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Fare thee well, PC

Blake Graham | Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On June 6, Steve Jobs made his last public appearance as Apple Computer’s CEO to demonstrate new features that would empower and “redefine” iOS devices (iPhone, iPod touch and iPad). Scott Forstall, senior Vice President of iOS, and Jobs took the congregated nerd masses at Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference in San Francisco on a tour of an operating system more influential than the hardware it sits on. The Apple team excited the attendees with astronomical projections, wowed them with the promise of new technology, stole their hearts with long awaited features, then told them the software would be available months after the press release. After four months of development and fine-tuning, iOS 5 will be available for public release Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Apple touts the statistic of “over 200 new features” in their upcoming mobile operating system, though a significantly smaller number will be seen and used regularly. Most of the new features operate under the skin of the operating system, making it more stable, faster, usable and connected. The more visually active features are less impressive on their own, but the implications of the operating system, when all features are working in symphony, are grand.

When Apple announced the iPad 2 this past March, Steve Jobs proclaimed that we are in a “post-PC” world. The paradigm of desktop computing with full sized keyboards, clunky mice and non-portable towers is over. The same paradigm that Jobs built out of his garage and solidified with the release of the Macintosh in 1984 was ending. To clear room for new creation, Steve Jobs would be leading Apple in desktop computing’s destruction.

Well, we’ve been living in the “post-PC” world for some time now. Our primary computing power has moved from our desks to our pockets. In the age of mobile, tablet and ultra-portable technology, we interact with graceful natural gestures on smooth panes of glass. No stylus, keyboard or mouse is wanted here. The smartphones that preceded the iPhone failed because they attempted to bring a desktop experience to the mobile environment. Apple led the way by deciding that users needed a different way to interact with mobile devices. iOS 5 is the final nail in the PC paradigm’s coffin. Now it’s just a matter of cleaning up the remnants of the PC dynasty. What’s so indicative of the permanence of this new “post-PC” paradigm is not that iOS app development represents a three billion dollar market, or that Apple’s leadership in the field has made it the most valuable company in the world.

The fuel making all this possible is the fact that these emerging and rapidly developing technologies genuinely do make people’s lives more efficient, informed and interconnected. Having used iOS 5 in its various developer iterations for the past four months on both the iPad and iPhone platform, I can personally vouch for its ability to fuse technical efficiency and human delicacy into a life augmenting product.

From the “over 200” features included in iOS 5, there are five that have had the biggest impact upon my normal use: Notification Center, iMessage, WiFi Syncing, PC-Free configuration and improved Camera options. It is entirely acceptable for Android users and Jailbreakers (people who hack iOS to give it additional, non-endorsed features) to question the real novelty of the additions. Well, the computer mouse was made in 1952 as part of the Canadian military’s DATAR project, but it wasn’t made useful until 1984 with the release of the original Macintosh. Apple is notorious for taking the technology of geekdom and improving upon it until everyone can use it intuitively.

Notification Center acts as a non-intrusive hub for your digital life. When text messages, Facebook notifications, emails, Twitter replies, etc. are pushed to the device, a small banner appears with a ticker animation on the top of the screen allowing action to occur without interruption. To access all notifications, calendar events, reminders, weather widget, etc. the user performs a natural finger swipe down from the top of the screen. iMessages is a communicative messaging platform integrated directly with the SMS (texting) application. Whenever a user sends a message to someone also on iOS 5, an iMessage will supplant an outgoing SMS.

Without people knowing it, they will be sending fewer text messages, taking the power out of the wireless carrier’s hands with their exorbitant SMS pricing and into the user’s hands. iMessages can contain text, images, video, contacts and geo- locations and are synchronous across all iOS 5 devices — what you see on your iPhone is what you’ll see on your iPad or iPod Touch. PC-free configuration is hallmark of our “post-PC” world. Your “iDevice” no longer needs to connect with a computer to activate, initialize and configure. It is a self-contained unit beholden to no hub.

To take it a step further, WiFi synchronization transfers iTunes data to your device cable free. So long as your computer and Apple product are on the same WiFi network, all songs, movies, photos, calendars, contacts and mail will sync when you plug it in at night. As the photo sensors in smartphones have improved they have taken the place of standard point and shoot cameras. With the new photo functions in iOS 5, it takes 1.5 seconds from waking the iPhone to taking a picture. No more fumbling with settings and apps as the ideal photo moment passes by. Improved image processing allows for better autofocus, exposure and onboard image editing (color correction, red-eye, cropping). The entire photographic workflow occurs on the device.

No feature on its own adequately warrants an update to get overly excited about. Yet, the collective effect of the newest free upgrade is refined and powerful. We are in a “post-PC” world and the independence granted to devices by iOS 5 is an indicative of such. iOS 5 creates space between the mobile device and the computer and carrier while bringing it closer to the user. There is no doubt that Windows Phone and Android are scrambling to compete with the fluid and cohesive presentation of features in iOS 5. The tech giants at Apple, Microsoft and Google are no longer fighting for the fastest specs — the battle is no longer Mac vs. PC. The only important distinction is whether a technology takes a step into the future or holds to a relic of the obsolete past. iOS 5 takes a leap. Fare thee well, PC.


Blake J. Graham is a freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.