THE CAPPUCCINO COMPANY'S CEO Steve Jobs took a break from medical retirement to lead this year's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), with the launch of the Icloud storage and synchronisation service, along with upgrades to the Mac OS X and IOS operating systems.
Apple's move into the cloud arena has been much anticipated, and Icloud will let Apple users synchronise contact, emails, calendar functions. Purchased applications and Itunes music, can also be synchronised between up to 10 devices simultaneously, using an application called Itunes in the Cloud.
This was the first time the music companies had agreed to this, Jobs said, and in his traditional 'one more thing' section he gave an inkling as to why. Icloud only works at its best with music bought from the Itunes store. For those who have ripped music from other sources, Apple will let you download the Itunes version - if there is one - for $24.99 a year, with a 20,000 song limit.
The songs would be free of digital rights management software and of good quality, so the music industry is clearly looking to bring some pirates in from the cold, and get any kind of revenue stream it can from them.
In terms of storage capacity users get 5GB for documents and email, and Apple will store your last 1,000 photos for 30 days outside that. There are no limits for purchased music and applications.
Before introducing Icloud, Jobs took a few minutes to bury Mobileme, which he said was "not the company's finest hour." There would be no more sales of Mobileme and it would be folded into Icloud, which is free to all users. Apple's also opened up the Icloud APIs to developers.
The Icloud suite may grab the headlines today, but Apple also announced significant improvements in the Mac OS and iOS platforms.
Mac OS X Lion was on show before its July release, with some significant improvements and a new cut price. Apple has been criticised in the past for charging heavily for upgrades, but the latest version will cost $20.99 and will only be available in the App Store - something the company hopes will cut piracy levels.
The biggest change is the addition of full multi-touch controls to the operating system. Phil Schiller, senior vice president of product marketing, demonstrated the ability to pinch-zoom, scroll and flick between pages and applications on the new system.
Apple has done more to advance gesture control than anyone and the demonstrations looked very impressive - helped by the addition of full-screen applications and FaceTime videoconferencing for the first time.
The Exposé and Spaces system management tools have now been integrated into a Mission Control feature, which pulls up a dashboard of available applications and windows so you can switch more easily, and a Launchpad application controller that's more IOS than OS X; one of many indications that Apple is drawing the two operating systems together faster than some expected.
Apple's also extended the Time Machine system, with a Resume function, that restores the last known system state, and Auto Save and Versions features. Auto Save periodically backs up documents being worked on, and Versions lets you scroll between them, cutting and pasting sections as needed. Apple's traditional DTP market will love this.
However, Dropbox staff must have been distinctly peeved to see Air Drop, Lion's document sharing system. It uses encrypted peer-to-peer traffic to swap files between Apple users, and coupled with Icloud, will give several competitors a lot of headaches.
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