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Apple made it official early Tuesday morning: We will see details about three exciting new software products at WWDC 2011 next week. Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud will all be included in the keynote delivered by Steve Jobs and other Apple execs Monday. But what, specifically, can we expect to see announced?
Mac OS X Lion
Of the three, Lion is the one we know most about. That’s because Apple released it as a developer preview back in February 2011, and has been steadily introducing updates since then, with the aim of refining the experience ahead of wide consumer release. Even though the developer preview is technically protected by an NDA, details have been leaking steadily since the introduction of the preview software, and Apple has also prepared a fairly informative official preview page showing off many of Lion’s features. Here’s a bullet point list of Lion’s most interesting facets and features that we know of so far:
- Launchpad. Basically, this is a home screen for your Mac apps that works just like the one on your iPad or iPhone, in that you can scroll through pages of apps on a grid, remove and move apps by clicking and holding down until the icons wiggle, and create folders for storing similar apps together. Apps downloaded from the Mac App Store go directly to Launchpad instead of to the Dock, as they do currently in Snow Leopard.
- Mission Control is like Exposé, but supercharged. Mission Control provides quick access to your various desktops if you use Spaces, full-screen apps, all your open app windows, and your dashboard and dock in one easy top-level view.
- Full-Screen Apps. Another trait borrowed from iOS is the ability to run apps in a distraction-free full-screen mode. Official Apple apps like iCal, Mail and iPhoto support this in early Lion builds, but third-party developers will be able to take advantage as well. Apps that are in full-screen mode can be cycled through with a multi-touch swipe gesture.
- Auto Save, Versions and Resume. Lion is a great step forward for document and information management. Auto Save automatically saves changes you make to a file, while Versions allows you to look at and revert to older iterations quickly and easily. Resume means that every time you restart your Mac, you go back exactly to where you left off with open apps and documents, so there’s no reason to put off that crucial Software Update that requires a restart ever again.
- Mail 5, iCal and Address Book. These are three examples of built-in apps that get a visual and functional makeover in OS X Lion. Mail 5, especially, is a significant change, bringing the desktop client more in line with the iPad version. It has threaded conversations and a columnar layout for greater usability.
- AirDrop. Share files instantly between computers on your local network. This is a bit like having an automatic, login and signup-free Dropbox for use with those around you. Sounds like it’ll be a great time saver.
- Server for All. OS X Lion now ships with Lion server built-in, so anyone can set their Mac up as an OS X server. One more way Apple is collapsing the distinction between professional and consumer categories of products.
- Many more small changes, like easy access to accented characters, and the disappearance of scrollbars.
Unlike OS X Lion, little is known about Apple’s next mobile operating system. iOS 5 does, however, have big expectations to meet, given that many suspect the software update has to hold over customers anticipating new iPhone hardware that might not appear until fall. Here’s what little information there is regarding possible changes coming in iOS 5:
- Better Notifications. According to TechCrunch, Apple is planning on rolling out a “completely revamped” notifications system in iOS 5. Many users, my colleague Kevin C. Tofel included, find the current implementation of iOS notifications to be clunky and annoying. A change in the way those work is a likely target for Apple, since it’s one of the more obvious areas where small changes could represent a big improvement in the way the OS works as a whole.
- Widgets. At the same time as it reported new notifications were in the works, TechCrunch also said widgets were planned for iOS 5. No details regarding how they might work were included in the report, but they could look like Apple’s Dashboard widgets for OS X, which provide live updating information at a glance without having to be opened. Android features home screen widgets that work in much the same way, providing at-a-glance weather information, for example.
- Nuance Voice Recognition Tech. Makers of Dragonsoft Naturally Speaking and voice recognition technology leader Nuance has been rumored to be in discussions with Apple regarding the licensed use of its tech in Apple products. One reported use of the tech is in iOS 5, where it will supposedly be available for developer use via API. This is probably the least definite feature on this list, but if true, it would make speech-based apps that much more powerful on iOS devices.
- Media Stream and Photo Stream. Evidence for new integrated device-wide streaming galleries and media libraries has been found in iOS code, indicating that we might see the features introduced in iOS 5. These could tie in to iCloud, the other big product being unveiled at WWDC.
As with iOS 5, there isn’t much concrete info on what iCloud will look like, but there have been a lot of reports detailing possible features for inclusion in the product. Also, iCloud won’t be materializing out of thin air, so the first place to look regarding what to expect is MobileMe, a product it will almost certainly replace, or at least supplement.
- Cloud Syncing and Control. Like MobileMe, expect iCloud to handle your email, contacts, calendars, bookmarks, notes and more across computers and Apple devices. That should include some cloud file storage like that offered by iDisk now, and the Back to My Mac feature that provides full remote access to any Mac computer associated with your account.
- Media Stream and Photo Stream. The synced gallery and media library features hinted at in iOS 5 will likely extend to any Mac devices connected via iCloud. That should make it very easy to share and edit your photo galleries and home video collections on any Apple device you happen to own, from anywhere you have a connection. Think Facebook photos, but with much better hardware integration.
- Cloud Music. While other differences between MobileMe and iCloud will exist, the one that should likely stand out most will be Apple’s cloud music service, so long as negotiations go well and the company can secure licenses in time. Recent reports suggest Apple will allow user library scanning and syncing instead of uploading, something streaming music service LaLa allowed prior to its purchase by Apple.
Apple has done a remarkably good job keeping many of the details of the product offerings we’ll see unveiled next week close to the chest, which means it should be a great keynote. Stay tuned right here as we bring you coverage of WWDC as soon as it kicks off on Monday June 6.