Apple Cuts the White USB Cord with iOS 5 at WWDC

It sounds like you’ll finally be able to throw out that old white USB cord – your mobile Apple device doesn’t need your laptop or desktop anymore! That was the biggest announcement of many about iOS 5, featured today at the Apple WWDC keynote in San Francisco. The announcement of PC free iOS devices was accompanied by some other minor but pretty cool goodies that iPhone and iPad owners can look forward to this fall, when iOS 5 is released.

Two of the other major announcements were answers to a couple of Apple’s mobile competitors, and should make the mobile race a little bit more interesting (or disastrous, as some people think, for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion).

The notification system has received a major and much-needed overhaul. Notifications will no longer interrupt whatever it is you’re doing, a well known source of frustration for iOS users for some time now. In iOS 5, the notification system will be very similar to that of Android’s. The Notification Center is the new home for notifications, and can be accessed by swiping down from the top of your device, where you’ll see a thin notifications bar. When you receive a new notification, you’ll see an animation up near that bar, without any actual interruption. When receiving notifications from your lock screen, you can swipe on that notification to go directly to the relevant app. The notifications in the Notification Center are shown in list form, and can be cleared with a small ‘x’ at the top.

Apple’s answer to BlackBerry Messenger, iMessage, was also unveiled. Like BBM, iMessage will be a messaging service for communication with only other iOS customers. This includes all the basics (text messages, photos, videos, contacts, group messaging), and features chat staples like delivery receipts, read receipts, and typing indication. All iMessage messages are automatically pushed to all of your iOS devices, so an exchange started on your iPhone can be continued on your iPad seamlessly.

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A few other quick hits from the keynote were updates to existing apps, and some new apps that are spin-offs of old ones. Newsstand is essentially iBooks for newspaper and magazines, featuring a background downloader for new issues similar to what exists now on the Kindle. The big update to Safari is Safari Reader, a reader mode that automatically cuts the extraneous stuff from the story you want to read (ads, reviews, headers will all be stripped, leaving just the content). This is awesomely convenient for users, but probably not as awesome for people who rely on ad revenue to make money off of their websites.

Camera receives a few upgrades, the most notable being photo editing made possible directly through your iPhone or iPad. You’ll have basic commands like crop and rotate, red-eye reduction, and auto-enhance. You’ll also be able to pinch to zoom in, and can add grid lines when taking a picture. Picture taking can also be done from the lock screen, even if you use a passcode. Double tap the home button, hit the camera icon, and use the volume up button to snap a photo.

Mail will now enable rich-text formatting, and will feature control indentation, draggable addresses, flagging, and the ability to search entire messages. iPad owners can swipe the inbox in and out in portrait mode. S/MIME is now supported. Finally, Mail will make the most use of the new, system-wide dictionary, similar to that of iBooks, that will appear in the same way as the copy and paste UI. The keyboard is receiving some upgrades, too – it is now draggable, and can be split like an ergonomic keyboard.

Game Center will resemble Xbox Live a little, featuring photos and avatars, as well as achievement points. You can purchase and download games directly from the Game Center, and turn-based games are handled directly through the OS. So, if you want to see if it’s your turn in Scrabble or Words with Friends yet, you don’t need to open up the apps to check – just head to the Game Center.

Reminders is a to-do list, but comes with a cool geo-fencing feature. So, if you need to remember to buy milk on your way home from the office, you can let Reminders use your location, and it will automatically send you a reminder about it when you leave the office.

Twitter is now completely integrated with iOS, meaning that you can tweet anything, from any app, with the touch of a button (you sign into your Twitter account in Settings, and individually allow apps to access it). So, if you want to tweet your location, open up maps and press the Twitter button. It’s as simple as it could possibly be.

Finally, the biggest piece of news involved the iOS’ relationship with computers. Simply speaking, that relationship is over. All software updates are now over the air. Calendars can be created and deleted directly though the phone. Of course, that leaves the big question of iTunes syncing. Apple answered that with Wi-Fi sync for iTunes – your phone will automatically perform a once-daily check for new iTunes purchases on your account, and will back-up and sync without you needing to do anything at all.

Most of the upgrades here, especially notifications and over the air updates, are at this point way overdue. Nothing about iOS 5 seems to be particularly groundbreaking – Apple seems to be looking at ways to adapt and perfect what its competitors are doing, and making them faster, easier, and more efficient. Early demos shown of iOS 5 make it look like they have a good chance of succeeding. Regardless, these upgrades are sure to be welcomed with open arms by Apple fans everywhere. IOS 5 will be compatible with the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, 3rd and 4th generation iPod Touch, iPad, and iPad 2. You can enjoy the fruits of the iOS 5 when it hits this fall.

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