They’re coming. We don’t know exactly when, yet–but Apple already did the big Steve Jobs magic show to reveal what’s in store for us with the upcoming iOS 5 and iCloud. As I wind down the 30 Days With the iPad series, I thought it would be a good idea to look at what iOS 5 and iCloud bring to the table and the impact they might have on the capabilities of the iPad as a PC replacement.
None of these things will help you today, but iOS 5 and iCloud are imminent, so a month or two from now things could be very different:
Wireless Updates. Finally! It’s amazing that the iPhone and iPad have managed to achieve the success and popularity they have while still requiring the device(s) to be physically tethered to a PC in order to sync and update. Without iOS 5, you literally can’t replace your PC with an iPad because you need the PC in order to keep the iPad up to date. With iOS 5, Apple finally cuts the cord.
Mail. Similar to wireless updates, the changes to Mail are very welcome, and very tardy. The Mail app in iOS 5 lets you do a lot more with email messages–bold, italic, and underlined text, indent text, flag messages, move messages to folders. Basically, the changes in iOS 5 let the iOS Mail app do what email has been able to do on other platforms for years. It isn’t innovative. It isn’t ground-breaking. It is very welcome.
Notification Center: The Notification Center in iOS 5 serves two useful purposes–it keeps you informed of messages and alerts without interrupting what you’re doing, and it consolidates your messages and alerts in one place. It also displays notifications even when the iPad is locked, and enables you to access and act on them with a swipe.
iMessage. This one is cool, but probably has limited value for many users because–like FaceTime–it is iOS centric. iMessages lets you send instant messages with text, photos, videos, location info, and contacts. It’s like SMS text messages on steroids, but only with other iOS 5 devices. One compelling feature of iMessage, though, is the ability to switch devices mid-conversation. You can start a chat on your iPad, and pick up where you left off on your iPhone.
Reminders. The Reminders feature of iOS 5 is more simple and integrated than my apps, but I already have apps that let me set reminders and make to-do lists, so this isn’t exactly revolutionary. What I really like about Reminders, though, is the ability to set reminders that are context-sensitive based on location. If I want to remind myself to pick up a new hammer next time I go to Home Depot, that is a location-sensitive task, not time sensitive. There is no point in having the iPad remind me at 2pm if I am nowhere near Home Depot at 2pm. But, I can set the reminder based on location so it pops up when it matters–when I drive into the Home Depot parking lot.
Safari. The Safari browser gets an overhaul in iOS 5 with two important changes. First, it gets tabbed browsing which will be significantly more efficient than the current mode of switching between browser windows. Second, it gets a new Reading List feature that lets you tag and save Web pages to be read later (and iCloud keeps the Reading List synced between iOS devices).
iCloud. The iCloud service will actually be of particular value for those who use both an iPad and a PC because it will instantly and seamlessly backup and sync email, contacts, calendar events, and documents across the platforms. The service will be very handy, though, even for keeping data in sync between an iPhone and an iPad, and it provides some peace of mind that your data won’t be lost even if your iPad is lost, destroyed, or stolen.
There are a number of other changes with iOS 5 and iCloud that will be nice. The AirPlay Mirroring feature will let you stream exactly what is on your iPad display to a monitor or TV using Apple TV, new multitouch gestures will make it easier to navigate among multiple apps, and the Twitter integration will be nice.
From an iPhone perspective, the changes to the camera will be awesome. iOS 5 will let you instantly access the Camera app from the lock screen so you can quickly snap a picture before the moment passes. And, iOS 5 lets you use the volume-up button on the side of the iPhone as the shutter button, which is much more intuitive and less clumsy than tapping on the screen to take a picture.
Will iOS 5 and iCloud change things? Yes and no.
None of these features–with the possible exception of wireless updates that free the iPad completely from requiring a PC–is a game changer per se. I think many of them will make the iPad much more effective as a productivity platform, but none of them fundamentally alters the answer to the question of whether or not the iPad can literally replace a PC and function as a primary computing device.
Read the last “30 Days” series: 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux