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The iOS Report: The Fine-Tuning Has Begun

When Apple first brought Push Notification to the iOS, there were howls of protest across the user base. Sure it was nice to be notified of, say, a waiting text message, or a chat invitation from AIM, but why must it be so intrusive? You couldn’t do a thing until you clicked on the message to send it away. Worse, if there was more than one, there was no way to review them, one after another, to see which ones were urgent, and which ones could be set aside for later.

With Push Notifications, it was all Urgent with a bullet! Stop what you’re doing, view or dismiss the message, and only then could you get on with your business. At the same time, millions of users of Android OS mobile gear could rightly say that Google’s programming team devised a better scheme, a way to collect your notices to view when you had the time.

Now in Apple’s favor is the fact that the iOS development team carefully crafted multitasking chores in such a way as to intrude as little as possible on limited resources. That maximizes battery life, and ensures that your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch all perform at peak efficiency. You do not have to contend with loads of apps sucking battery life dry, or just slowing things down. Now I realize many people don’t want Apple to force them to exist within a tightly controlled ecosystem, even if the user experience is superior. If they want to mess up their smartphones and tablets, so be it. It’s their money, their choice.

But as iOS gear becomes ever more powerful, Apple has been able to take a few liberties. Limited multitasking, mostly task-switching, arrived in iOS 4. With iOS 5, you’ll be able to download subscription publications in the background while you go about your business. There will also be multitasking gestures, so you’re not stuck with double-clicking the home button when you want direct access to all your running apps in one place.

Now Push Notification used Apple’s own server to feed the messages to you, another method of reducing your iOS gear’s workload. With iOS 5, those notices will flash across the top of the screen, and you’ll be able to check all of your alerts in one location, a Notification Center. Apple didn’t quite get there first, but the solution seems both elegant and workable.

As you go through the iOS 5 feature set, you’ll see ideas that emerged as third-party utilities and extensions of concepts that perhaps appeared in other products. Apple’s expertise is to combine the best available features and build a simple, integrated solution that, for the most part, just works. While some developers might have to consider other products to sell, Apple will continue to offer the opportunity to create apps with more features, more granular options, all combining to appeal to customers for whom the iOS solution isn’t enough.

Apple isn’t above picking and choosing features from their own products, of course. Tabbed browsing on the iPad simply replicates much of what’s there in Safari (but it really began in Opera). The same holds true for the Reader, which, although this simple tool to read content online was invented by others, was implemented in a simple, relatively seamless fashion. Certainly the more you read from your browser without printing a hard copy, the more trees you save. Apple wants you to be environmentally aware, just as they are with slim packaging, low power use, and recyclable components.

One thing that’s clear about Apple is that they don’t rush a first-to-market solution. There were personal computers before the Mac, even from Apple. The iPod arrived after other digital music players failed to catch fire. The idea even came from outside the company, brought to Steve Jobs from Tony Fedell, who shopped the concept around to other companies without success. Jobs and crew saw the possibilities, as did the public when they made the iPod into a cultural icon.

Certainly there were smartphones ahead of the iPhone, and tablets preceding the iPad. In the case of the latter, Apple’s revelation about 25 million sales in 14 months is way ahead of what any other company has accomplished. When you think of tablets, it’s the iPad, even though competitors imagine that there is actually a tablet market they hope to fill.

With iCloud, you can list loads of companies that have already tried an expansive online service, most recently Amazon and Google. But only Apple reached agreements with the music companies that will allow you to, for an annual fee of course, get pristine online copies of digital music you didn’t buy from iTunes without uploading the files yourself.

All in all, Apple’s batting average for WWDC announcements is extremely high. From relegating the PC to just another digital device, to fleshing out iOS features in a big way, Apple hit a home run. Microsoft now has to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to stop gouging people for Windows upgrades, make Windows Phone 7 more salable and, of course, figure out a workable cloud strategy beyond an online version of Office, and I don’t think Steve Ballmer is up to the job.