Using the first generation iPhone was unbelievable. I felt like an Amazonian tribesman who had wandered out of the jungle and tasted refined sugar for the first time. Goddamn. That's delicious. And then my teeth started rotting.
Apple is one of the most innovative companies there is. But sometimes to innovate, you have to copy. In general, iOS is the best mobile platform out there. But other platforms all had their strengths. Android and Palm and, God help me, even the BlackBerry OS all had features that I wanted. Badly. After a few years on the iPhone, I found myself making doe eyes at various Samsungs and HTCs.
I built up a list of complaints that never seemed to be answered. I wanted better application switching. I wanted alerts that let me know what was up without taking over my screen and interrupting what I was doing. I wanted to be able to push a physical button to take a photo. I wanted Blackberry-style messaging. I certainly didn't want to have to connect my iOS devices to a computer to set them up. Oh, more than anything else, I wanted wireless syncing. How very odd to make a wireless device that requires wires to use it!
After awhile, I fell out of love. The phone in my pocket? It runs Android. But after today, I can tell you that's going to change because every single problem I had with the iPhone, since day one, was solved in one keynote.
It took them a fifth iteration, but Apple not only made significant, new innovations with this iOS 5 release, but it also added the best of everything else that's out there. Messaging, notifications, wireless updates and syncing. Tabbed browsing and an actual real life press-it-with-your-dirty-fingers hardware button for the camera.
It's the answer to almost every wishlist item I've had. And it means that iOS no longer simply does most things better. It does almost everything better now.
There was a little footnote most people won't appreciate in iOS 5 - the ability to update software without a tethered computer, and iCloud syncing, make it a less ironic computer of the future. After all, what kind of computer of the future still depends on the computer of the past for syncing and even set up.
Here is an anecdote: Last month, my father finally bought into Apple. He's a long-time Windows and Blackberry guy. I've been telling him for years he'd have an easier time with Macs and the iOS. That it would be less frustrating, and require less of him even as it gave him more. And so, finally, he plunked down for an iPad2 after using my first generation one. He was crazy-excited about it. And then he took it home. Because his iPad depended on iTunes on his windows machine, it took my dad more than 24 hours of updating software and operating systems, restarting his computer, and making lots of phone calls to me before he could finally use his new iPad.
In short: his out of the box experience was one of frustration largely caused by factors outside of Apple's control (namely, his legacy software and hardware). This is one issue that Apple killed with iOS 5. With iOS 5, he would have had a nearly perfect experience right from the giddyup.
Apple made many big moves today. I'm extremely excited about iCloud. I'm eager to try Lion. I'm even looking forward to giving iTunes in the Cloud a spin, even if I do think it's also just another island in the cloud.
But while it launched a slew of new services, it polished a legacy one, iOS, to perfection. We give Apple a lot of guff, but this was a solid, thoughtful update that ought to win it new users, keep existing ones, and even bring many like me who have left it for another back into the fold.