-day life of most users, yet it’s one of the most subtle and understated of the new features in Lion. It quite simply represents a huge improvement in working with documents.

We’ve all lost parts of or whole documents through failure to save. Now, as on the iPad, the document is auto-saved in the background. The whole process of hitting ‘save’ is over for Lion users.

Furthermore, the versioning system looks incredibly useful and practical. It may prove to be an end to the woes of lost files and versions. In a year’s time, we may not even recall the pain of lost changes to documents. And good riddance, too.