There are a few Apple technologies —old, new and yet to be released — where I am left wondering what its true function is and Apple’s ultimate goal in developing it. I also have to wonder how each technology fits into Apple’s overall strategy to help them achieve their grand vision. I’m going to go through a bunch of these technologies and give you my thoughts and predictions.
One of Apple’s goals is to eventually have FaceTime become an industry standard. To date this has not happened, which can only be hindering the adoption of FaceTime. FaceTime has been able to work between iOS devices as well as on Macs. The integration between the two is essential to the ultimate success of FaceTime.
There is one aspect that has been lacking in communication mediums: iChat. iChat has not had any significant upgrade in quite a long time. This application has been left to flounder. Yes, it works for MobileMe as well as chatting with those on AIM and Google Talk but there has been no other integration with iChat and other messaging platforms like MSN, Skype, or Facebook. We know this integration is possible because clients like Adium have already implemented these services.
The last piece of this that is somewhat bothersome is the isolation of FaceTime and iChat. Why is FaceTime not integrated into iChat or vice versa? I would think that most people would like to use a single instant messaging/video conference software rather than needing multiples clients just to be able to talk to whomever they choose. If FaceTime were to become standard, its marketshare could grow significantly without Apple needing to do much in terms of actual implementation, outside of API and Frameworks.
As almost everybody knows by now, Apple has officially acknowledged the existence of iCloud by sending out a Press Release highlighting the topics that are going to be covered at their WWDC 2011 Keynote. We do not know for certain what iCloud will ultimately entail, but this is by no means Apple’s first cloud service.
Apple’s MobileMe, and its previous incarnation .Mac, have been around since July of 2002. To date, MobileMe has been very limited in scope. MobileMe consists of iDisk for storage, Calendars, Address Book, Photo Galleries, and Find my iOS device. These are all great services; however, they are limited in total scope for what MobileMe could house when it fully matures.
MobileMe allows easy website hosting through iWeb, and it currently offers a quick way to publish photos to Galleries via iPhoto and via your iOS device. These features all work well together, and there is great integration with other Apple products, so this is a definite positive.
Don’t get me wrong — MobileMe has come a LONG way since its initial launch problems. The addition of Find my iOS device in 2010 was a fantastic addition that allows a user to locate their device. But there has not been a whole lot added since the launch.
iWork and iWork.com
MobileMe hasn’t been the only Apple cloud service that has not received many updates. Apple’s iWork.com has been in beta since January 2009. Since the release there has been very few updates to iWork.com and it has remained in beta since its launch. Support for iWork for iPad has been added as well as some performance improvements, but not much else.
Similarly, there has been no update to iWork since January of 2009, the same time that the beta of iWork.com was unveiled. iWork ’09 is mostly file-compatible with the iOS version, and you can share items to iWork.com from both iOS and Mac but there has been no real strategy around iWork.com except the ability to view shared files.
I foresee iWork ’12 being released along with a major update to iWork.com. I also anticipate that iWork.com will come out of beta as a full-fledged product that offers the current sharing feature, as well as new editing capabilities for full creation and editing functionality from your iOS device or your Mac. I will even go so far as to say that I think we will see a full iWork suite available online, much like Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 offerings. Cloud-based productivity products are not likely to overtake locally installed productivity suites, but they could be an interesting offering by Apple. And of course, this will be available via the Mac App Store.
We have recently heard the rumor that Apple’s Time Capsules and AirPort Express supplies are running low. We’re not sure why they’re low, but the rumor is that the new devices will cache iOS and Mac OS X updates locally instead of having to download the updates from Apple and update your devices from your Mac. This could be an interesting change should this rumor pan out because it could change the process of updates. I would like to see this, but I would also like to see a way to share iWork files locally much like iWork.com except in a more local context.
On the topic of caching and updating wirelessly, one of the most desired features for iOS is the ability to wirelessly sync your iOS device with your computer. Interestingly, there was an app rejected by Apple that would do just this. This app was rejected despite being fully within Apple’s guidelines and using only approved APIs. The rejected app proves that this functionality can exist, and I would hope to see this within iOS 5.
iOS 5 can potentially hold a lot of surprises within its bytes of software. There is a rumor that states that Twitter will have deep integration within iOS 5. This should come as no surprise given that Twitter is a popular communication service. Usage with Twitter could explode given the sheer number of iOS devices that are in existence now and the potential user base as new iOS devices are sold.
If this rumor is true, the implementation of Twitter is going to be the key to the success of iOS 5. If Twitter is just a slightly integrated experience, it may not work as well as one could expect. However, knowing Apple, they will go all out and Twitter will have its tentacles all over the place within iOS 5.
I have been pondering a question regarding this possible implementation, Why stop at just Twitter? Why not implement Facebook, AIM, and even Skype in this same manner? I think Apple, if it wants to jump even further ahead of other platforms, needs to create APIs that will allow developers to integrate their applications more intimately with iOS 5.
Imagine a developer integrating Skype notifications right into a global notification view or even being allowed to put a list of to-do items right on the lock screen. This would allow a user to just hit the power or home button and see what is next on their to-do list. This is not a new concept, but it has not yet been implemented by Apple.
OS X Lion
On the subject of iOS, as you may already know, Lion is going to get some new features that are directly from iOS. The first of these is Launchpad, which looks a lot like the iOS home screen. Launchpad even allows Folders, just like iOS does. The second feature is full-screen applications. As iOS implements, OS X Lion will allow developers to create apps that engulf the whole screen. This can be very useful if you want to stay on task with just one application at a time. The third feature is Mail, which allows you to view all of your email accounts with a single view. This can be very handy if you need to triage emails.
The last feature in Apple’s OS X Lion that I want to highlight is AirDrop. AirDrop is supposed to allow you to automatically find near-by AirDrop compatible clients and send them files without any cumbersome configurations. I could see this working quite well between iOS devices as well as between a Mac and an iOS device and vice versa.
Let us take this a step further. Assuming that the refreshed Airport devices contain A4 or A5 chips, like all current iOS devices do, as rumored. Imagine that Airport Extreme is the medium used to transfer files between the two devices without having to configure anything, because it is already set to go merely by connecting to Airport.
AirDrop is something that we do not know much about at the moment. However, we do know quite a bit about a similar product, AirPrint. AirPrint was originally touted as a new feature of iOS 4.2 that was introduced back on September 15th, 2010. AirPrint was going to allow you to print either directly to an AirPrint-supported printer or through your Mac or PC using an intermediary application. As of now, the only AirPrint-enabled printers are from HP. The intermediary step of using your computer never came to fruition.
Instead of having to either replace your printer with one that supports AirPrint or having to use AirDrop to transfer a file to your Mac and then printing it, think of how sweet it would be to be able to print to a printer that is directly connected to your Airport Extreme or AirPort Express without needing an intermediary step. If the AirPort device were running iOS it would be simple to have the two devices communicate and automatically send the document you wish to print to a printer connected via Airport.
The last feature that an iOS-based Airport device could provide would be a way to get ‘Back to My Network.’ We all know about the “Back to My Mac” service that is part of MobileMe. It allows you to connect to your Mac from another Mac simply by signing in. The issue with this is that it requires another Mac to be able to use the feature. Many people do not have a secondary Mac, but they do have an iOS device like an iPad or iPhone that could be used to connect to a Mac, should an app exist.
I like the idea of Back to my Mac, but sometimes I want to be able to access my PC on my network. In order to accomplish this now, I would have to set up a VPN connection and then VNC or RDP into my PC. Short of doing this, I would have to pay for Logmein or GoToMyPC, which only cover one device, not an entire network. If a new Airport device were able to act as the VPN endpoint, I could then access any network resource that I have. Along with this, I could also sync up my iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with the latest podcasts or even send a print job from my iOS device outside of my network to be ready when I got back home. It may be a pipe-dream, but it is an idea that I would find useful.
I touched on iCloud earlier, but now is a good time to delve deeper into the idea. iCloud is the official name of Apple’s upcoming Cloud Service. As mentioned previously, nothing official has been revealed regarding iCloud. Despite the lack of any official information, this has not stopped people from speculating about what iCloud could entail.
The first mention of iCloud occurred towards the end of April when it was rumored and then confirmed that Apple had purchased the iCloud.com domain name. Purchasing a domain name does not normally indicate anything, except when it comes to Apple. So, Apple has something in mind, but what could it be?
Apple likes to compete within a market where they can produce a better product than the competition. What would be a logical market? Music might be a good one. Apple already has iTunes, the most popular Music store in the world. Amazon has an MP3 store and a Cloud storage service that allows you to store all of your music in the cloud and play it back on your iOS device. Apple’s frienemy Google has also unveiled their beta Cloud storage and playback service dubbed Google Music. Both Amazon and Google’s offerings are only cloud-storage and playback mechanisms. Part of Amazon and Google’s cloud music offerings do include the ability to re-download the items you have uploaded. In Amazon’s case, you can re-download the items that have been purchased on their MP3 store and are stored in your Cloud Player. This makes it a nice feature in case your hard drive craps out and you are forced to re-install everything. Neither Amazon nor Google’s music offerings include a subscription music service, which could be part of Apple’s iCloud strategy. Apple’s iTunes Music Store does not currently offer the ability to re-download music that you have already purchased.
If Apple has been able to secure music streaming rights for iCloud, it could provide a significant jolt to the rather limited subscription music business. There are competitors like Zune, Rhapsody, Pandora and Rdio, but none of these comes close to the music-buying populace. I currently subscribe to Zune’s $14.95 a month plan, which includes 10 credits for converting my subscription music to permanent music. This is a nice perk since I do not purchase that much music on a monthly basis. Should Apple be able to offer a subscription music service, I would switch my Zune plan to just subscription-only, with no credits for purchasing music, were this to be offered by Microsoft. Furthermore, that may just be long enough for me to be able to download all of the songs I really want on the iTunes Subscription music service, depending on the price.
Speaking of the cost of subscription services, Apple’s iCloud streaming service has been rumored to have cost Apple upwards of $150 million in up-front payments, while it may cost end-users $25 per year. That would be just under $2.10 per month for a streaming service. At that price, it would be hard to justify paying $120 per year for a service like Rhapsody, let alone $180 for a Zune Pass subscription.
A myriad of topics have been covered throughout this lengthy thought piece: MobileMe, Time Capsules, Mobile Me, OS X Lion, iOS 5, iCloud, Music subscriptions, music streaming, VPN, FaceTime and even iChat. I certainly don’t have insight into Apple’s entire vision, privy to their thought processes, or knowledge of their ultimate goals. Despite not having the whole picture, we do have some glimpses into where Apple may be headed. I am not sure how much of the predictions will be proven accurate or how much of this is just purely wishful thinking. We will hopefully have some answers in due course following the WWDC keynote on Monday.