Apple WWDC News: Lion Roars, iCloud Takes Flight

Apple CEO Steve Jobs didn’t announce a new iPhone during his Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote this morning. But there were plenty of other noteworthy new releases — and at least one very intriguing surprise.

First, let’s run down the WWDC news in a nutshell:

  • iOS 5, the operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, is packed with features. That includes its new Notification Center (a single place to view email, messaging, and other alerts); Twitter integration; and iMessage, a SMS-style messaging system that can help iOS users avoid carrier messaging charges.
  • Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) is coming in July, although it will be available as an upgrade only through the Mac App Store. One of the biggest changes here will be more emphasis on gesture-based navigation, such as the pinch-to-zoom maneuver familiar to smartphone users. Lion will also sport a redesigned Mail application, along with integrated auto-save and versioning that works across every OS X application. Lion will also — and this might be my favorite tweak — restore your documents and apps to exactly where they were before you do a reboot or restart.
  • As expected, Jobs introduced iCloud, which will replace Apple’s legacy (and generally not very useful) MobileMe service. iCloud will allow users to sync documents, photos, and iTunes music across all of their devices, using up to 5GB of free storage.

And Jobs’ surprise? A service called iTunes Match that will search a user’s hard drive for music and offer to include it as part of your stored iCloud music library. It’s a subscription service ($25 a year), and it only works with songs that are available in the iTunes library. But as at least one analyst pointed out, it’s a service that could actually monetize users’ pirated music tracks — a big deal for the music industry.

What does all of this mean for small-business Mac and iOS users? For one thing, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Apple basically raided some of the best features of competing smartphone OSes for its iOS updates. The Notifcation Manager feature, for example, comes straight from the Android playbook, while iMessage will look very familiar to BlackBerry Messenger fans.

All of this “borrowing” is scandalous to the footsoldiers in the Smartphone OS Religious Wars. But if all you want is a smartphone OS that delivers the goods, then iOS 5 looks like a winner.

And frankly, the new features in Lion simply reinforce something that I have believed for the better part of a decade: OS X remains the world’s most powerful, reliable, and usable desktop operating system. And if you look at the Mac as a productivity-boosting investment, it doesn’t look nearly as expensive next to a PC.

In other words, there’s a lot here to love for business users, especially small-biz owners who don’t have to worry about the baggage that still ties so many bigger companies to the Windows albatross.