Steve Jobs returned from medical leave last night to present iCloud and the upcoming version of iOS to the assembled many at the WWDC.
iCloud is a free online storage solution which can be used to hold all your music files and other data, keeping them synced across all devices from computer to tablet and smartphone.
As soon as you download a new music file on your PC, or enter a new contact into your phone, that information is automatically pushed wirelessly to iCloud, whereupon it is available on any of your devices.
However, iCloud isn’t a streaming service, it just allows customers to download files from their 5GB of storage space onto all their devices (the same storage capacity that Amazon’s Cloud Drive allows for free).
Steve Jobs commented: “Today it is a real hassle and very frustrating to keep all your information and content up-to-date across all your devices. iCloud keeps your important information and content up-to-date across all your devices.”
“All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it’s integrated into our apps you don’t even need to think about it – it all just works.”
All former MobileMe services including Contacts, Calendar and Mail have been repositioned under the iCloud umbrella, and content purchased at the App Store and iBookstore will be available across all your devices (not just the one you bought on).
The data iCloud holds (and of course keeps backed up) includes music, apps, books, camera roll, device settings and app data.
iCloud will also be monetised, however, and as with Amazon, customers will be able to pay for more than 5GB storage space. A service called iTunes Match will also be offered at $25 per year in the US.
While iTunes in the Cloud will let you download previously purchased tunes on Apple’s garden of musical delights to any device, iTunes Match will attempt to match music not bought from iTunes, making a 256Kbps AAC DRM-free version available in the iCloud.
There have been some noises from the anti-piracy lobby who fear this could legitimise piracy, as iTunes matches illegally download material. However four of the major record labels have signed up with Apple to the service, getting a slice of that $25 per year subscription.
iOS 5 was also unveiled with some 200 new features, including less intrusive notifications (like, ahem, Android) and a notification centre for managing all missed app and calendar alerts, text messages and so forth.
iMessage is a fresh communication service which lets users easily send texts, photos and suchlike across all iOS devices, and Newsstand is a system for easily purchasing and setting up newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
iOS 5 will also boast a fully integrated Twitter, and tweaks are being made to the Safari mobile browser, such as the introduction of Safari Reader which de-clutters and sets the correct font size on a web page.
A new version of Mac OS X, Lion, was also announced, with 250 new features including new multi-touch gestures, system-wide support for full screen apps, a new home for all those apps – the Launchpad – and a reworked Mail app.
iCloud is available to developers now, but won’t be released to the public until this autumn when iOS 5 is also expected to emerge. Lion will roar onto Macs next month with a price tag of $30.