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Apple Unveils iCloud

For the first time since 2006, Apple did not show off a new iPhone to open the company’s annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference. Instead, Steve Jobs today officially unveiled Apple’s iCloud music and media storage service as well as new operating software for Macs and mobile devices.

Getty: Bloomberg

“We’re going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud,” said Jobs. “This is the first time we’ve seen this in the music industry… I buy a song, it goes everywhere.”

While these updates don’t offer any revolutionary improvements, the many enhancements and tweaks will surely be welcomed by Apple fans.

Jobs went on medical leave in January, but made a public appearance in March to announce the iPad 2. He appeared visibly thinner than during his last public presentation three months ago.

Since Apple announced last week that it would be presenting iCloud – a free service available available today for iPhone 4 owners – and iOS 5 (available this fall) at the WWDC, industry pundits correctly predicted that a new iPhone would not released until at least later this year.

Today’s iCloud announcement is more about keeping Apple competitive with its ongoing rival, Google, and a new big player in the mobile scene: online retailer Amazon. Google last month debuted Google Music at its I/O Developer’s Conference, while Amazon’s Cloud Player was introduced in March.

The introduction of iOS 5 for iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices suggests that Apple could be unveiling a new smartphone as soon as the fall. Mac OS X Lion is the eighth major update to the Mac operating system.

iCloud, in many ways, is an update to Apple’s MobileMe service, but with no price tag and a major new cloud music-streaming service for iTunes users. For music, iCloud is fundamentally different from its rivals because of the way it operates. Apple will offer consumers a digital music locker to upload songs that they purchase from iTunes. These songs are then streamed back to multiple devices using an Internet connection. In addition, Apple will offer iTunes Match for $24.99 a year which will allow users to stream music from the cloud that they may not have purchased directly from the iTunes store itself.

“Some people think the cloud is just a big disk in the sky… We think it’s way more than that,” said Steve Jobs.

Since iCloud takes over for Apple’s MobileMe service, it also allows users to sync calendars, emails, photos and documents with its cloud servers and access all that data on multiple devices using the Internet. For mobile device users, iCloud also syncs data for third-party apps, allowing those apps to share information among devices; for example, you could play a game on your iPhone, sync it to the cloud, and pick up where you left off in the same game on an iPad.

In recent weeks, Apple executives have been heavily courting the music industry. Last Friday, it was revealed that Apple paid at least $100 million for the rights to songs from Universal Music, the largest of the four major music companies. Today, Jobs did not comment on any upcoming or previous deals with record companies.

Ahead of the eventual release of a next-generation iPhone is iOS 5, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system that runs on iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads. IOS 5 will be available some time in the fall, fueling speculation that it will be released in conjunction with a new iPhone.

For iOS 5, Apple has altered a number of ways the software directly interacts with users. Push notifications, for example, have been reworked to be less clunky and obtrusive with a convenient pull-down status bar showing things like missed calls, text messages and social networking updates.

Other significant features of iOS 5 include:

-Users will no longer need to attach their devices to a Mac or PC to obtain software updates or sync their data.

-iMessage, a new messaging and social chat service that only works between iOS devices like the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It will not eat up your SMS text message limits, so will be a huge benefit to iOS users everywhere who don’t want to be at the whim of their cellular providers.

-Twitter will be more closely integrated into iOS 5, making it easy to share photos or status updates with friends immediately.

The camera features have also been updated. Now you’ll be able to quickly access the iPhone’s camera even when your phone is locked, and there are some new features allowing users to edit and tweak their images once captured.

The iOS Game Center has been updated, offering recommendations for new titles you might like to play as well as the ability to purchase them immediately.

Mac OS X Lion was first teased by Apple last October. Since then, developers have accessed beta versions of the software, and the completed product will be available in July for $29.99. In a new move, the software will be available only through the Mac App Store, not on optical media like previous releases.

The updated operating system has 250 new features, 10 of which were demonstrated at WWDC including multi-touch gestures and full screen applications. Lion will automatically save your documents in the background and make it easier to share files with others, similar to the popular Dropbox app. The new OS offers more powerful search capabilities and the Mac App Store will be seamlessly integrated into OS X .

Apple is likely holding back a new iPhone release until at least the fall, but hints of the new device were suggested at WWDC what with the release of iOS 5 around that time. It will most likely be called the iPhone 4S, and it is expected to be more of an incremental update with a few internal changes than another big step forward in iPhones.

While Apple’s next smartphone will probably look a lot like the iPhone 4, the 4S model should include one big, important change — iPad 2′s A5 dual-core chip, which would make it a substantially more powerful media machine. The A5 in the iPad 2 is supposedly twice as fast for games as the previous iPad chip, and Apple seems to be making a push toward creating an identity for the iPhone 4S as a gaming device.

For the first time since 2006, Apple did not show off a new iPhone to open the company’s annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference. Instead, Steve Jobs today officially unveiled Apple’s iCloud music and media storage service as well as new operating software for Macs and mobile devices.

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