iOMG! Apple Announces its Latest Innovations

Two or three times a year, the technology world’s mounting anticipation boils over when Apple says, well, anything, about what it is they are doing. This week, the tech giant revealed its latest news at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Nobody was more aware of this than me; the company for which I work, Atlassian, was having its conference down the street and looked positively puny in comparison. We actually had to dress up as bugs to get any attention.

Apple’s WWDC conference is targeted primarily at developers (better known as the people that make your iPhone apps). Apple generally stays away from making big product announcements at this conference, saving things like the iPhone and iPad for special events. I won’t try to offer serious analysis of what was said-- there are more than enough people already weighing in on that. Instead, I’ll  break down the three biggest announcements, simply and concisely for your reading pleasure:

iCloud If you haven’t heard about “the cloud,” get ready. It’s here, and it’s everywhere. If you’ve ever used Google Docs or Dropbox, you’re already storing documents “in the cloud." Amazon and Google have both announced music services where you can upload your music and then access it from a phone or tablet, as well as your computer. Here’s the important takeaway from WWDC: Apple’s vision for the cloud is completely different. Apple wants to make the cloud so omnipresent that you forget it’s even there.

Instead of uploading documents and then downloading them somewhere else, everything will just “be”. Documents on your computer will also be on your iPad and your iPhone. No uploading, not even saving, just there. Same with music, email, photos, and apps. It’ll all just “be there”. You don’t have to think about it. The thing to understand about iCloud is that it's not really a product so much as a name for the way Apple will back up all your documents, music, and photos automatically. You won't need to access any particular "cloud-based" applications because it's built in to all the applications (iTunes, Camera Roll on iPhone, Mail, Docs, Apps, Contacts) that Apple already makes. You don't need to buy iCloud, it's just going to become a part of your digital life. It’s essentially the cloud for people that don’t care what the cloud is. Oh, and it’s free (mostly).

Mac OS X Lion If you’ve bought a Mac since you started college, you’re using one of the last two Mac operating systems--”Leopard” or “Snow Leopard”. Keeping with the big cats theme, their latest effort is Lion. It includes a lot of new features, like “Mission Control”, which helps you organize your windows better. There are also full screen apps, just like your computer games back in 1999 (sorry Apple, not really impressed by that one).

Here’s the takeaway though: three features actually matter--”Resume”, autosave, and the Mac App Store. Resume means that when you exit a program, it will come back exactly the way you left it the next time you open it. That means you can keep a billion tabs open in Chrome when you’re writing your research paper, turn off your computer, and when you turn it back on, they’ll all still be there. Autosave is more of the same. Do you like how Google Docs automatically saves your work every few seconds? Now all of Apple’s desktop products will do the same. Finally, if you haven’t already started using the Mac App Store, start. Because you’re not going to get a choice soon. Apple wants to make it the sole way to get programs on your computer--just like the App Store on an iPhone or iPad. And they’re starting with Mac OS X Lion itself, which will be available in July for $30, on the App Store.

iOS 5 If you haven’t realized that smartphones run on an operating system, or that the iPhone’s operating system is known as “iOS”, then Apple is succeeding in its goal to make it so simple, you don’t even notice. iOS 5 is the next major upgrade in the software running on the iPhone. It’s not a new iPhone, it’s just an overhaul of the software that runs on the phone. While a new iPhone design will probably come out in the fall, anyone with an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 will get access to the new features in iOS 5. Takeaway? Apple took a lot of crap from technology commentators this week because a lot of the new features were eerily similar to things that Android and Blackberry users already have.

First, the “Notifications Center” mirrors Android’s in that all your notifications (messages, missed calls, Facebook pokes) can be accessed by pulling down the bar at the top of the screen. Next, iMessage is a messaging service connected  to iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touchs (which your Mom probably calls an “iTouch”...not a thing, and kind of creepy sounding). Sound a lot like BlackBerry BBM? It IS a lot like BlackBerry BBM. Will it get all those faithful BlackBerry users to ditch their PINs and join the Apple crew? We’ll see. Finally, the third biggest thing Apple did to resemble Android--you no longer need to plug your phone into your computer. Ever. You can sync everything wirelessly, buy apps wirelessly, and charge wirelessly. Just kidding: you still have to plug your phone into something to charge.  But wireless syncing has indeed arrived on the Apple iPhone scene. There are a bunch of new features that you can read about here, and they’re all going to be free.

In between all this, Apple also found time to announce plans for a giant new spaceship-like headquarters building up in Silicon Valley. But the main focus of this week in tech news, unavoidably, was WWDC. While these announcements were by far from the most exciting Apple has ever made, the innovation is certain to continue: get ready for your MacBook and iPhone to do a lot more in the near future.

Want more of Dave Meyer's tech insight? Read his article on tech tools that simplify college life and twitter.