Apple's developer conference began this morning, and as usual there was a keynote address with several major announcements. Unlike most of these announcements, everyone already knew the major things they were going to be showing off: Mac OS 10.7 (Lion), iOS 5, and iCloud. No one was expecting new hardware today, and none was announced.

First up was Lion, the next version of Apple's desktop operating system OS X. Apple has been putting multi-touch trackpads into all of their laptops for a while now, and even sells a standalone touchpad for other computers, so of course gestures are all over the place in Lion. It functions much like iOS—double tap to zoom into a section, pinch for more precise zooming, swiping apps hither and yon, etc. They also demoed full screen apps and "Mission Control", which is a revamped version of Dashboard, Spaces, and Exposé. Everything is made to work much more like an iPad if you want to use gestures, but of course you have the option of using normal mouse interactions at any time, too. This is smart and flexible, and reminiscent of the recent demo of Windows 8.

Another very iOS-like feature is Launchpad. Using this system, desktop apps can resume right where they left off, just like on iOS, and Lion also adds the ability for apps to auto-save your documents, saving only the changes between document versions. Yes, that means you can be working in a word processor and just close the app, and when you re-open it, your document will be just how you left it. This is bringing version-control to the masses, and it's fucking brilliant and long overdue. Having this kind of granular control of versions of your everyday documents, saved in real time, is exactly the kind of thing next-generation operating systems should be doing. Apple is aggressively trying to reduce the learning curve for using a computer—they don't want you to worry about how to discover and install apps, where things are on the file system (or even what a file system is), losing your work, etc. You can get under the hood if you want to, but most people don't want to.

Lion will also bring a long-awaited major update to Apple's Mail application, which promises better search, smarter filter rules, and generally to make our lead developer Jay's life 423% happier.

The Lion upgrade will be installed this directly from the Mac App Store. No discs, no reboot, just buy it and it installs. Wild. It will be $30 and available in July. Again, making operating system upgrades a (roughly) single-click affair for $30? Very smart.

Details on the next version of iOS and the mysterious iCloud after the jump.


Second up was a preview of the next version of the iPhone/iPad/iPod system, iOS 5.

The first new feature is a reworking of the HORRIBLE I KILL YOU iOS notification system. Thank God. Alerts and messages are aggregated and accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen, and also shown on the lock screen. This is not new to users of any other mobile OS, of course, but it's about damn time Apple got this done. The crappy notifications are easily the single most annoying thing about iOS.

The Newsstand app will collect all your content subscriptions in one place, with new issues downloading in the background for offline reading. I've been using the New Yorker's iPad app recently, and getting new issues is definitely the clunkiest part. If I just had the new issue there automatically, I could spend all week meaning to read it much more easily.

Mobile Safari gains the Reader view and a "Reading List" that collects things you would like to read later. These together are pretty much exactly like Instapaper and Readability and such. Publishers will be mad because this makes it very easy to read their web content without looking at the ads. Despite being in the publishing industry myself, I love these apps and use them all the time. Yes, they make it harder to get people to look at the ads, but that's our problem, not yours. Content producers will constantly be faced with new technology that may disrupt their revenue models (TiVo, the Internet), and they'll have to adapt or die. This is life.

iOS also adds a new reminders/to-do system that syncs across devices and features "geofences," meaning you can set a reminder to go off when you enter or exit a certain location. Neat. There are approximately 900,000 reminder and to-do list apps on the App Store already, and I've tried most of them. Current favorite: Due. No idea if Apple's offering will replace it, but the geofences could tip the scales.

Other updates to iOS:
— Twitter is built-in. Enter your account info in the Settings app and post photos to Twitter directly from any app that supports it without separate authentication. Didn't see a mention of how this might (or might not) deal with multiple Twitter accounts.
— Camera button on the lock screen. Take a photo using the hardware volume button, edit photos in the Photos app, and some other small updates.
— Various small but welcome updates to the Mail app: flagging messages, better search, rich text, built-in dictionary, etc.
— A new split keyboard for the iPad lets you type with your thumbs.
— Some Game Center stuff, but nobody cares about Game Center. Especially if it keeps that horrible basement poker table design. Ugh.

iOS 5 Developer Preview will be out today, and will available to everyone (with at least an iPhone 3GS) this fall, and iOS 5 devices will not require iTunes to work out of the box. Open it up and set it up directly, without a computer. iOS software updates will also happen over-the-air.

Finally, iCloud.

As expected, Apple announced a Big New Service to attempt to move all your digital content to their servers (a.k.a., "the cloud"), "demoting" your computer to just another device. iCloud automatically uploads and stores your content, and pushes it to all your devices. iCloud will back up your music, photos, app data, and device settings, so when you get a new device, you log in and get all your settings from your previous one pulled down. iCloud will also sync documents and data from other apps via developer APIs, and any photos you take will automatically be synced with your other devices immediately. iCloud will also sync your calendars, contacts, and mail, replacing Mobile Me, Apple's $99/year service, which is going away.

The big news, though, "iTunes in the Cloud." Buy a song on one device and it will be pushed out to up to 10 other devices automatically, for the same price. But what if you didn't buy your music via iTunes? Then you can use iTunes Match to scan your library for matches with iTunes content. If a match is found, that music is treated the same as if you had purchased it from iTunes, synced across devices, with no uploading. They'll even upgrade your tunes to 256 kbps AAC. iTunes Match will be $25/year and will launch in the fall with iOS5.

I'm no music-industry expert, but.. wow?

That's it. I'm impressed with the breadth of Apple's announcements today. With Lion, Apple is trying to change the way people use desktop computers in some important ways, many of the same ways they changed the way people use mobile phones. iOS 5 isn't earth-shattering, but looks like a solid improvement to a lot of core features. And iCloud ties everything together and could throw some seriously cold water on Google and Amazon's recent cloud music announcements.