Moscone West adorned with Apple logos for WWDC 2011

Moscone West adorned with Apple logos for WWDC 2011 | Photo: kiel

iOS is arguably Apple’s most important asset, with the operating system running on iPhones, iPads, iPod touches and although not commonly known Apple TVs it is now operating on well over 100 million devices and that number is growing by tens of millions every quarter.

Such success puts Apple in a precarious position when it comes to moving forward. The problem has afflicted Apple before many a time, most recently with the switch from PowerPC to Intel processors. Changes that affect both developers and cause inconvenience to the consumer are sometimes necessary but very difficult to overcome.

At the Worldwide developers conference that kicks off on Monday Apple is going to show off the fifth major version of iOS. It is heavily rumoured and well known within certain circles that iOS 5 will be the biggest departure since the original launch of iOS in 2007. Not only in terms of functionality but also appearance.

iOS 5 much like the upcoming iCloud service is one of Apple’s best kept secrets, with mere hours to go before Steve Jobs gets up on stage not a single screen shot or solid description of how certain functionality will work has been leaked.

Notifications

Since Apple’s introduction of push notifications the system has quickly outgrown itself, it is a common peeve of most iOS users that notifications are intrusive, easy to miss and not very functional. With the growing popularity of Android and WebOS the idea of a better notification system is evidently a major priority for Apple.

Simply put, whatever Apple plans to do with notifications in iOS 5 hasn’t been made privy to anyone in the Apple rumour world.

A recent rumour from TechCrunch came as close as I’ve seen anyone come but simply stated that the system would be “completely revamped”.

Apple has of course been at a similar juncture before, the problem of notifications in iOS is not new to 2011, it was a problem in iOS 3 and wasn’t changed at all in the switch to iOS 4 in early-2010. For a long time iOS lacked copy and paste and then in iOS 3 in 2009 the feature arrived with Apple admitting that feature took them a long time to vision and create.

Expect a similar move from Apple with notifications, they’ve evidently been working on it for a while.

iCloud

Signage straight out of WWDC already tells us that iOS 5 will be a major part of Apple’s iCloud initiative with the service presumably being integrated at the system level.

As discussed in World of Apple’s extensive overview of iCloud the exact details of such iOS 5 integration are only known in scant pieces of information.

We do know that Apple looks likely to create media streams, where the data stored on an iOS device is synced back to the cloud which is then pushed out to other devices sharing the same stream.

Apple could go further in its iCloud integration and make the switch to a new iOS device less painful by removing the requirement to sync to iTunes. Whilst this would require a new method of updating the iOS and validating it we are already used to the joys of the cloud helping move data between devices. MobileMe is a great example on iOS of how I can get all my contacts, email, calendars and bookmarks within minutes of buying a new iPhone or iPad.

Such syncing extended across app data and the Apps themselves as well as photos and movies would make iOS devices truly internet connected devices.

Also revealed accidentally by Apple is a feature that looks set to arrive in iOS 5 that will allow automatic downloading of iOS updates. Another signal of the departure from iTunes based app updating.

iTunes

It remains debatable whether the heavily rumoured ‘iTunes locker’ feature is part of iCloud or not. What we do know is that iOS devices are where music is important and where the challenges lie with streaming of music. As pointed out by Steve Jobs himself numerous times, the iPhone is Apple’s greatest iPod but a fully streaming from the cloud music service would be largely redundant on iPhones with capped data services or in an area with no signal.

Assuming Apple’s iTunes in the cloud product is as expected and will consist of entire music libraries in the cloud for streaming then the option to have them available for offline listening will be necessary. Whether these options are still defined through iTunes or on the device itself is not known but if purchasing a song from iTunes sends it straight to the ‘locker’ then it won’t be in the iTunes library for syncing to the iOS device.

Third party integration

The rumours have been strong and consistent but not entirely clear. The word is that Apple will build Twitter into iOS 5, not as a client but at a system level. The way to imagine this is to look at how YouTube is currently built into iOS. YouTube doesn’t just exist as an app to view videos and by extension viewing embedded videos on websites but also exists as an option to send video to YouTube.

This is how Twitter will work in iOS 5, the ability to send photos, movies and Tweet bits of text from within the system itself.

But such closely integrated Twitter integration raises the point why Facebook won’t also be embedded into the system at such a level, it’s proven by most other smartphone operating systems that Facebook integration is functional and handy. The amount of data Facebook holds about contacts makes this a far more natural move but it doesn’t look like it’s on the cards.

Conclusion

So it’s evident, knowledge of iOS 5 is slim. The rumours have been vague and the big stuff is obviously well under wraps. What we do know is that the fifth major version of iOS will be a significant leap and will solidify the relationship between the Mac and iOS whilst moving away from a reliance on iTunes to sync.

Integration with Apple’s iCloud will break iOS devices away from their cables and allow data to be accessed and moved between devices seamlessly, often without the users intervention.

Notifications and the flow of iOS will be overhauled, making notifications less intrusive and more functional. Whilst it would be a stretch to believe that Apple will allow notifications to be actioned whilst another app is running—such as replying to a text whilst in Safari—it is possible Apple will add more functionality than is already available.

WWDC 2011 Coverage

On Monday, June 6 Apple will kick off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. WWDC 2011 will run from June 6-10 and the opening keynote will be hosted by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The company has already outlined that it will discuss iOS 5, iCloud and Mac OS X Lion. World of Apple will provide full coverage from San Francisco during WWDC 2011.

The keynote will begin at the following times on Monday, June 6:

10:00AM – Pacific
11:00AM – Mountain
12:00PM – Central
01:00PM – Eastern
06:00PM – London
07:00PM – Paris
09:00PM – Moscow
02:00AM – Tokyo (Tuesday 7th)
04:00AM – Sydney (Tuesday 7th)