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Three things to keep an eye on in iOS5

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Apple just released the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS5, which introduced over 200 new features and enhancements.  The past 3 months I’ve had iOS5 running on my personal device as a developer.  During that time I have noticed three key features to keep an eye on over the next year.

One of the biggest features is the introduction to the “cloud.”  Certainly, the concept of the cloud is nothing new as users have been figuring out ways to use other services like Dropbox to sync files and even their iTunes libraries between computers.  As with most things Apple, it isn’t so much the groundbreaking idea as it is the implementation.  iCloud, Apple’s version of Dropbox, is tightly integrated and provides a unified experience across not just the operating system but also across devices – mobile and desktop.

With Apple creating an app “space” in the new version of OSX Lion, this means users can have an app on their phone and their desktop which sync data and information.

Imagine an app with your newspaper on an iPhone and a Mac desktop.  I start reading the newspaper on my phone, then go to my desktop and pick right up where I left off.

Do not discount this as a “Mac only” option either.  The new version of Windows 8 is doing more to feature app friendly things like Lion and emulation software already exists to run Android apps on Windows.  “Apps” are the hot topic item and how the cloud, be it iCloud or just cloud computing in general, pans out is something to keep an eye on.

Another feature receiving very little press is the over-the-air upgrades and “no pc-required” feature.  It took a while for this to work in the development version but once it did, you realized how simple, convenient and easy it is to get updates for the device operating system.

What does this have to do with developing apps?  It means on iOS you are getting a more rapid update which includes new features and makes it easier to know which version of the OS you should develop for based on an installed user base.

Over the past year our developers have put a lot of time in to figuring out which version of Android we would develop for due to how Google lets device makers push out updates, with some device makers leaving relatively new devices stuck on older versions.

Compare this to how many iOS users upgrade and how quickly they upgrade.  Not only does this make it easier to decide which version to develop for, it also appears to have a correlation to how quickly users update their apps.  Based on data from the two Boise State Student Media apps (Bronco Mobile;  Blue Turf football app),  25 percent upgraded within the first 72 hours of the latest update.  After one week we had almost 50 percent upgraded.

It will be interesting to see if these over-the-air updates and the issues with Android upgradeability (which Google is working to address) impact market share.  Never underestimate how much people want the “latest and greatest.”

Probably the biggest update, at least for those in the news/media industry, is the addition of Newsstand.  It also seems to be one of the most misunderstood features of iOS5.  I will do my best to break it down and explain why I think it is the biggest feature to watch out for if you are a college media adviser.

So what is Newsstand?  Well, Newsstand is not an application nor is it a place where you can just place your newspaper without having to create an application.  The simplest way to explain it is as a folder that holds your newspaper or magazine application.  Much like iBooks, Newsstand is a folder where applications (or books in the case of iBooks) can reside.  In order to appear in the Newsstand folder, applications must be coded with Newsstand code in order to take advantage of the features unique to Newsstand.

So yes, to my most asked question, this means you still need an application developed.  Apple didn’t wave its magic wand and make it overnight simple for newspapers and magazines to get on their operating system. Maybe in the next update.

What are the big features of Newsstand? Apple created Newsstand to work better with print publications and better mimic the actual printed counterpart. The biggest visible difference is with a Newsstand enabled application your app icon is no longer static.  Just like the front page of the newspaper or a magazine changes with each issue, so does the icon on your app.  This creates a more dynamic and “updated” feel to the application which could potentially help drive return readership.

Background downloads are another big part of Newsstand.  The ability to deliver new content overnight, ready for a reader’s morning coffee, is a time saver and includes notification update options as well (which are also greatly improved in iOS5).  The app doesn’t need to be running to get new content, rather content can be downloaded overnight with a notification new content is ready to read.

Not only can current content be available, but past issues can be made available as well all depending on how you design your application. Background downloading also supports free, paid subscription or pay-per-view models.  Could something like Newsstand reverse the trend of “getting everything news-related free” if publishers create premium or more desirable content in an easy to use format?  Only time will tell.

I think the biggest game changer with Newsstand is the combination of apps on mobile devices with desktop apps, integration with cloud services and use of HTML5 for app development.  HTML 5 promises a lot features that could not only revolutionize mobile, but change how websites are viewed on a regular desktop/laptop computer as well.  It is this combination of HTML 5 and a convenient gathering place like Newsstand which could quickly change how people consume news.

With over 1 million iPhone 4s’ sold in the first 24 hours, expanding the number of carriers selling the iPhone, world-wide mobile device and tens of millions of iPads and iPod Touches sold – Apple is driving consumer expectations and experiences.

It is important to understand I am not declaring a winner, nor advocating one OS over the other. My point is Apple clearly changed the game with the iPhone and then the iPad.  Others are now following suit. I think Newsstand represents another potential game changer others may copy/emulate, and HTML 5 if done correctly could bring an end user experience changing how news is consumed. Being involved in the media industry, we need to pay attention to these changes and be ready to move much more rapidly than we have in the past.

I will be attending the CMA/ACP/CBI conference Oct. 26-30 and presenting/co-facilitating several different sessions regarding application development and use in a student media setting. Friday morning at 9 a.m. will be Application Development presented with David Simpson from Georgia Perimeter College; Friday at 1:30 p.m., a roundtable discussion on the bright future of yearbooks which will involve a lot of discussion on Newsstand in addition to other ideas.

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