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One Operating System, Two Platforms? Apple iOS 5 & Mac OS X Lion

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"If the hardware is the brain and the sinew of the product, the software in the middle is the soul," said Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs today as he kicked off the 2011 World Wide Developers' Conference in San Francisco.

Apple's not doing too poorly on the hardware side, having sold over 200 million iOS devices and more than 25 million iPads since its launch about one year ago. Apple claims its installed base of iOS devices beats Android's market share by 44 percent to 28 percent respectively, although Android has surged in the past five months and current sales fall to Android's favor on a 3:2 ratio.

On the software side, Apple's Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS software, stated that more than 14 billion applications have been downloaded from the App Store, in total, and that there are now 90,000 iPad-specific apps and over 425,000 total iOS apps, with almost $2.5 billion in developer payments issued by Apple.

Apple's upcoming mobile operating system, iOS 5, will bring a variety of improvements to the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch: background downloading of media content (including magazines and video content), enhanced notifications, and a better media delivery experience.

Background downloads are effectively subscriptions that are pushed to a device, in much the same way as podcasts are pushed to iTunes. In the new iOS 5 approach, however, this can include magazine subscriptions, video podcasts, and even episodes from television series. We'll provide more details as Apple explains these features over the next three days of WWDC.

One area where the iOS user interface (UI) is sorely lacking is in notifications: popping a small window in the middle of the screen—on top of other apps and interrupting anything being done by the user—is a source of frustration. Android, by contrast, has a more elegant notification that pops up along the top of the screen, with icons representing each type of application: mail, instant messaging, or media apps.

"Rather that popping up a modal alert," said Forstall, referring to the window that pops up in the current iOS version, "push notifications will pop up subtly at the top of the screen."

On the media delivery side, Apple has integrated Twitter into iOS, so that movies, still images, and other content can be shared with a single click with followers. The feature seems to be geared toward a next-generation MMS or SMS solution, but one that sees media as the primary driver, rather than just text sharing.

Even beyond portable devices, Apple is bringing many of the full-screen, immersive features to its desktop and laptop products, such as the MacBook Air and iMac.

Jobs noted that portable notebooks/laptops now comprise 73 percent of all Apple computer sales, a figure that excludes the sales of iPads, which Apple does not consider a computer.

This growth of portable devices, from the iPod Touch to the MacBook line, shows that consumers want to be free to work anywhere. Apple claims this portable momentum has allowed it to buck the trend of lagging PC sales.

"Year-over-year, the PC has shrunk 1 percent," said Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing. "In that same time, the Mac has grown 28 percent, outgrowing the industry every quarter for the last five years."

Even beyond portable hardware, however, the newest Mac operating system is taking a cue from iOS devices. For those interested in online video and streaming, the inclusion of FrontRow-like features at the operating system level are going to make media creation and consumption much easier.

For instance, FaceTime is built in to Apple's Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), enabling full-screen communications between iOS and Macintosh devices with a front-facing HD or SD camera.

In addition, Lion enables multi-touch on the trackpad across the entire operating system, a boon for media consumption or content creation applications as they allow the entire screen to focus on a single task when viewing or creating content.

The ability to bring an application full-screen, but then swipe it to the left or the right to move to the next application, is reminiscent of the way that the iPhone's multiple home screens work.

In addition, the Mac App Store, a desktop/laptop derivative of the iTunes App Store, is now going to be "baked in" to OS X Lion, with an important extra feature necessary for enterprise deployment: built-in sandboxing, a secure mode that isolates applications from one another during installation.

Finally, in much the same way as iOS, the new operating system includes a "pinch" gesture: using this gesture makes all the apps loaded on a Mac appear in a grid format, across multiple pages which can be swiped through iOS-style to find the appropriate app.

All the features noted above can be used to create an immersive media consumption experience, as demonstrated by Apple's Craig Federighi during the WWDC keynote, from full-screen images and video playback to streaming music and videos.

That functionality, akin to Apple's previous Front Row application, means the company is priming all of its devices to behave like an AppleTV, to further enhance the streaming media consumption experience.

Now if there were only a cloud-based solution that worked across the iOS devices and the Macintosh computer platform . . . but wait, there's one more thing. Read our companion article, Apple's iCloud: Sunny Days or Stormy Weather?

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