article

06.06.11

Apple's Magic Act With iOS 5 and iCloud

Geeks lined up before dawn today to see Steve Jobs roll out new operating system software and a cloud storage service. But as Dan Lyons points out, Jobs is just catching up with Google.

For Apple fanboys, Christmas comes several times a year. Today is one of those days, with Steve Jobs hosting a keynote at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) to roll out new operating system software and iCloud, a new cloud storage service.

As always the geeks this morning started lining up early outside the event in San Francisco, forming a two-block trail by 4:15 a.m.—about six hours before the actual starting time.

This weird urge to form queues overcomes Apple fanatics whenever it introduces a new product or holds some kind of event where Steve Jobs will speak.

Depending on your point of view it is either (a) marvelous—which means you must be an Apple shareholder, or (b) deeply troubling and ultimately depressing, a sad statement about how empty and meaningless our lives have become and a reason to go read Viktor Frankl, take pills, or both.

But I digress. What is the big deal today?

The big deal is that Apple will introduce a new version of the iOS operating system that runs on iPhones and iPads; the new version is called iOS 5 and supposedly will have Twitter built right into it. There will also be a new cloud storage system, called iCloud, which will let you store music on Apple’s Internet servers and fetch it from any device you happen to be using. Finally, Apple will show off a new version of the OS X operating system that runs on iMacs and Macbooks; the new version is called Lion and doesn’t really matter because desktop and laptop computers are fast becoming obsolete, and most of Apple’s resources are being directed at devices running iOS and the Internet-based services that sell things to people using those mobile devices.

The biggest news here I believe will be around iCloud, which I believe will enable Apple to leapfrog past Amazon and Google, which also have recently introduced their own cloud music services.

It’s believed that Apple has been negotiating with music labels to get their participation in Apple’s system; Amazon and Google both rolled out their systems without the blessing of music companies.

Those services let you upload all of your online music up to a kind of digital locker in the cloud. But you have to manually upload all those songs.

With Apple, some people are expecting a better system in which Apple will simply scan the collection that you have on your home computer, figure out what songs are in it, and then fill up your digital locker with the same songs.

Another big feature of iCloud is that it should enable you to pull stuff onto your iPhone or iPad without having to tether it to your home computer. That’s been one of the biggest pains for owners of those devices. Whenever you want to load up some music or movies on your mobile device, you have to first download that stuff to your computer, then connect your mobile device and zap the music or movies over a wire.

With the new system being announced today, you should be able to simply press a button on your iPhone or iPad and zip stuff directly over the air into your device.

Funny thing is, Android phones and tablets have had this feature for a long time. So really Apple is just playing catch-up with Google.

Funny thing is, Android phones and tablets have had this feature for a long time. So really Apple is just playing catch-up with Google.

Nevertheless, I’m willing to bet that when Steve Jobs shows off this feature, he’ll pretend it’s never been done before, and will call it something like “WizardSync” (TM) and do a Criss Angel style demo in which he will click a button, show the file move from one place to another, and then act as if he himself can’t quite believe it, and the whole thing must be happening … by magic!

And all those glassy-eyed fanboys who’ve been lining up since the wee morning hours will start clapping and cheering and foaming at the mouth in paroxysms of weeping.

And the hacks in the press will rush out to report that Apple has once again solved a problem that has puzzled scientists and mathematicians for centuries, and that Europe is free at last and our lives now are moving into broad, sunlit uplands, and that Apple, glorious Apple, the most wonderful, magical place in the world, the Disney of technology, has found a way, yet again, to restore a sense of childlike wonder to the world.

Worse yet, I’ll be one of those hacks.

Forgive me for being cynical. It’s Monday, I’m grumpy, and I’ve seen this act before.

See you this afternoon, after the show.

Dan Lyons is technology editor at Newsweek and the creator of Fake Steve Jobs, the persona behind the notorious tech blog, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. Before joining Newsweek, Lyons spent 10 years at Forbes.