In The Cloud: iOS And The New Wave Of Mobile Computing

I try to keep the fanboi squeee regarding Apple and their products to a minimum here on X&HT. I use them almost exclusively, but in the past I’ve been … evangelistic about them. To the point of heated argument, which is downright silly. I’d like to think I’ve mellowed over time, and spent a year tinkering with Linux on my netbook. Advisory before I begin, therefore: other computing platforms are available.

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However. I can’t help but be drawn to the twice-yearly announcements from San Francisco, and Monday’s bulletin has genuine significance. Particularly when you look at how Apple have taken lessons and been informed by mobile platforms, and the community of developers that support and enhance them.

A lot of the new advances in iOS5, which is due in the autumn, have been informed by the work done by jailbreakers. These are maverick developers who have seen limitations in the way Apple do things, and have figured out ways to open up the platform. Jailbreaking allows you to install a ton of software that Apple would or could not approve through their approved channels, and some of it is far better than the default. The new Notification Centre in iOS is a pretty accurate port of MobileNotifier. Its developer, Peter Hajas, was headhunted specifically to work with Apple on the changes. Changes to the lock screen have again come straight from the rogues. Interesting that while on one hand Apple have, on the surface at least, worked hard to shut the jailbreakers down, but at the same time they have been carefully watching what’s been going on.

This approach extends into other core apps. The new Camera adopts grids, in-app filters, and the ability to take a snap using the hardware volume-up button. This is an innovation that, when first rolled out in the brilliant photo app Camera+, got developers taptaptap barred from the App Store for six months. Imitation can be a form of flattery, but this feels more like a BDSM relationship. Taptaptap gracefully made their point on Twitter:

Similarly, the read-again function introduced into Safari has cribbed a lot of functionality from Instapaper (although the creator of that app, Marco Arment, seems cautiously optimistic about the future.) It was ever thus with Apple. Cupertino have always been good at taking ideas and sprinkling fairy dust over them to make them their own. We shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening with the new platform.

The big news for me is the announcement that you can now run an iPad or iPhone straight out of the box without the need for a computer at all. For unpaid tech support guys like myself and Rev Sherlock, this could be the answer to our prayers. Team the iPad with a dock and keyboard, and you have everything you need for parent-level computing. Factor in cloud-based backup and storage, and you don’t even have to show them how to work an external hard drive. I don’t think we’re quite at the level where you can bin the laptop yet (no idea how you’d use an iPad to set up and troubleshoot a wireless router, for example) but I think we could be teetering on the brink of something extraordinary. The advent of post-computer computing.

It’s fascinating to see how Apple’s work in the mobile field has filtered into the core of OSX. Gestural commands and iOS-style launchers are all signs that Apple have paid attention to the important part of the computer for most people that will buy one in the first place – ease of use. It’s the focus on the user experience that makes Apple such a big deal, to my mind, and the fact that Monday’s announcement was all about refinements and improvements to that shows how clearly this is understood. The changes will certainly have an impact on the way I work and write.

As ever, it’s not the box that’s important. It’s what you get inside it that matters. Apple changed the way we use and think about phones. They may be about to do the same for the computer.

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Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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