Apple's iOS update improves mail, messaging and sync

The company's raft of announcements on Monday included previews of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and iOS 5, along with the new iCloud service and iMessage

Apple's upcoming iOS 5 will boost the security and functionality of the mobile platform's mail facility, while also introducing a new messaging system called iMessage and taking advantage of iCloud document synchronisation, the company has said.

iOS 5 handset

Apple unveiled iOS 5 at its Worldwide Developer Conference, along with Mac OS X Lion and its new iCloud service. Photo credit: Apple

On Monday, Apple issued a raft of software-related announcements at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, covering iOS 5, OS X 10.7 Lion and iCloud, an interlocking set of cloud-served technologies that automatically store and sync data from iOS devices and PCs.

The iOS 5 update, now in beta for developer testing and scheduled for a full release in the autumn, has many new features that are reminiscent of those found on rival platforms. A new pull-down notifications bar echoes Android, while the ability to take a photo on an iPhone without having to log into the device recalls similar functionality on Windows Phone 7.

One of the biggest revelations at the event on Monday was that of iMessage, an Apple-only competitor to the Research In Motion-only BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). The fully-encrypted iMessage works across the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, and allows text messages, photos, videos and contact information to be pushed to all such iOS 5 devices.

Emails in the new iOS version will support the S/MIME encryption standard, in a move that should make the platform more suitable for corporate use. Other new email features include rich text formatting, search options and the ability to flag a message for follow up.

iOS 5 will also include an enhanced version of the Safari browser, offering improved readability, along with deep Twitter integration. It will also be the first version of the mobile OS that allows the user to set up their device without having to sync it to a desktop computer or laptop.

iCloud

The iCloud service was probably the most keenly anticipated announcement at WWDC. The service allows music to be synced across applications via iTunes, documents to be synced and backed up automatically across devices, and MobileMe technologies to be updated in real time across iOS devices.

All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it's integrated into our apps, you don't even need to think about it — it all just works.

– Steve Jobs, Apple

MobileMe's contacts, calendar and mail services have been re-designed to work with iCloud so that mailboxes and calendars are synced and updated across devices. Products bought from the App Store and iBookStore can be downloaded to up to 10 devices for free.

"iCloud keeps your important information and content up to date across all your devices," Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs said in a statement. "All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it's integrated into our apps, you don't even need to think about it — it all just works."

The iCloud Backup service automatically backs up items from the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch iOS devices to the iCloud via Wi-Fi when the devices are charged. The items include purchased music, apps, ebooks, photos — via the Photo Stream application — videos and device settings.

Consumers will be given 5GB of free storage for their mail, documents and backup, with further storage available for an undisclosed fee. The service bears similarities to DropBox, the automatic sync and backup service.

When purchasing a new device, consumers can put in their Apple ID and password during the setup process to get their old backed-up data delivered to their device.

iTunes integration

Apple's mainstay music service, iTunes, has been integrated with the iCloud. All purchased iTunes music can be downloaded to iOS devices and PCs at no original cost. Apple will attempt to replace non iTunes-purchased music files with a 256kbps AAC DRM-free version of the same song, if they can be matched to the iTunes database.

iTunes music will be available in the autumn for an annual fee of £20.99. A beta version was released on Monday for iOS devices running iOS 4.3. The announcement sets Apple up against Amazon, with its Amazon Web Services-based Cloud Drive service and Google, with its Google Music store.

The cloud will be underpinned by Apple's three US-based datacentres, including its $500m (£305m) Maiden facility in North Carolina and two other datacentres also located in North America.

Mac OS X Lion

At the event, Apple showed off the Lion release of its desktop OS, much of which was covered in announcements earlier in 2011. The company said Lion will be released in July, with upgrades only available through the App Store, at a cost of £20.99. People who bought a Mac after 6 June will get the update for free.

Lion brings Mac OS X more in line with iOS, as it includes not only an integrated App Store but also multitouch gesture control. However, it also introduces features that would not go amiss in an office context, such as constant auto-saving of documents.

A new versioning feature automatically records the history of documents being edited, allowing reversion and even cutting and pasting between various versions of a document. OS X apps also revert back to their last state when they are reopened.

Apple has also introduced a feature called AirDrop, which allows peer-to-peer wireless file transfers between nearby Macs.


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